Around the mountains: Flushing the toilet is just the start of work | SummitDaily.com

Around the mountains: Flushing the toilet is just the start of work

ALLEN BESTspecial to the dailySummit County, Colorado

JACKSON, Wyo. When people think of electrical use, they commonly think of lights, maybe their computers, and perhaps their refrigerator. In fact, water moving it, purifying it, and then treating the sewage is one of the largest sources of electrical use in any community.In California, according to one study several years ago, water is involved in 19.6 percent of all electrical use. That includes the giant pumping necessary to get water from the Sacramento area to Southern California.But even in mountain valleys, water is a big part of electrical use. When the city of Jackson and Teton County two years ago studied electrical use, water mostly from the sewage treatment plant was responsible for 20 percent of use.Now, with federal stimulus money beginning to spread out, there may be federal help, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Energy officials believe that a retrofit could reduce electrical consumption at the sewage treatment plant by 40 percent, saving the community $100,000 a year. Cost of the upgrade, however, has not been calculated.Already, the community has installed 25-kilowatt solar panels at the sewage-treatment plant, and it is now seeking federal stimulus funding for another 90 kilowatts.

OLD SNOWMASS Amory Lovins was the only discernible individual from ski country to be named in Rolling Stone Magazines 100 Agents of Change.The magazine cited energy guru Lovins, who is based in an exurban outpost about 15 miles from Aspen, for his work with Wal-Mart to reduce energy use. The magazine said the next move for Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute is to help get cities ready to meet Obamas goal of one million plug-in cars by 2015.Others on the list included politicians, entertainers, move-makers, writers, and technologists.

DURANGO Community gardening is catching on in Durango, in response to what officials believe is the poor economy as well as the persistent buy local message.The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado now has 12 garden sites. As well, the local branch of an organization called the Urban Land Army is out to put green chilies and gladiolas in weedy lots and neglected backyards, reports the Durango Telegraph.Katie Kelley, the founder of the local chapter, tells the newspaper that she started a garden while living in an apartment. Eating your own food and sharing the harvest was so much fun. Once you eat something freshly picked, you cant go back to eating your food any other way.Darrin Parmeter, a horticulture extension agent from Colorados land-grant college, Colorado State University, tells the newspaper he gets five to 10 calls a week from people wanting to start a backyard garden.

EAGLE Its not shaping up as a big year for wildfires in most mountain valleys of the West. But wildfire is never far from the thoughts of Barry Smith, the director of emergency preparedness for Eagle County.His projects this year include evacuation planning for Eby Creek, a subdivision of several homes located amid a forest of pion and juniper trees near Eagle.Planning for the eventuality of wildfires in Colorado is a relatively new thing. Smith, a firefighter since the mid-1970s, says even the 1994 death of 10 firefighters near Glenwood Springs failed to wake up people to dangers, even in towns just a few miles away, in Gypsum, Eagle and Vail.What changed perceptions was 2002, says Smith. Among others elsewhere in the West, three major fires occurred that summer in Colorado: near Durango, again at Glenwood Springs, and biggest of all, the Hayman Fire southwest of Denver.The whole Eagle River Valley was shrouded in smoke for large parts of the summer, and when people are breathing smoke all the time, they get worried because they dont know where the smoke is coming from, says Smith. We were getting phone calls all the time.After that big summer, Congress passed the Healthy Forests Initiative, which encourages but does not mandate wildfire protection planning. Even so, Eagle County and other county and town governments began planning for potential fires.In Eagle Countys case, the new regulations mandated defensible space planning in rural subdivisions.Ironically, Hurricane Katrina pushed the planning. A directive from the Federal Emergency Management Administration offered grants, but insisted that to be eligible communities had to do evacuation planning. In mountain valleys, wildfires not hurricanes are the major risk.Many mountain jurisdictions now have evacuation plans in place, among them Grand Lake, at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and Vail. One of Smiths major projects this year is to produce an evacuation plan for Eby Creek Mesa. Several years ago, even after the Storm King deaths in 1994 and then the summer of smoke in 2002, residents hotly resisted plans to thin trees in and around the subdivision. They were, however, reminded that their house catching fire then endangered houses of their neighbors.If a fire does occur, states Smith, residents can only be asked to leave. I have found nothing in the Colorado statutes that says we can force people to evacuate, he says.However, beetle-killed forests have served as a reminder of vulnerabilities that always existed. There is, says Smith, a greater acceptance for the need to thin and remove trees. Beaver Creek, which originally opposed a wildfire protection plan, now brags about the plan in its marketing.