Luna Leopold — Pioneer of Water Science

Luna B. Leopold

Here’s a look back at the career of Luna B. Leopold from the United States Geological Service. They are running a series of articles to honor Earth Science Week, an effort to introduce students to careers in the geosciences.

Everyone interested in water issues should read Dr. Leopold’s book Water, Rivers and Creeks. He hits the subject from stem to stern.

Here’s an excerpt from the USGS article:

“Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” –Luna B. Leopold, Former USGS Chief Hydrologist

Luna B. Leopold, son of famed conservationist Aldo Leopold, arrived at the USGS in 1950. For the next two decades, Leopold revolutionized hydrologic sciences within and outside the USGS. He is best known for his work in the field of geomorphology, the study of land features and the processes that create and change them. His work is often cited today by leading scientists in water research, both at the USGS and around the world.

Leopold had a lasting impact on the field of water science. He knew the broader importance of our water resources and that humans can have great impact on whether water is available, now and in the future. Our society depends on safe and reliable water supplies, as do the Earth’s diverse and valuable ecosystems. Today, our nation is faced with the challenge of balancing a finite freshwater supply between competing needs, such as agriculture, drinking water, energy production, and ecosystems.

Leopold recognized the fundamental value of science in making smart decisions about water resources and laid the groundwork for modern water science. During his tenure he transformed USGS water research into a professionally-recognized provider of water quality and availability information.

Here’s a link to an old Coyote Gulch post around the time that he passed on. Scroll down to read the post. Here’s the link to the March 5, 2006 Washington Post obituary — Luna B. Leopold, 90; USGS Hydrologist”.

Kerber Creek: ‘Aesthetically, the whole environment along the creek is so different’ — Brady and Jane Farrell

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series (Aaron Monammadi). Here’s an excerpt:

The dedicated efforts of a few individuals can really make a difference, however, such as those involved in the Kerber Creek Restoration Project located in Saguache.

Brady and Jane Farrell, who have been on the project since the beginning and continue to be involved, share the following:

“Today, walking along our section of Kerber Creek is a completely different experience. The eroding banks have been reinforced with large rocks and stabilized by plantings. There are fish for the grand-kids to catch and release because the water is deeper. The aspens we planted along the creek are catching hold. The J hooks and weirs and other structures have created deep pockets for the fish to survive in, and the overall depth is increased as a result of re-channeling parts of the creek. Formerly by late summer the whole creek was so shallow you could walk across it without hardly getting your shoes wet, and there was little growth along the banks.

“Aesthetically, the whole environment along the creek is so different. A healthy creek is certainly much more attractive in every way. We love sitting by it or walking along it, enjoying the growing plants along the banks and cascading water along the creek that was formerly shallow, with banks falling into the water and little growth along the course of the stream. What a change has occurred over these past few years. And it will only get better in the coming years as the plantings mature and fish get bigger.”

The Kerber Creek Restoration Project is an award winning collaboration of 16 federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit groups and more than 20 local landowners dedicated to the restoration of the Kerber Creek watershed from historic mining impacts. From 2007 to the present, the Bonanza Stakeholders Group has raised over $2 million towards restoration efforts and contributed over 13,000 volunteer hours on the Restoration Project.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

CWCB: State of Colorado Receives Partners in Conservation Award

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.

Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

EPA: Check out their new website for information on the surface water in your area

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Say hello to How’s My Waterway?. I entered my zip code and found that all the close surface water is polluted if they evaluated it. I knew there was a reason that my grandmother used to tell me as a kid, “Johnny don’t go in Clear Creek.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Drought news: Colorado Springs Utilities — Mandatory restrictions possible in 2013 #CODrought

From KRDO (Joe Dominguez):

The continuing drought is one concern but now utilities leaders are warning the Utilities Board and customers water use habits could also force the company to enforce restrictions for the first time since 2005. “The community’s water use is currently higher than expected,” someone tweeted from the Colorado Springs Utilities Twitter account during the regular board meeting Wednesday. “Mandatory restrictions possible in 2013.”

Yearly water usage was last measured by CSU in July. It found that 2,733.2 million gallons of water had been used by customers. In 2011 at the same time of year, water consumption was 2,509.1 million gallons.

