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Mountain News: Many mountain towns wet like a river current

VAIL, Colo. - Soggy conditions have prevailed in many mountain towns in recent weeks, causing moods to become as dark as the clouds. "Man, there's been a lot of rain around here," exclaimed one Vail man after another half-inch rainfall. "It's crazy.

VAIL, Colo. - Soggy conditions have prevailed in many mountain towns in recent weeks, causing moods to become as dark as the clouds. "Man, there's been a lot of rain around here," exclaimed one Vail man after another half-inch rainfall. "It's crazy."

In Idaho, the story is the same. Ketchum, located at the foot of the Sun Valley ski area, got more rain in the first week of June than it averages for the month.

"It's like the Pacific Northwest around here," a sheriff's deputy told The Aspen Times .

But the Pacific Northwest was parched. Concerned about the risk of starting wildland fires, the Whistler Fire Rescue Service in late May banned construction adjacent to forests except for between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Unaffected by the ban was the athletes' village being readied for the 2010 Winter Olympics, as most remaining work now is in the interior, reports Pique Newsmagazine.

Brian Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says both wet and dry anomalies can be explained by two distant storms, one anchored near Alaska's Aleutian Islands and another hunkered south of Greenland. Think of them like boulders in a river, determining how the current flows, he says. Until an even bigger storm comes along, Whistler and Vail alike can expect the unusual.

Yet the downpours were by no means uniform. In Colorado, Crested Butte was only a little above average. Not even 200 miles away, Durango had three times its average precipitation during May and had recorded 0.75 inches of rainfall a third of the way into June, more than double the usual monthly figure of 0.32.

If this year's rainfall deviates from what The Aspen Times describes as the early summer norm of bluebird skies, it's useful to also remember that averages are just that. A pattern of deluges also occurred in 1995 almost until Summer Solstice, leaving valley bottoms soaked and mountain-tops resplendent with fresh powder.

Jumping off a cornice at the Arapahoe Basin ski area in mid-June that year, the editor of a now-defunct ski magazine from New England stopped and turned to his companion in astonishment. "These are mid-winter conditions," he exclaimed.

Newest Armstrong a native of Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. - Bicycle racing champion Lance Armstrong's fourth child is a native of Aspen. The boy was born at Aspen Valley Hospital to Armstrong, who has a home in Aspen, and Armstrong's girlfriend, Anna Hansen, reports The Aspen Times

Great strides in wake of gay riots in 1969

TELLURIDE, Colo.-Peter Shelton, the well-known journalist of ski magazines and books, didn't always live near the ski slopes. In his column in The Telluride Watch , he explains that in 1971, a newly-minted college graduate, he arrived in Gotham, to figure out what the big city was all about. There, he met a lot of gay men.

"Some of them tried to pick me up," Shelton explains. "Some were shy, and some were bold as you please."

This was, he explains, something new. Homosexuality had been a crime in most states, and psychiatrists described it as a "sociopathic personality disturbance." But then in June 1969, homosexuals in New York City revolted in what came to be called the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village.

Shelton said he didn't want the attention from his gay friends, but it showed him something of the way that women have felt for eons.

Much has changed. Shelton relates a recent incident during a backyard party in Montrose, a Republican-voting and conservative-leaning town about 65 miles from Telluride.

"I overheard a lesbian friend introduce herself to a stranger," he reports. "Somehow marriage came up, and she had to explain: 'I don't have a husband, I have a wife.'"

"That was that," says Shelton. "End of subject. The way it should be."

New LED lights save costs and reveal stars

OURAY, Colo. - The nighttime sky should be more visible, and the electricity bill should be less, as the result of the installation of 100 new light-emitting diodes (LED) fixtures in the streets of Ouray, a town located on the edge of the San Juan Mountains.

The Telluride Watch reports that installation costs of $60,000 should be recouped within two years because of lower electricity prices. Bob Risch, the mayor, also expects to see more stars. A retired astronomer, he says the old street lights did not shield the direction of the emitted light.

Aspen Skiing Co. adds voice in climate debate

ASPEN, Colo. - The Aspen Skiing Co. has joined Starbucks, Clif Bar, Hewlett-Packard and 15 other companies in calling upon Congress to "swiftly enact comprehensive legislation that will cut carbon pollution and create an economy-wide cap and trade system."

That call to action was contained in an advertisement placed in the June 10 issue of The Wall Street Journal . It was paid for by Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups.

The businesses signing the ad said they believe the U.S. is falling behind China, Germany and other countries. "When it comes to preparing our country to compete in the clean energy economy, the U.S. is losing and we lag behind our global competitors," the ad states.

