EPA: A Primer on Using Biological Assessments to Support Water Quality Management

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Here’s the link to the publication from the Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s an excerpt:

This guide serves as a primer on the role of biological assessments in a variety of water quality management program applications, including reporting on the condition of the aquatic biota, establishing biological criteria, and assessing the effectiveness of Total Maximum Daily Load determinations and pollutant source controls. This guide provides a brief discussion of technical tools and approaches for developing strong biological assessment programs and presents examples of successful application of those tools.

The objective of the Clean Water Act (CWA), and water quality management programs generally, is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Although we have achieved major water quality improvements over the past four decades and have reduced the discharge of many toxic chemicals into our nation’s waters, many environmental challenges remain, such as loss and fragmentation of habitat, altered hydrology, invasive species, climate change, discharge of new chemicals, stormwater, and nitrogen or phosphorus (nutrient) pollution. In the face of such challenges, how can we best deploy our water quality programs to meet the vision of the CWA for protection of aquatic life?
Measuring the condition of the resident biota in surface waters using biological assessments and incorporating that information into management decisions can be an important tool to help federal, state, and tribal water quality management programs meet many of the challenges.

Biological assessments are an evaluation of the condition of a waterbody using surveys of the structure and function of a community of resident biota (e.g., fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, periphyton, amphibians) (for more information, see Biological Assessment Key Concepts and Terms)1. Assessments of habitat condition, both instream and riparian, are typically conducted simultaneously. Such information can reflect the overall ecological integrity of a waterbody and provides a direct measure of both present and past effects of stressors on the biological integrity of an aquatic ecosystem. The benefit of a biological assessment program is based in its capability to:

– Characterize the biological condition of a waterbody relative to water quality standards (WQS).

– Integrate the cumulative effects of different stressors from multiple sources, thus providing a holistic measure of their aggregate effect.

– Detect aquatic life impairment from unmeasured stressors and unknown sources of impairment.

– Provide field data on biotic response variables to support development of empirical stressor response models.

– Inform water quality and natural resource managers, stakeholders, and the public on the environmental outcomes of actions taken.

More water pollution coverage here.

Colorado State University Biology Professor to Study Effects of Climate Change on Stream Hydrology in Colorado River Basin

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Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Emily Narvaes Wilmsen):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has awarded Colorado State University biology Professor LeRoy Poff and his team $105,000 for their two-year research project on the effects of climate change on stream hydrology.

Under this new grant, Poff will focus on the Colorado River basin to identify streams that are prone to have no-flow days and go dry in summer, pushing vegetation to become more drought tolerant and the species surrounding the stream to also adapt.

Ultimately, the researchers intend to use this new information to understand vegetation sensitivity to climate change and the ability of vegetation to move with changing conditions as a basis for developing maps for policymakers and conservation groups. The grant comes from the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program through their Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative.

“We want to show how the vegetation is vulnerable to climate change in temperate streams,” said Lindsay Reynolds, post-doctoral researcher and principle investigator. “We are focusing our attention on the Colorado River areas projected to have longer and drier summers as the climate rapidly changes. Also, the biggest challenge we have faced in the field is understanding variability for the future and determining how much the fresh water supply will decrease for future generations.”

Poff, Reynolds and other scientists in the group also work closely with U.S. Geological Survey and The Nature Conservancy on climate change research.

In 2010, Poff was among a selected group of scientists to receive a grant of $3 million from the National Science Foundation to evaluate temperatures and extreme weather and its affect on stream life in temperate and tropical streams. Their hypothesis going into the research was that temperate species were likely to be less sensitive to climate change than those in the tropics because temperate streams naturally experience major annual swings in temperature and stream organisms often occupy a wide range of elevations. Sampling of steams in Colorado commenced this summer. Ecuadorian sampling will start early next year.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Western Weather Consultants report that their cloud-seeding efforts increased Summit County snowfall by 12 to 22 inches last winter

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

This year, the $274,000 central Colorado mountains program includes seven Front Range water providers and four ski areas: Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Winter Park and Breckenridge, all contributing to the cost of the cloud-seeding program, according Joe Busto, head of the state’s weather modification program. The CWCB supports the program with grant funding…

The report estimates that last winter’s cloud-seeding between early November and early February resulted in an additional 12 inches of snow at Breckenridge, 16 inches at Keystone and 22 inches at Arapahoe Basin…

To avoid unwanted consequences such as excessive flooding, cloud-seeding operations stop when certain snowpack thresholds are reached, or if avalanche hazards rise to a critical level. For example, seeding operations in Summit County were suspended last winter during a pre-Christmas storm because of the high snowpack in the area.

Here’s the link to the report. More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: 340 cfs in the Big Thompson below Olympus dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As our maintenance work continues into November, folks along the river and Horsetooth Reservoir have likely noticed a few more changes.

After releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River went up Thursday and Friday last week, they briefly cut back again for some maintenance work at the Dille Diversion Dam in the lower part of the canyon. That work was completed yesterday. As a result, releases from Oly Dam went back up and we are now sending about 340 cfs down the Big T from the dam. We anticipate this release to continue for about two weeks.