From the Montrose Daily Press (Elaine Hale Jones):

As promised, irrigation water was shut off through the Gunnison Tunnel two weeks early on Monday by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, which manages the water. Early shut-off dates have not been uncommon throughout the long history of the irrigation project, according to association officials. “In 2002, water was shut down early due to drought conditions. It’s the same this year,” UVWUA manager Steve Fletcher said…

“Our main purpose in shutting the water off early is to conserve our stored water in Taylor Reservoir,” he said.
Located nearly 100 miles from Montrose in the northeastern end of Gunnison County, Taylor Reservoir was built to store spring run-off from the upper Gunnison River to be released and diverted through the Gunnison Tunnel late in the season when needed for maturing crops. Completed in 1937, the reservoir was a cooperative agreement between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association as the second major phase of the Uncompahgre Project, first implemented with the completion of the Gunnison Tunnel in 1909. The project is unique among similar projects in that 100 percent of the first fill is for irrigation purposes only, and the first fill rights are strictly for Uncompahgre Valley irrigation. Taylor Reservoir holds 21.2 million acre-feet of water.

From the Mancos Times:

The Mancos Board of Trustees has established an exterior watering ban until further notice. There is not enough water flowing in the West Mancos River to legally get water through the head gate from the river to the water filtration facility. The town has #3 priority water right, which means river water cannot currently be diverted to the filtration facility.

This means that the town has to use its backup supply that is stored in Jackson Reservoir. Currently the reservoir is only at 14 percent of its capacity and there is no water coming into the reservoir from the river. Therefore, we must conserve water because we don’t know exactly when the reservoir will begin to get water from the river again. The watering ban will be lifted when this situation changes.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The unofficial winner of the Routt County rain derby Tuesday night was the rain gauge located about eight miles west of Steamboat Springs, where a participant of Colorado State University’s volunteer weather-monitoring program recorded 0.34 inches of precipitation. Closer to Steamboat Springs, three other participants in CSU’s Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network posted measurements of 0.23, 0.26 and 0.19 inches. A rain gauge in Clark collected 0.15 inches of precipitation, and another just outside Oak Creek totaled 0.23 inches.

Rio Grande River Basin: The State Engineer is cracking down on over-pumping

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

This week [State Engineer Dick Wolfe] issued a draft policy concerning pumping limits for large-capacity wells in the Rio Grande Basin, Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten announced to those attending the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting yesterday in Alamosa.

The draft policy involves pumping limits for wells, specifically nonexempt large capacity wells, which have been required to meter usage for a few years now. Some of these wells have exceeded the pumping limits in their permits or decrees, Cotten explained, so they may be required to curtail or shut down pumping next year.

“We have actually started ensuring those limitations are complied with,” Cotten said on Tuesday, “but this policy sets it more in stone how we are going to do that and what steps we are going to take to ensure the wells are pumping within their limitations.”

He said this was something that needed to be handled, and this policy will set limits in black and white “so there’s no question.”

He described the bases that will be used to determine if a well has exceeded its limits. Some wells have maximum annual production they cannot exceed in any one year, such as 200-300 acre feet. On that basis, the water office has already ordered some wells to shut down, Cotten said.

“We do know there have been several that have exceeded their maximum annual production, and we have issued orders on those,” Cotten said…

The “volumetric pumping limits of nonexempt wells in the Rio Grande Basin” draft policy refers to the extreme multi-year drought in the basin as one of the main reasons this policy is under consideration. It says the drought years have affected the recharge and storage in groundwater aquifers serving as the water supply for municipal, domestic, irrigation and other water users throughout the Valley. The policy states that during this summer alone, for example, water table elevations declined up to six feet in some areas, and the unconfined aquifer storage in the closed basin, which has been measured over a period of 30-plus years, decreased by about 166,000 acre feet.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Forecast news: ‘Going back to 1905, we’ve never seen this [ENSO neutral after double-dip La Niña]’ Klaus Wolter #CODrought

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The centerpiece of Tuesday’s webcast was a seasonal outlook from NOAA meteorologist Klaus Wolter, who offered some hope. Despite the fact that La Niña is fading, the overall combination of ocean temperatures and global circulation may bring at least normal moisture to the high country.

“What we have to play with … shows a slight preference for a little bit wetter conditions on the West Slope, but it’s not a strong signal,” said Wolter, who studies climate with the Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder.

The combination of a weak El Niño, a cold phase of a large-scale Pacific oscillation known as the PDO, as well as atmospheric patterns in the Atlantic could combine push storms across the central Rockies, he said.

