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New West Daily Roundup for Sept. 9, 2016

Today in New West news: Utah reservoirs direly low, Colorado probe launched to collect asteroid sample, and Oracle moving ~100 Bozeman jobs to Texas.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, persistent dry, hot weather has stressed Utah’s water reservoirs to their limits, with water managers saying that unless it’s a white winter, 2017 will be a bad year for water supplies in the Beehive State. From the Tribune:

Statewide, reservoirs are averaging 47 percent of capacity as a result of an ill-timed dry spell, according to the monthly Utah Climate and Water Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Some, said Randy Julander, supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey, have already run dry.

And though there is still one month left in the irrigation season, it’s next year’s water supply that will most keenly feel the effect, Julander said.

Farmers will use what water storage remains and then wrap up their operations for the year.

But as reservoirs continue to drop in the coming month — as is projected — the loss of storage will cut into next year’s water supply.

“What most water managers would like to do is go into the snow-accumulation season about half full — that gives them a cushion for next year,” Julander said. “Obviously we’re not going to make that.”

Reservoirs that enter the water year, which begins Oct. 1, without adequate water from the previous year may not fill entirely before the following summer unless Utah gets an above-average snowpack that winter, Julander said.

Utah hasn’t seen above-average snowfall since 2011, he said. So far the jury is still out at the National Weather Service on whether the coming months will be dry or wet, but the group has predicted above-average temperatures for the next three months.

In terms of precipitation, Julander said, the state is still doing better this year than in 2014 and 2015.

But reservoir storage is not holding up as well — last year at this time, Utah reservoirs were averaging 51 percent of capacity, according to the water report.

Julander said the difference can be attributed to the timing of this year’s precipitation.

Utah accumulated little snow in 2014 and 2015, but made it through the summer, thanks to a pattern of cool, abnormally wet weather.

This year’s winter was better for mountain snowpack, but exceptionally dry and hot weather in June, July and August increased demand for irrigation water and taxed local reservoirs.

Northern Utah was hit the hardest, according to the Tribune, with the U.S. Drought Monitor declaring severe drought conditions in part of Utah County. According to the Monitor, 17 percent of the state is suffering drought conditions.

Over in Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, a NASA probe built by Littleton-area Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (and launched by Centennial-based United Launch Alliance) blasted off from Denver around 5 p.m. yesterday, carrying a $800 million probe slated to gather an asteroid sample 509 million miles away:

The OSIRIS-REx probe, built in Jefferson County, is programmed to fly to Bennu in just under three years. It will circle Bennu, which is slightly larger than five football fields, and take readings of it with onboard instruments for several months, sending back data for researchers.

Then, it will extend a 10-foot-long arm and gather as much as 4.4 pounds of dirt, rocks and dust off Bennu’s surface and begin the journey back to earth. In 2023, OSIRIS-REx will send a specially-built sample container back into the earth’s atmosphere at speeds topping 24,000 mph before parachuting in to land in the deserts of Utah.

The OSIRS-REx spacecraft itself will go a solar orbit a safe distance away from earth.

The mission — called officially the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer — is led by Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona researcher. Lockheed Martin Space Systems (LMSS) was the prime contractor designing and assembling the core spacecraft.

The team won the nod from NASA in 2011 to do the mission as part of the space agency’s New Frontiers program.

LMSS employs more than 4,000 people at its local headquarters campus. It has a long history of making planetary probes for NASA missions, including the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter now, and the MAVEN spacecraft circling Mars.

The company also drew on its history building the Stardust spacecraft, which gathered gases from a comet tail and return the samples to earth in 2006.

More than 200 LMSS employees had a direct hand in building OSIRIS-REx, the company says.

Finally, up in Montana, computer technology behemoth Oracle announced it is moving over 100 positions from Bozeman to San Antonio, Texas. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Orcale wouldn’t confirm how many jobs would be affected, or when they would be moved, but the announcement struck many employees:

“As soon as we walked in, they told us to shut off our cellphones,” said one employee who spoke to the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity. “None of our management was there. There were three gentlemen in suits we had never seen before who had flown up from San Antonio.”

The employees, who occupy building No. 5 at the Oracle campus in south Bozeman, were told the decision was a cost savings and that the jobs would be moved to San Antonio by March. But employees believe their jobs will be gone much sooner, the employee said.

“There were definitely people crying,” the Oracle employee said Wednesday. “The really ugly thing about all this is that there were several new hires who had recently moved here from out of state.”

The employees, many of whom have law degrees, were told they could apply for other jobs at Oracle but that they should not assume they could glide until their termination date. The cloud deal management employees administer legal contracts for service with Fortune 500 companies, bringing in millions of dollars every quarter, one source said.

“Oracle recently made a strategic business decision to consolidate certain operations of its finance department in San Antonio,” a company representative said in an emailed statement to the Chronicle. “The vast majority of Oracle employees in Bozeman will not be impacted by this decision.”

The representative, Greg Lunsford, didn’t provide answers to questions about the specific number of employees impacted by the shift, the timeframe of potential layoffs, or the total number of workers currently employed by the company in Bozeman.

Sources who contacted the Chronicle asked that they not be named, saying the company had threatened employees who leaked details to the press.

Two sources said their understanding was that the decision was made because Texas employees would be paid substantially lower wages.

In a statement quoted in the Chronicle, Oracle said it “remains committed to Montana and is looking forward to opening its new, state-of-the-art cloud operations center in Bozeman in early 2017.” The Chronicle also notes that Oracle is the owner of Bozeman-based RightNow Technologies, which it bought for $1.5 billion in 2012. RightNow’s founder, Greg Gianforte, is running for governor of Montana on the Republican ticket against Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock.

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