Mountain Town News: Water, water, water on the brains everywhere |

Mountain Town News: Water, water, water on the brains everywhere

Water, water — who has extra? Certainly not California. But four years of drought apparently hasn’t been enough to jolt Golden State residents into scrimping.

California residents reduced water used by less than 4 percent in March compared to the same month the year before, reports The Associated Press. Gov. Jerry Brown has talked about Draconian fines for water wasters.

The California State Water Resources Control Board sees lush lawns and verdant landscapes as the first chopping block to meet conservation targets, but some are fighting their depiction as villains in the drought.

If people better understood how much water they were consuming, would they use less? That’s the intent of a new wave of so-called smart water meters. Like electric meters, explains the Wall Street Journal, these water meters collect data every few minutes or hours and transmit the information to utilities — and possibly to the consumers themselves.

Park City, Utah, completed installing 5,200 smart meters in 2013. “Most people like to think they are doing a good job of saving water,” said Jason Christensen, water resources manager for Park City. “But it was difficult to give people feedback” before the smart meters were in place.

Christensen tells the Journal he believes the meters are a reason that Park City is on track to meet a statewide goal of reducing water use per person 24 percent from the 2000 level by 2025.

In Colorado, snowpack this winter was about average in the Blue River Basin, which is where Breckenridge, Keystone, and several other ski areas are located. “Everybody has Blue River envy,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, at a recent meeting covered by the Summit Daily News.

Blue River’s snowpack will soon fill Dillon Reservoir, one of the main reservoirs for metropolitan Denver. However, endangered fish in the Colorado River downstream near the Utah border won’t fare so well, because of less snowpack in the other tributary basins. Peak flows must be at least 12,900 cubic feet per second; they’re expected to peak at 9,600 cfs.

Taking a broader view, Kuhn sees this time in the 21st century as one of transition. “After 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more, we’re going to have to cut back our uses.”

Kuhn pointed to the declining water levels in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two giant “buckets” on the Colorado River. “Bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained,” he said, a distinct possibility in the next few years, particularly at Lake Mead.

What about building a pipeline to the Mississippi River or some other water-rich location? “To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

In Idaho comes news about growing concern about drawing down of aquifers by farmers in the area near Ketchum and Sun Valley. Downstream farmers with senior water rights report diminishing water over the years, explains the Idaho Mountain Express.

In Alberta, Bob Sanford talked about climatic flux. “The hydrological cycle has changed so much that climate circumstances are increasingly variable and uncertain,” Sanford, who is EPCOR chair for water and climate security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook. “The hydrology of all of Canada is accelerating. Permafrost is melting in the Arctic and northern forest and tundra are experiencing fires of magnitudes never experienced before.”’

Sanford said changes in policy are needed. “Our policies are moving along at 5 kilometres an hour, while the problem of hydroclimatic change is moving along at 15 km/h and accelerating. It is getting away from us.”

What to do when the big mine finally closes?

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. – What will Clear Creek County and its schools and its towns do when the big molybdenum mine closes?

The Henderson Mine extracts molybdenite ore from a giant deposit located 50 miles west of Denver, near the Continental Divide. This is about halfway between the ski slopes of Winter Park and Loveland Basin, but off the highway and invisible to most High Country travelers.

The ore body was discovered in 1964 and the mine put into production in 1976. Through last year, the mine had produced 264 million tons of ore, and from that a million pounds of molybdenum was refined for use in hardening steel and other industrial applications. Curiously, one growing application is to help refine oil, to extract the sulfur, as new oil supplies tend to be what is called “sour,” or high in sulfur content.

It’s a big mine, with a portal at 10,300 feet in elevation, but with a depth of 7,000 feet. It still has about 90 million tons of reserves, according to Stuart Teuscher, general manager of the Henderson Mine.

Teuscher spoke at a recent meeting called by Clear Creek County officials, who want the community to start thinking about life after the mine. The mine provides 70 percent of property taxes, the lion’s share of budgets for both the courthouse and schools.

