Weekly News Roundup: Friday, April 1

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on Western water news, the plan for a new grocery store in Victor and the debate over American uranium production.
Wildflowers are now blooming earlier than normal throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem due to climate change, according to a new report. (Tristan Brynildsen/Shutterstock)

by | Apr 1, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups


Wyoming Electeds Push for U.S. Uranium Production

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is renewing his call on President Joe Biden to shut down imports of Russian uranium and boost domestic U.S. production. While Biden has currently banned imports of Russian oil and gas amid the conflict in Ukraine, it has not yet banned imports of uranium, which fuels nuclear power plants. Barrasso appeared on FoxNews Sunday to make his case. 

“We have an abundance of uranium in the United States. We need to use it,” he said. “In Wyoming, we have a great amount of it. Nuclear power is an important part of our electric grid. About 20% of the energy we have here is from nuclear power. It is carbon-free energy.”

Barrasso already introduced a bill that would ban imports of Russian uranium earlier this month, but boosting U.S. production is an entirely separate challenge. Tribal communities across the American West oppose ramping up mining operations due to potential environmental impacts. Planned nuclear plants, such as the TerraPower project in Kemmerer, Wyoming, also are likely to experience scheduling delays due to the uncertainty in global nuclear fuel markets.

Plan for New Grocery Store in Teton Valley Delayed

A plan for a new Broulim’s grocery store in Victor has hit another roadblock. An Idaho judge vacated the city’s 2021 rezoning decision to reclassify the old Victor school on Center Street as a commercial-mixed use property for the store earlier this month. The judge partially sided with a group of neighbors who sued the city for failing to conduct a required traffic study. Anna Trentadue is the staff attorney and program director at Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) who assisted the residents in their legal challenge.

“I told the neighbors of Broulim’s—the citizens who appealed—I said, ‘Traffic is something everyone can get behind. Judges in Idaho understand the importance of traffic impacts. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum, traffic is just something that is a nonpartisan issue that judges understand why it’s important to consider,’” Trentadue said. 

Trentadue also said VARD previously supported a different proposal from Broulim’s for a new store at the north end of town that was ultimately not approved. The Victor City Council is now expected to go back to the public hearing process for the school plan once the traffic study has been completed.

New Teton County Work Policy Faces Consequences

Teton County is enforcing a return to in-person work as the coronavirus pandemic subsides in Jackson Hole. The policy has disrupted the local COVID-19 response team to the point where it’s essentially dissolved, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide. In a letter from health department staff sent to commissioners last week, seven employees said the crackdown on remote work puts them in a bad position, erodes morale and further strains an already short-staffed county workforce. 

Wildflowers Blooming Earlier due to Climate Change

Climate change is causing wildflowers and other plants to bloom as much as three weeks earlier than they did in previous decades throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, according to a recently released report. The peer-reviewed study from the Nature Conservancy of Wyoming also found that the changes could negatively impact local wildlife who’ve depended for centuries on consistent plant patterns in order to find nutrition and shelter in the spring. Researchers hope the new data can help inform habitat restoration and other funded conservation efforts. They also say the earlier blooms correlate with changing average snow melts in the area. 

State Looking into Teton Village Land Parcel

Top state officials are reviewing five options of what to do with a 640-acre parcel of land near Teton Village, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reported Wednesday. Glamping-style tourist lodging and short-term rentals in storage containers are both on the table, as well as several proposals that would continue using the land as a storage site for either materials, vehicles or equipment. Local state representatives aren’t thrilled about any of those options, according to the News&Guide, and are calling for more transparency from the state. The legislators also agree they’d like to see some workforce housing on the site, but state officials are set to review the proposals on April 7. The Office of State Lands and Investments is required to maximize revenue from state lands in Teton County.

Jackson Hole Represented on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

A Jackson resident competed on the obstacle course-based reality television show “American Ninja Warrior” last week. 28-year-old Parker Hewes will be one of more than 400 Americans vying for the grand prize of $1 million in the upcoming season, which is expected to start airing in June.

“For most of my life, I guess, I had some innate desire to do, like, obstacle courses,” Hewes said. “I’ve always done that for myself on the playground or with my friends out in the world. Like, jumping off railings and buildings and stuff like that. Jumping off cliffs into water and all that stuff, you know. It’s always been part of my nature.”

Hewes is a chiropractor with JH Backcountry Health who’s lived in Jackson for about a year. He traveled to San Antonio for the competition and described it as a surreal and exciting experience.

“The community of the Ninja Warriors is amazing,” he said. “They were so encouraging and helpful.”

While Hewes can’t share his results until the new season airs, he said he’s already looking forward to reapplying and hopefully competing on the show again.

Colorado to Pause Water-Saving Program

Colorado’s top water agency is pausing investigations into “demand management,” a program that would pay people to use less water and send it to Lake Powell for storage.  

The program would need approval from all four states in the Upper Basin, including Wyoming, before it could go into effect, and Colorado is waiting to hear more from its neighbors. Amy Ostdiek is with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. 

“I think our board thought it would make sense to take that time as we’re waiting for more information and think about all the other tools that might be available to protect our water users that might not have the same constraints,” she said.

Ostdiek also said demand management is limiting because it requires multi-state agreement, storage in specific reservoirs, and involves Lake Powell. In the meantime, the board wants to work with water users to conserve within the state. But that may be easier said than done, as ongoing drought means there isn’t much to spare.

New Study Details Western Water Crisis

A new study from the U.S. Forest Service shows that existing water conservation efforts might not be enough to meet demand in the future, as climate change causes drought to be more severe. 

In 2015, water use in the U.S. reached its lowest level in four decades. But scientists warn that trend is overshadowed by challenges in regions struck by drought. The future of water use is hard to predict, but this study said it’s very unlikely that it’ll go down. 

Even the best-case scenario sees an 8% reduction in water use nationally. The worst? A 235% increase, as demand goes up and supply goes down. The report from the Rocky Mountain Research Station also points out that agriculture is often the largest water user, and the impact of climate change on that sector will be a major factor in the future of water use. The study’s authors say understanding the future of drought is the key to adapting going forward.

Alex Hager of KUNC in Greeley, Colorado, contributed reporting to this week’s roundup.

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