EPA: Waters that have never been protected remain outside the scope of the Clean Water Act

Drought news

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary
Early in the period, a strong cold front brought unseasonably cool air (and dozens of daily record or near-record minimums and low maximums) to the eastern two-thirds of the Nation while also triggering numerous showers and thunderstorms across the southern and central Plains, lower Mississippi Valley, Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and coastal New England. Lows dropped into the forties as far south as Kansas, and 7-day temperatures averaged more than 12oF below normal in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Another cold front late in the week dropped heavy rain on northern sections of North Dakota and Minnesota. In contrast, a ridge of high pressure over the West kept the weather hot and mostly dry. Weekly temperatures averaged 4 to 8oF above normal in the Northwest and Great Basin, with highs reaching triple-digits in many locations. Numerous large active wild fires were reported in the Far West, particularly in Washington and Oregon. Wetter weather was reported in both Hawaii and Puerto Rico, but the heaviest rains fell on areas without D0 or D1…

Pacific Northwest
A second consecutive week of hot (temperatures averaged 4 to 8oF above normal, triple-digit highs) and mostly dry weather greatly increased moisture demand across the region. Numerous large active wild fires, many triggered by lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms, were reported in the West. As of July 23, Oregon had 13 active large wildfires totaling more than 578,000 acres, while Washington had 5 large active fires affecting almost 300,000 acres, according to NIFC. Although July precipitation is normally low, the combination of hot weather and no rain has exacerbated conditions, resulting in the expansion of D0 along the Washington coast, just east of the Washington Cascades, across north-central Idaho, and into parts of western and central Montana based upon 30- and 60-day shortages. In the latter state, recent heat, spotty rains, and windy conditions have quickly decreased moisture conditions from June into July. In southeastern Oregon, light rain (0.1-0.4 inches) on day 7 of the period in Malheur and Harney counties helped wet one of the largest fires (Buzzard Complex), but dry and hot weather in southwestern ( Jackson County) and central Oregon (Deschutes, Crook, and Grant counties) expanded D3 and D2, respectively. In Idaho, irrigation water was shut off this week for Magic Reservoir and Salmon Falls water users, while Little Wood Reservoir irrigators will be out of water soon – earlier than last year. Owyhee Reservoir is nearly empty, and ran out of available water much earlier than last year…

Southern and Central Plains
Widespread moderate to heavy showers and thunderstorms, plus unseasonably cool air, highlighted a very beneficial and welcome weather week for much of the region. Southeastward tracking thunderstorms dropped swaths of ample rain (>2 inches) on southwestern Kansas, central and southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas, eastern Texas, and most of Louisiana. Additional heavy rains fell on southeastern Colorado, the Texas Panhandle, along the Red River Valley, and on central and southwestern Texas. Even after a dry 7-day period in much of Texas last week, 60-day precipitation is generally at or above normal in most of the state, along with Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and eastern Colorado. The issue, however, is to balance the short-term wetness with the long-term (multi-year) drought which has impacted hydrological interests. Taking this into consideration, 1-category improvements were made in most areas where this week’s rainfall exceeded 2 inches. A 2-category improvement (D1 to nothing) was made in extreme southeastern Texas (Jefferson County) were 8-10 inches fell. A few areas were slightly degraded as the rains missed the extreme southern Texas coast and parts of the west Texas. The July 20 NASS/USDA state summaries mentioned that pastures were greening up across much of Texas and Oklahoma with the recent rains and lower temperatures, and most crops benefited from the moisture and lack of excessive heat. 28-day average USGS stream flows were spotty in Texas, but most sites in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas were in the normal (25-75th percentile) category, including several stations in northern Texas in the above to much-above normal categories…

Southwest and Great Basin
Somewhat similar to the southern Plains, abundant moisture triggered scattered moderate to heavy showers and thunderstorms in parts of New Mexico and southeastern Colorado, but totals quickly dropped to zero in western sections (e.g. most of Arizona, Utah, western Colorado, southeastern California). And like the southern Plains, the balancing of short-term wetness and long-term drought tempered the potential improvements in New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. Nevertheless, where decent rains (more than an inch) fell this week and Water Year-to-date surpluses existed, a 1-category improvement was made, namely in central New Mexico (north to south) – D3 to D2, and in southeastern Colorado. D3 was slightly expanded to reflect similar conditions at various time scales in north-central New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. In northeastern Utah, hot and dry conditions justified a general 1-category downgrade to reflect poor soil and vegetative health models. Monsoonal moisture made it north and west into the central Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe area, producing showers and thunderstorms that dropped 0.3-1 inches, locally to 3 inches, but these totals weren’t even close to making a dent in the long-term drought. In California, the June 30 reservoir update (based upon 154 intrastate reservoirs) had storage at 60% of average – better than this time in 1977 where storage was at a record low of 41%. Storage totaled 17.25 million acre feet (maf), and a typical seasonal withdrawal is 8.24 maf. The last two years (2012 and 2013), withdrawal has topped 11 maf. Due to early melting of this year’s meager snowpack, withdrawal through June 30 was already at 2.1 maf (versus average withdrawal through June 30 of less than 0.6 maf)…

Looking Ahead
During July 24-28, wet weather is forecast for the eastern third of the Nation, Pacific Northwest, and parts of the northern and south-central Plains. Later in the period, some monsoonal moisture is expected to trek northward into Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado and trigger scattered light to moderate showers. Little or no precipitation for the 5-day period is expected in California and the Great Basin, north-central Rockies, southern Plains, and central Great Plains. Temperatures should average below normal across the northern tier of States and above normal across the southern third of the U.S., with the greatest positive departures in the Southwest.