The advertisement calls for "certainty and rules of the road" that will enable U.S. businesses to plan, build, and lead.

At the center of debate now underway is how aggressively the United States should create a de facto tax on carbon. The Waxman-Markey bill now being debated in Congress proposes a cap-and-trade regime. The 900-page bill proposes to sell polluting rights to operators of coal-fired power plants, for example, and use the money to innovate technologies and infrastructure that will cause less atmospheric pollution.

Auden Schendler, executive director of community and environmental responsibility for Aspen Skiing Co., says those wanting aggressive action have been split on what will be the smartest strategy: accept a watered-down plan with hopes of later improving it, or hold out for strong action with the potential of getting nothing.

Meanwhile, in Park City, nine of the 11 governors of Western states were scheduled to meet this week on Sunday through Tuesday to talk about development of renewable energy resources, climate change and other pressing issues. On the agenda to talk with the governors were Stephen Chu, the secretary of energy, and Ken Salazar, the secretary of interior.

Last year the governors met in Jackson Hole, and the year before that in Breckenridge.

Banff looks at housing to become more dense

BANFF, B.C. - Unable to expand because it is an inholding within Banff National Park, the community of Banff has been looking to increase density as a way of accommodating its 8,000 residents, with more babies being born all the time. The community's birthrate has been 25 percent higher than the national average.

The town staff has offered many ideas, such as reduced setbacks from lot lines, which would in turn accommodate larger buildings and, in some cases, secondary apartments or even small cabins of 300 to 900 square feet. One proposal calls for up to 40 percent of a lot's space being occupied by buildings, compared to the current cap of 30 percent. As well, building height in some areas would be increased, such as from two stories to two and a half-stories.

But those taking up more lot space would also need to take certain mitigating measures, such as creating porous parking surfaces, which allows runoff to better percolate through the soil, rather than increase runoff into the Bow River.

Taking stock of these proposals, the Rocky Mountain Outlook likes what it hears. With so much public elbow room available in the surrounding national park, individuals shouldn't need that much personal space.

Sun Valley mayor wants gun training

SUN VALLEY, Idaho - The mayor of Sun Valley has encouraged city staff members to take a handgun safety course. Wayne Willich, the mayor, told the Idaho Mountain Express he isn't encouraging people to own or carry weapons. Rather, he seems to want them to set an example. As is, the Blaine County Sheriff's Office has issued permits for 1,500 people to carry concealed weapons.

Colorado grapples with potential water shortage

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - The drought of the early 21st century continues to reverberate in places like Summit County, where the usually placid blue waters of Dillon Reservoir were replaced in 2002 by broad expanses of brown sand and mud.

The skimpy runoff from that drought year, along with subsequent low-snow and unusually hot years left Utah's Lake Powell, farther down on the Colorado River, no more than a third full. Had the drought continued in its great severity, the reservoir might well have been left with what is called a dead pool, not enough water to be released downstream to Arizona, California and Nevada.

That would have created a ticklish situation. The 1922 Colorado River Compact, which apportions water in the basin among the seven states, requires the four upper-basin states -- Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico - deliver 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually based on a 10-year rolling average to the lower basin states.

That figure was derived in error. The framers of the compact assumed more water in the Colorado River than what has actually been the case. Moreover, climate change seems sure to limit flows even more.

In that case, what if there is insufficient water in the upper basin to make that legally mandated commitment to Arizona, Nevada and California and still meet existing needs?

In Colorado, water officials have begun coming up with Plan B and Plan C. One such idea, reports the Summit Daily News, is creation of a "water bank." This bank would hold water rights senior to the 1922 compact - mostly held now by farms and ranches -to be allocated in such a water-short time to keep the economy going. Two water conservation districts responsible for water matters on Colorado's Western Slope, where nearly all of Colorado's ski areas are located, have been putting together the plan.

Such a call would not only impact many ski towns, but also the array of cities located on the Great Plains at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The Daily News reports that the Colorado River and its tributaries provide between 25 to 75 percent of the total water supplies for those cities, which include Denver and Colorado Springs.

It's a renters' market in Summit County

FRISCO, Colo. - It's a renters' market in Summit County. Landlords and rental-management companies tell the Summit Daily News that they have had to lower their prices and become more flexible with their leases in hopes of earning income from their properties. Still, the telephone often doesn't ring. Mike Magliocchetti, president of Key to the Rockies, a management company based in Keystone, said most lodging companies are down 20 to 40 percent for summer bookings.