The El Niño Southern Oscillation is one of the best indicators for developing long-term precipitation outlooks, but it looks like the Pacific Ocean will be in a near-neutral state this winter, and perhaps slip back into a La Niña phase (cooler than average sea surface temps in the equatorial eastern Pacific) by next year.

Wolter said having a “neutral” year after a douple-dip La Niña is almost unprecedented. Almost always, after a two-year La Niña phase, the Pacific rebounds to at least a weak El Niño.

“Going back to 1905, we’ve never seen this,” Wolter said.

The last time the Pacific stayed in a La Niña to neutral phases for an extended time was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, culminating in the 2002 drought. In general, Wolter said some of Colorado’s historic long-term droughts have coincided with similar conditions.

“If you look at the big, long droughts … going back to 1910, they were all associated with conditions like we’re seeing; this is the big concern,” Wolter said, adding that he does expect at least a bit of a rebound from last winter’s epic low snowfall.

Four Corners River Health Workshop recap: ‘The Animas knits everything together’ — Ann Oliver

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

Two hundred people involved in water-quality issues from Silverton to Northern New Mexico described projects, compared notes and asked questions of others Tuesday. The occasion was the Four Corners River Health Workshop sponsored by the New Mexico Environment Department in collaboration with the Animas Watershed Partnership and the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District…

“There are 35 community water systems and 22 permitted dischargers, including 16 sewerages,” Oliver said. “It also provides room and board for 25 of the birds, frogs, fish and mammals identified by states as species of greatest conservation concern and supports at least 10 fishing and boating recreation businesses.

“The Animas knits everything together,” Oliver said.

Additional pressure on the river is the presence of nutrients, most commonly nitrogen and phosphorus, which in excess cause algae blooms that steal oxygen needed by other fish and aquatic life. Water-treatment plants and fertilizer from agriculture are major sources of nutrients, she said…

Peter Butler, chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission and a member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said new nutrient standards will affect Front Range dischargers long before smaller water-treatment plants such as Durango must upgrade equipment to meet standards.

More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.

H.R. 6462: Water and Agriculture Technology Economic Revitalization Act of 2012

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Here’s the Govtrack link.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

In a farmer’s perfect world, the nearly 1,000 miles of irrigation ditches that sprawl across Weld County would be lined and sealed to prevent any water loss to ground seepage, and each agricultural water provider could expand its reservoirs or build new ones at will to capture every excess drop of snowmelt that trickles down from the mountains.

“In reality, though, the kind of money needed to do all of that just doesn’t exist,” said Russ Leffler, an Eaton ­area farmer who serves as president of the Larimer ­Weld Reservoir and Windsor Reservoir companies. Instead, Leffler and decision makers with other water suppliers are focused simply on upgrading and repairing existing infrastructure as a more economically feasible way to make their systems more efficient. Still, just keeping up with those expenses as needed is nearly impossible, they say.

Many of the hundreds of spillways, inlets and diversion structures along the region’s rivers and canals are approaching 100 years old, if they haven’t already reached the century mark, and the upgrades can easily reach millions of dollars on each project. That’s why many in Weld — a top ­10 agriculture producer nationally — say they’re relieved by the introduction of The Water and Agriculture Technology Economic Revitalization Act. That bill, if signed into law, would give mutual ditch companies more funds to pay for their much­ needed — and, in many cases, long­overdue — improvements.

As it stands, mutual ditch and irrigation companies must receive 85 percent of their income from shareholder investments to maintain their nonprofit status. However, as Leffler and others explained, reservoir and ditch companies have sources of revenue aside from the assessments paid by their shareholders. For example, Leffler said all seven of the reservoirs under his two companies’ systems have recreational leases with private companies, and that additional revenue has caused them to exceed their 85 percent threshold in recent years.

However, the bill — introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner, R ­Colo. — would allow those companies to receive that extra income and still maintain their nonprofit status, meaning that what dollars the Larimer ­Weld Reservoir and Windsor Reservoir companies and others have spent on taxes in recent years, due to surpassing the 85 percent threshold, would instead be kept in house and used for necessary improvements. “To make the most of our water, we need to be doing a lot of work to our systems,” Leffler said. “And anything that can help us get the dollars we need to do those repairs as soon as possible is a huge boost.

“At a time that we’re seeing huge growth in the region and water supplies are being stretched, we need to make sure we’re being as efficient as we can be … but we need money to do that.”

