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As Vail upgrades meeting center, questions about if it can also be net-zero?

VAIL, Colo. – Vail, the municipality at the eponymously named ski resort, adopted a climate action pledge in 2017 in conjunction with Eagle County. Kim Langmaid, who helped create that county-wide plan, had a question at a recent town council meeting that essentially asked whether the town was walking its talk.

The precise issue was an upgrade to the mechanical system at the Donovan Pavilion, a vaulted venue located along Gore Creek popular for weddings and other events.

Kim Langmaid

“We have greenhouse gas reduction goals, and I am hoping that this mechanical system improvement will improve the energy use,” said Langmaid, the mayor pro tem.

In the long term, she added, it would be great to convert the Donovan Pavilion into a net-zero building. Were there such plans?

“We shouldn’t just be looking at this as business as usual,” she added.

The answer she got from the town staff members shepherding the project along amounted to a no. The problem being solved was driven by moisture reduction, but yes, this new mechanical system would be more efficient than the old one. As for net-zero, it would be hard to install solar on the roof because it isn’t oriented well for solar production.

But Langmaid’s point had been made. She wanted to communicate the idea about how to start thinking about the day when natural gas is reduced or even eliminated from the dozens of municipal buildings.

Photo above is the Donovan Pavilion in Vail.

In Aspen’s water plan for next 50 years, wildfire and climate change top the list

ASPEN, Colo. – Climate change and wildfire will be top of mind as city officials in Aspen go about creating a 50-year water plan.

Aspen gets its water from two parallel watersheds drained by Castle and Maroon creeks, both fed primarily by spring runoff. The city has limited storage, good for about a half day.

“We are pretty confident that things are getting dryer and warmer,” Steve Hunter, the city’s utilities resource manager, told the Aspen Daily News. “If that snowpack is getting shorter, we are going to have less water supply with potentially a larger population that is here for a longer period of time.”

This year was a warm-up for the future. Aspen had good winter snow but a warm, dry spring that continued into summer, resulting in water shortages.

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Then there’s the issue of wildfire—which is more likely to occur in a hot, dry year.

“The Maroon Creek and Castle Creek watersheds are directly adjacent to each other. If a wildfire started in one and grew. It would easily fall into the other one,” Hunter said.

But the problems persist long after the fire – as Denver can testify, as it had severe wildfires in 1995 and 2002 in the foothills southwest of Denver drained by the South Platte River. The South Platte delivers 52% of the water for Denver Water in any given year. Sediment resulting from the wildfires clogged Denver’s reservoirs, forcing expensive remedial measures. Aspen worries about the same, except that unlike Denver, it has little storage capacity.

“The big thing is, you don’t want to have a wildfire – as just one of many potential vulnerabilities – and then try to figure it out on the fly,” Hunter said.

The plan Aspen intends to create with the aid of Carollo Engineers, a water consultant, will strive for flexibility.

“Climate science is changing almost daily,” Hunter said. “We don’t want to be locked into a 50-year water plan that—at the time, in 2020 – we were using this climate science, and then in 2025, we are learning more things. So we want to be able to adapt.”

A tough time to be a tree in Colorado, but especially so in droughty San Juan Mountains

DURANGO, Colo. – Nearly all of Colorado’s wildfires this year occurred north of Interstate 70. An exception was near Silverton, the town snuggled into the San Juan Mountains.

Near there, a fire that broke out on Oct. 19 went on to burn 600 acres, including along the trail to the above-timberline bowl containing Ice Lake. It was, notes the Durango Herald, the first fire to pose a threat to Silverton in 140 years. It might not be the last.

The San Juans have had several major fires in the last 20 years. There was the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002, the West Fork Complex near Wolf Creek Pass in 2019, and the 416 Fire caused by the steam locomotive north of Durango in 2018.

Trees in the San Juan have become more vulnerable after four years of marginal precipitation and rising temperatures. Long gone are those winters when deep cold would sometimes knock back the beetles. The Herald reports that the spruce beetle has now damaged trees in nearly 1 million acres of the national forests in the San Juans, or nearly 30% of the forested landscape.

“It’s a tough time to be a tree right now,” Dan West, an entomologist with the Colorado Forest Service, told the Herald’s Jonathan Romeo. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

West said studies in the 1980s found about 20% of beetles used to die over the winter. “We don’t see that anymore.”

Gunnison County co-op manager says Tri-State story has been oversimplified

GUNNISON, Colo. – Mike McBride, the general manager of Gunnison County Electric Association, tells the Crested Butte News that there’s more to the story about Tri-State, his co-op’s wholesale supplier.

True, Tri-State’s prices are higher than other providers, he said, but co-ops own more miles of energy lines for a smaller return on kilowatt-hour sales. Gunnison, the municipality, has more sales per mile of distribution line, and that’s also true for Xcel Energy.

As for solar being less expensive, he said, it’s misleading. “It’s like comparing the total cost of ownership of a car, insurance and infrastructure versus the cost of gasoline,’ he said.

Gunnison County Electric plans to add local renewables, including a 3-megawatt hydroelectric power plant, which he says will have three times the production of a comparable 3 megawatts of solar. His co-op, however, is also planning several solar projects, including one located potentially at Crested Butte.

Steamboat and other Yampa Valley towns/counties seek aid to fund solar project

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Towns from Yampa to Craig along with Routt and Moffat counties have applied for a $2.1 million state grant to fund solar projects, reports the Steamboat Pilot.

“Everybody is transitioning to the new energy economy,” said Gary Suiter, the city manager of Steamboat. “Being a ski resort town, there has to be a sensitivity to climate change and reducing greenhouse gases.”

Private jet use leaps at the Crested Butte airport

GUNNISON, Colo. –  This summer the airport serving Crested Butte had Aspen-like traffic, 15 to 20 private jets a day.

The Crested Butte News reports that managers of AvFLight Gunnison and the Gunnison Crested Butte Airport believe the surge was due in part to people avoiding commercial flights but also part of an overall tourism boom to the Gunnison Valley as a result of the pandemic.

The News also reports that September was the busiest month ever for lodging tax collections in Gunnison. July is typically the biggest month, but September this year produced $363,812. That’s a 24% increase over the same month last year.

Allen Best
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