For the ensuing 5-day period, July 29-August 2, the odds favor above median precipitation from the eastern Great Basin and Arizona southeastward along the Gulf Coast and northeastward along the southern and middle Atlantic Coast. Sub-median precipitation is likely in the Pacific Northwest, and from the northern Plains and upper Midwest southeastward into the Tennessee Valley. Western Alaska is expected to observe below median rainfall, with the opposite forecast in the southeastern Panhandle. An expected strong ridge of high pressure over the Far West and a deep trough over the eastern U.S. will favor strong chances of above-median temperatures in the West and below-median readings in the eastern half of the U.S.

New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

Here’s the release:

A new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists finds more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal water management agency, the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years.

The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study’s lead author. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Water above ground in the basin’s rivers and lakes is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and its losses are documented. Pumping from underground aquifers is regulated by individual states and is often not well documented.

“There’s only one way to put together a very large-area study like this, and that is with satellites,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist at JPL on leave from UC Irvine, where he is an Earth system science professor. “There’s just not enough information available from well data to put together a consistent, basin-wide picture.”

Famiglietti said GRACE is like having a giant scale in the sky. Within a given region, the change in mass due to rising or falling water reserves influences the strength of the local gravitational attraction. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE reveals how much a region’s water storage changes over time.

The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, and irrigates roughly four million acres of farmland.

“The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said Famiglietti. “With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

Famiglietti noted that the rapid depletion rate will compound the problem of short supply by leading to further declines in streamflow in the Colorado River.

“Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico,” Famiglietti said.

The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which posted the manuscript online July 24. Co-authors included other scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado. The research was funded by NASA and the University of California.

For more information on NASA’s GRACE satellite mission, see: http://www.nasa.gov/grace and http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace

More groundwater coverage here.

SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

“This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

River restoration projects mostly fine despite runoff — The Leadville Herald Democrat

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Danny Ramey):

Heavy spring runoff did not have a major impact on several river restoration projects in the Arkansas River basin.

Members of the Lake County Open Space Initiative toured the three different projects on Thursday, July 10. Each of three projects used a different method to help preserve or restore the river.

Last year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife worked to maintain and build habitat along the Arkansas River near Hayden Meadows. Logs and sod mats were used in the project to help stabilize the river banks while still allowing the river some space to move.

“That’s a natural thing rivers want to build,” Greg Policky, biologist for parks and wildlife, said. The goal of the project was to ensure that there is adequate habitat for each life stage of trout, Policky said.

During the spring, the Hayden Meadows area saw higher than average flows. Normally, flows measure around 300 to 400 cubic feet per second on that stretch of river. This spring flows reached up to 900/cfs, Policky said. Despite the heavy flow, most of the structures parks and wildlife put in held. However, there were a few problem areas. In one spot, the river ripped out the log supports and created a channel.

“It didn’t quite like everything we did,” Policky said.

The runoff also caused some erosion of the river banks in the 4-mile project area. Crews will be coming in near the end of July to maintenance the project. They will also extend the project another mile down the river.

Meanwhile, river restoration further up on the Arkansas River and the Lake Fork saw very little disturbance from the runoff.

Restoration work along that section of the river was done mostly with rocks to lower the chance of something coming loose and washing downstream.

“I put something in that I’m confident that I won’t move,” Greg Brunjak, who worked on the project, said.

Willows and logs were also used in parts of the project to stabilize the banks.
That particular project was performed mostly on private land along the Lake Fork. One of the project’s goals was to help eliminate erosion along the banks of the river and help maintain livestock habitat in the area.

The structures can withstand up-flows of about 800/cfs, Brunjak said. That portion of the Lake Fork saw flows of around 200 and 250/cfs this winter, which were still higher then normal.

“We’ve got a pretty good flow we haven’t seen for awhile,” Brunjak said.

The Union Creek Project, located on a tributary off of the Arkansas River, saw minimal impact from the runoff as well. One of the main goals of the project was to stabilize a portion of the Old Stage Road. Union Creek had been cutting into the hill and destabilizing the road. The project was performed by Colorado Mountain College. Soil lifts and willows were used to help stabilize the bank of the creek below the road.
The one issue from the runoff came from a log structure built to help get water to some of the willows used in the project, Jake Mohrmann, assistant project manager of the CMC Natural Resource Management department, said. The structure ended up being too tight and was plugged by debris from the runoff, which caused the area behind the structure to dry up slightly. When crews unplugged the structure it caused a lot of sediment to flow through, Mohrmann said. The structure then plugged up again a few weeks later.

“We will need to remove it and find another way to get water to the willows,” Mohrmann said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

“Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

Reach 4 (38 miles)

Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

Spill management

Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

“The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

“There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water preserves all exclusions and exemptions for agriculture

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.