Just in recent years, the Larimer ­Weld Reservoir and Windsor Reservoir companies — two of several that operate in Weld County, and deliver water to about 70,000 acres of farmground — spent about $1.5 million on repairing one of its spillways and another $1.5 million on an inlet, and there’s much more to do, Leffler said. The companies are also looking to install better monitoring devices throughout their systems.

Leffler, along with Lynn Fagerberg, a fellow Eaton­area farmer, and other producers in the region, had met with Gardner in recent months, helping the congressman as he pieced together the legislation.

“We really hope this will go through,” Fagerberg said. “The lifespan on a lot of the infrastructure in this region is running out … and we need the dollars to make the improvements.” Gardner said he is confident the bill will pass.

“Right now we’re seeing a lot of bipartisan support for it,” he said. “Ideally we could get this passed this year — if not, hopefully next year.

“Irrigated agriculture is so huge to our area, and these ditch companies need this as soon as possible.”

The U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the legislation would take away about $31 million in tax revenue from the federal government between 2012 and 2021 — “definitely worth it,” as Gardner said, noting how important irrigated agriculture is to the economy and to the nation’s food security. To Leffler, Gardner’s bill represents more than just potentially leaving more dollars in the hands of mutual ditch companies to do needed upgrades. “It represents dedication to agriculture,” Leffler said Monday, watching his son — the fourth generation of the Leffler family to farm in Weld County — harvest sugar beets in a field near Eaton under a warm, late­morning sun. “That’s something you always like to see.

“We greatly appreciate Gardner’s efforts in this, and appreciate anyone else who backs it up.”

More H.R. 6462 coverage here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap: Many eyes are on the spot market for water

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

That was the theme of a far ­ranging meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday. About 40 people from well augmentation groups, ditches and other farm interests attended the meeting. State Engineer Dick Wolfe and John Stulp, water adviser to John Hickenlooper, also attended the meeting.

While the state officials were there to talk about the high level of scrutiny for a Super Ditch pilot program which failed to get off the ground this year, the discussion quickly changed to increased competition for water on the spot market, which is drying up as the drought deepens.

Scott Lorenz, manager of the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association, asked the Lower Ark board to adopt a resolution supporting cooperation and refraining from competing for the same sources of replacement water. The Lower Ark district provides replacement water for farmers under state surface irrigation rules.

“We’re asking the district to refrain from taking water from some farmers and giving it to others,” Lorenz said.

Lower Ark board members said the district’s goal is to help all farmers, and cited instances where the district has assisted well groups.

“The spot market may not even be there in the future,” said Lynden Gill, Lower Ark chairman. “We appreciate your efforts to bring these things to our attention.”

“Why don’t we take a step forward, and put on a positive attitude?” said Reeves Brown, a Pueblo County director.
The well groups first met with the Lower Ark board in February to address the issue, but no follow­up meetings have occurred. Recently, Lorenz publicly accused the district of trying to undercut its water sources, which the district denied.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A time­out from Arkansas Valley surface irrigation rules is unlikely, even though farmers say they’re paying for water they’re not even using.

At this week’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer on the Fort Lyon Canal, asked State Engineer Dick Wolfe if the 2010 surface irrigation rules could be suspended until a study of pond leakage is complete.

“Dick, we’d like to have the state help us, because sometimes it seems like you’re the enemy,” Mauch told Wolfe at one point.

Mauch explained that under 2010 surface irrigation rules, he was required to purchase replacement water to augment his pond­fed sprinklers, even though he hasn’t been able to irrigate since mid­June because of the drought.

Mauch is among farmers trying to loosen up state water­replacement requirements by trying to prove that irrigation ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than presumed by a state formula.

The state presumes 3 percent leakage, while farmers say it’s closer to 20 to 25 percent.

Wolfe replied that the state’s actions are bound by court­decreed rules that make it difficult to alter or suspend any of the provisions.

“Dale, the state’s computer model doesn’t agree with you,” another farmer joked. “I live in reality,” Mauch laughed.

Pueblo County farmer Tom Rusler, who farms on the Bessemer Ditch, asked if the accounting for the rules could be done after the irrigation season, rather than in advance.

Wolfe said the rules require a plan prior to the irrigation season and can’t be altered without a change in the court decree. Wolfe said the rules could be amended to reflect the results of the pond study. Additionally, the Lower Ark district, which administers a group plan for water replacement under Rule 10 of the rules, can amend its report.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.