At current rates of extraction, said Teuscher, the mine’s ore body, an estimated 90 million tons, will be exhausted by 2026. It could be a little sooner, if the price for molybdenum rises and stays above the current $7 per pound, or later, if prices drop. But the mine will close.

“What I really want to impress upon the room is that it’s not a matter of if but when,” said Teuscher. “While 2026 is not set in stone, it shouldn’t be dismissed either.”

The mine employs 600 people, some at the mine itself and others on the west side of the Continental Divide, in Grand County. The ore is sent by conveyer belt to a processing plant, which extracts the mineral. The spent rock is dumped in a giant tailings pile that covers 1,400 acres and is held back by a dam that is 240 feet high.

There are employees on both sides of the Continental Divide: nearly 40 percent live in metropolitan Denver while almost 23 percent live in Idaho Springs, Georgetown and other communities in Clear Creek County.

On the west side of the Continental Divide, 26 percent live in Grand County, mostly in Kremmling and Hot Sulphur Springs, and another 6 percent are in Summit County, home to Breckenridge and three other ski areas.

Replacing the jobs and tax base will be difficult for Clear Creek and Grand counties. “If we’re going to lose 70 percent of our revenue, we have some difficult choices to make,” said Clear Creek County Commissioner Tim Mauck.

Clear Creek County has assets: mountains, obviously, and the Loveland Ski Area, plus rafting in the creek. On the east side, in the foothills overlooking metropolitan Denver, it also has one of the highest per-capita income neighborhoods in the nation.

The county also has problems: an aging population, declining enrollment in schools, and the mouthy, sharp-elbowed presence of Interstate 70. Mauck says the county also lacks housing that might attract residents, even if the jobs were available.

The cheapest housing starts at $200,000, which “gets you a place built in 1903 and doesn’t have a right angle in it and is terribly energy inefficient,” he said. He reported working with the Summit County Housing Authority to create affordable housing.

Peggy Stokstad, chief executive of the Clear Creek Economic Development Corporation, rattled off a long list of initiatives to develop the county’s economy. Officials have been looking into renewable energy development, but also extension of broadband into rural areas lateral to I-70, she said.

She also mentioned initiatives to draw more over-night tourists. They spend three times as much money as day visitors, she explained.

Stokstad also talked, but without much specificity, about interest in drawing technology businesses. “If you ask whether I would rather have 100 call-center employees or 10 technology-center employees, you know what my answer will be,” she said.

As for the giant hole in the ground, it has 150 miles of tunnels. At one time, there was hope that Henderson could be pressed into service after its mining days for subatomic research. That didn’t play out, and the facility instead went to Illinois.

Can Henderson find another ore body nearby? Possibly, but drilling is expensive, said Teuscher. Bores 3,000 feet below the bottom of mine have been done, but with no evidence of promise.

But even when Henderson closes, operations are likely to continue at Climax. Located between Frisco and Leadville, it’s older, with mining that began in 1917. In 1981, when the price of molybdenum plummeted, Climax was closed and Henderson operations severely curtailed.

Climax remained mostly closed after that, until Freeport McMoran acquired it. In recent years, the company invested nearly $1 billion in new, open-pit mining operations before opening it.

The choices of thinking global and eating local

DURANGO, Colo. – Think global and eat local. But what does that mean in practice?

In an essay published in the Durango Telegraph, chef Ari LeVaux parses the choices and motivations and finds relatively few absolutes.

Food from a different hemisphere, such as tomatoes and berries during the wintertime, is hard to justify simply because it’s out of season at home, he says. “In demanding to eat them year-round you abandon your relationship to where you are.”

Climate activist Bill McKibben confided with LeVaux his personal rule-of-thumb for purchasing food. McKibben calls it the Marco Polo Exception: food non-perishable enough that Marco Polo could have taken it from China to his home country of Italy in a sail boat is OK. But if a food is so perishable that it must be shipped refrigerated and shipped quickly, then it’s off the table.

One shipping company has picked up on this idea, with two boats that are entirely wind-powered, as Marco Polo might have used. One of those two boats is currently en route from the Caribbean to Europe with rum, coffee and chocolate.