With maintenance complete at the Dille Diversion, we are now using it to capture about 300 cfs from the river to send north to Horsetooth Reservoir. With about 300 cfs coming in, Horsetooth’s water level elevation has started to rise again. It’s gone up about six inches since yesterday and is at an elevation of 5400.40 feet.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The ramping down of releases from Green Mountain Reservoir that started last week continued through the weekend and into today

By yesterday, releases had been cut back in 50 cfs intervals to 400 cfs. Today, we followed the same pattern the past few days have seen and cut releases by 50 cfs at 8 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. resulting in a flow of about 300 cfs in the Lower Blue.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Partners find solution to clean up the Fraser River: Grand County, Denver Water, CDOT and others minimize impacts from winter driving

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

The Fraser River is on its way to a better future. Sediment created by sand applied to Berthoud Pass to improve winter driving conditions now has a better place to go, thanks to a partnership between entities on both sides of the divide. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Denver Water, Grand County and Town of Winter Park, along with the U.S. Forest Service-Sulphur Ranger District, East Grand Water Quality Board, Army Corps of Engineers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have come together to construct a settling pond on the Fraser River on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area.

“This project and the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement show that by working together we can save the Fraser River,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry.

“This is a great example of collaboration, ingenuity, and the value of the Cooperative Agreement we recently negotiated with Grand County and other West Slope entities,” said Dave Little, director of planning for Denver Water.

The project began in August and is expected to be completed by mid-November. Crews have been constructing a settling pond in Denver Water’s existing diversion facility, building an access road and establishing a mitigation pond – or, new wetland area – downstream of the project. The purpose of the settling pond is to trap and remove sediment that enters the Fraser River below Berthoud Pass. This project builds on previous efforts funded by a Colorado Nonpoint Source Program grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which involved an initial construction phase years ago and helped pay for this new design.

“CDOT is very excited to see this project take form,” said CDOT Region 1 Director Tony Devito. “The end result of removing traction sand from this drainage basin is so critical for the environment and end users of this watershed. This could not have happened without those involved collaborating toward the common goal.”

The project is funded through multiple partners. Led by president Kirk Klancke beginning in 2002, the East Grand Water Quality Board acquired a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2008 for $187,900 to construct the settling pond. Grand County is administering the grant and contributing $45,000 plus one-third of the cost of all change orders. In addition, CDOT is contributing $175,000 toward project engineering and construction. As part of the enhancements recently agreed to in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement Denver Water has contributed $90,000 toward construction, is managing the project, and is allowing the construction of the settlement pond within its Fraser River diversion facility.

“This will be a great enhancement for our water treatment system,” said Mike Wageck from Winter Park Water and Sanitation District. “The excess sediment clogs Winter Park’s drinking water intake pipes and Winter Park Resort’s diversion pumps.”

The settling pond design, created by JVA, Inc., captures sediment and includes a diversion structure to channel water away from the basin when it is necessary remove the sediment. The design also includes access improvements from U.S. Highway 40 to accommodate long-term maintenance and sediment removal without impacting wetlands or Denver Water’s infrastructure. The new access route will allow CDOT to easily remove the sediment from the pond and load it into trucks to be hauled to a Grand County gravel pit for reuse. The sediment was tested to make sure it contained no potentially unsafe materials.

For more information, please contact Grand County at 970-725-3347, ext. 101, or go to www.co.grand.co.us.

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Better maintenance and capture of highway sand can help reduce impacts to tiny aquatic organisms that form the base of the food chain in the river, helping to sustain healthy fisheries. The larvae of the aquatic insects need a coarse bed of rocks at the bottom of the stream to thrive. When the sand fills in all the gaps between the rocks, the bugs have nowhere to go.

The settling pond will also protect municipal and resort water infrastructure and equipment.

Work started in August and should be done by mid-November. Crews have been constructing a settling pond in Denver Water’s existing diversion facility, building an access road and establishing a new wetland area downstream of the project.

More Fraser River watershed coverage here and here.

Durango voters approve ponying up $4 million for Animas-La Plata Project water

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“We’re very pleased and grateful that the community rallied behind the proposition,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said Tuesday. “Generations to come will benefit from this action.”[…]

The city is counting on borrowing money from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority at 1.95 percent. Over 20 years, the loan will cost almost $5 million.

City officials say additional water is needed to satisfy demand at peak periods and to prepare for population growth. In the short term, officials want to have more water available than the 60 million gallons they can store now – a seven-day supply. During peak season, daily use is 9.5 million gallons.

With the acquisition of 3,800 acre-feet of water from the Animas-La Plata Project, the city would have about 680 million gallons available.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.

Irrigation Association annual conference recap: ‘Water for the Future: The Role of Efficient Irrigation’

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From Lawn and Landscape (Brian Vinchesi):

This year’s water conference was titled: “Water for the Future: The Role of Efficient Irrigation.” The two-day conference was moderated by Mary Lou Smith from the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. The conference drew a wide range of participants, including farmers, design professionals, government agencies, association representatives, lawyers, national corporations and irrigation contractors and consultants.

The conference also included two pre-conference sessions. Of interest to the landscape industry was the one titled “Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Grounds.” This half-day seminar outlined the theory and applicability of having a “net-zero” building. A net-zero building involves having all water and energy be produced by the building and then used by the building or returns the same amount of water and energy it takes externally back to its source. From the irrigation side, this means using captured rainwater, stormwater, recycled water and air conditioning condensate as well as solar powered controllers and, in some cases, pumps. From a landscape side: native or low water use plants, green roofs, bioswale, green walls and porous pavers are important components.

The conference format consisted of general sessions on water policy and future irrigation issues while breakout sessions on specialized subjects were utilized for both agriculture and landscape stakeholders. The general sessions included an opening session by IBM on groundbreaking technologies in water management and a presentation on “Conservation Partnerships: Promoting Healthy Fisheries through Efficient Irrigation” by Trout Unlimited. This presentation outlined success stories where fish habitat was conserved as well as water while the farmer or urban area still received enough water to grow crops or provide services.

More conservation coverage here.