The company, Fairtransport Shipping, now pursues a goal that LeVaux describes as a hybrid cargo ship, one that is powered primarily by wind but which has an engine, too. Designers expect it will be just as fast as a conventional cargo ship powered by burning of fossil fuels but will use only half the petroleum.

Tracking the impacts of your food choices, says LeVaux, is “akin to meditation practices that makes you a better person, similar to recycling or riding your bike instead of driving.” He sees it as part of a broader lifestyle choice.

For example, you want strawberries in winter? Then think about it right now, in spring.

“Focus on storing those berries,” from local sources, he advises. “Dry them. Make jam, leather, sauce, or syrup. Doing so will help you connect with the culinary texture of where you are, and ground you in traditions that make use of preserved foods in winter.”

Do this enough, he concludes, and those foods derived from the Marco Polo Exception will in fact themselves become an exceptional treat.

Grim future for lower resorts near the coast

WHISTLER, B.C. – Skier days in British Columbia were down 1.5 million from the record season of 6.8 million several years ago.

Winter was warm and with too little snow. Is this the future?

Not exactly, said Dr. Michael Pidwirny, an associate professor of physical geography at the University of British Columbia, who spoke to a British Columbia ski industry gathering. “It’s just an extreme year. It’s part of the natural variability in our planet’s climate.”

Next year, he added, might turn snowy again, maybe even cold. But the long-term story is clear enough.

“This climate trend, this trend of warming temperatures, is not cyclical,” Pidwirny told Pique. “It’s linear and co-related to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It’s as simple as that.”

Whistler, because of its higher elevation, is better buffered than resorts closer to the coast, Pidwirny said.

“For some resorts that are closer to the coast that have lower elevations and milder winter temperatures, time is limited,” he said. “It’s going to occur sometime before the end of the 21st century. For the interior resorts, they’re much colder and climate model forecasts suggest they will remain viable in the future, just with a shorter season and milder winter temperatures.”

Climate change also figures into the discussion about a new ski area, Garibaldi at Squamish, that is moving forward about a half-hour down-valley from Whistler. Dave Brownlie, the chief executive of Whistler Blackcomb, didn’t speak approvingly of the potential competitor.

“We’ve got a resort down the road called Garibaldi at Squamish that continues to press forward, and when you look at the overall flat market in North America for 20 years, you look at the amount of capacity we have in B.C. already, you look at the climate change issues — building a resort in Squamish makes absolutely no sense at all,” he said.

Whistler stores now charge for plastic bags

WHISTLER, B.C. – Unlike a great many ski towns in Colorado, Whistler elected officials refrained from telling grocers and other store managers that they couldn’t issue plastic bags.

Instead, a consortium of seven grocery and pharmaceutical stores have agreed to start charging 5 cents a plastic bag. The practice began on May 1 and is continuing through October, when it will be evaluated again.

The intent is to encourage shoppers to begin taking their own reusable bags to grocery and drug stores.

Refurbishing the lodging product

KETCHUM, Idaho – The revitalization of the Ketchum and Sun Valley lodging capacity has begun.

Sun Valley Resort is in the final, frantic weeks of construction before the remodeled main lodge opens on June 15. This is the most significant remodel of the lodge since it debuted in the 1930s as part of North America’s first deliberately created destination ski resort.

Ketchum and Sun Valley have been working for most of the decade to enlarge the number of available hotel rooms. Despite a 20,000-square-foot addition to the lodge, the remodel will result in a net reduction, from 148 to 94 rooms, reports the Idaho Mountain Express. Jack Sibbach, the Sun Valley spokesman, said the bigger rooms will allow families to consolidate in one location instead of renting multiple rooms.

Meanwhile, a mile away in Ketchum, construction of the 98-room Limelight Hotel is expected to get underway this summer. The developer is the Aspen Skiing Co., which already has a hotel of that name in Aspen, with a second one planned in Snowmass Village.

Ketchum has been itching badly for a number of years to get new and redeveloped hotels. It so much wants this to happen that if Aspen applies for a building permit by the end of May, the requirement for housing for 25 employees will be waived, reports the Aspen Daily News.

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