Roan Plateau: Settlement on the horizon?

Remember Luna Leopold on his birthday

From the United States Geological Survey:

In honor of Earth Science Week, October 14-20, 2012, the USGS is taking a look back into history at the scientists who laid the foundation for the innovative earth science research taking place today. Without the work conducted by these pioneers, much of the science used for decision making worldwide would not be possible.

“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.

For six years, he served as a hydraulic engineer before becoming the first Chief Hydrologist in the history of the USGS, a position he held until 1966 when he stepped down to pursue his research. While at the USGS, he led the effort to restructure the water science programs to focus on viewing water as a single resource. For example, USGS continues to research the interactions between surface water and groundwater, because use of either of these resources affects the quantity and quality of the other.

Leopold also directed the agency to assist in developing hydrology education programs at universities across the country and promoted a future in which all hydrologic research organizations—both public and private—would come together to share information and advance their ideas.

“In effect, Luna turned the hydrologic division of the USGS into a premier research organization, contributing to the prominence the field now has,” said Bill Dietrich, a professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former colleague of Leopold’s.

Randall J. Hunt, USGS Research Hydrologist for Geology, and Curt Meine, the biographer of Aldo Leopold, have written an account of Luna Leopold’s contributions to the world of water science that will appear in the November/December issue of Ground Water and is currently online. In the article, “Luna B. Leopold – Pioneer Setting the Stage for Modern Hydrology,” they describe Leopold as a brilliant and humble researcher intrigued by the impact that human activities have on natural bodies of water.

“From the earliest steps in his career,” wrote Hunt and Meine, “Luna Leopold demonstrated a fascination with hydrology, an understanding of basic hydrological connectivity, and an appreciation of the role of science in informing resource management and stewardship.”

Not only did Leopold lead the transition to a more effective organization structure for the study of hydrology; he also changed the underlying philosophy behind the research.

“In 1957, newly minted USGS Chief Hydraulic Engineer Leopold brought with him a conviction that water on and beneath the Earth’s surface and the quality of both were interdependent parts of one water-resources system,” wrote Hunt and Meine. “Leopold believed, moreover, that the USGS and the field of hydrology had to change to reflect this reality. He also recognized that hydrologic research was critical in meeting the needs of water-resource planning…This approach became manifest within the USGS.”

Leopold’s contributions to the field of water science have been recognized by institutions throughout the United States. In 1967, just a year after completing his tenure as Chief Hydrologist, Leopold became the first hydrologist to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. In 1968 he won the Cullum Geographical Medal from the American Geographical Society, and in 1991 was awarded the National Medal of Science by President George H. Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House. During his career, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Geophysical Union.

Coyote Gulch posts about Dr. Leopold (who is quoted at the top of the blog):

Luna Leopold: Pioneer of water science</>

Luna B. Leopold (scroll down)

Luna B. Leopold: Water, Rivers and Creeks

Click here to order a copy of the book from Tattered Cover in Denver.

NIDIS: Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin September 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin September 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

SDA Honors St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District as a 2014 Collaboration Award Winner

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

Here’s the release from the Special District Association (Ann Terry):

The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District has been named one of three winners of the Special District Association of Colorado’s 2014 Collaboration Award.

The Special District Association of Colorado (SDA) presents this award annually to special districts that have effectively and efficiently partnered with other entities and local governments to form successful working relationships for the benefit of their citizens. The awards were presented at the SDA Annual Awards Luncheon as part of the SDA Annual Conference which was held September 10-12, 2014 in Keystone, Colorado.

In the aftermath of the disastrous flood of September 2013, the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, Boulder County, City of Longmont, Town of Lyons, and local property owners began the incredible challenge of addressing short term recovery and the channel’s ability to handle spring runoff. The group became known as the St. Vrain Creek Recovery and Restoration Team or R2T for short.
From the beginning, R2T identified rebuilding and repair opportunities and aligned them with state and federal financial resources. “R2T was really the first multiagency collaboration to address creek repairs after the flood”, said Board President Dennis Yanchunas. “R2T was quickly viewed by impacted citizens as safe, un-bureaucratic, nimble, and effective – that is really what you want from your local government.” R2T has now shifted to the long term recovery of the area as part of the St. Vrain Creek Coalition. The Coalition is working on a comprehensive St. Vrain Creek Watershed Master Plan that will promote for a holistic healthy riparian corridor and a stream system that will be better able to handle future floods.

Ann Terry, SDA’s Executive Director, was pleased to recognize the exceptional work of the District and R2T. “The commitment of the District and R2T to their residents has played a significant role in the area’s recovery, and this collaboration is a true testament to the success that can be achieved through partnerships.”

More Saint Vrain River coverage here.

The latest newsletter “The Current” is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

Click here to read the news letter. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2014-15, the Watershed Council is working to put the finishing touches on the Edwards Eagle River Restoration Project.

We were thrilled to have a group of Vail Mountain School 7th & 8th graders help us out for their service learning day. Together we planted 34 narrowleaf cottonwood trees and installed cages around each to protect them from busy beavers. It was a gorgeous and productive day by the river. Many thanks to Ms. Littman, Ms. Zimmer, Mr. Felser and their wonderful students!

Thanks to the work of the VMS students and the Colorado Alpines professional planting crew, all that’s left to round out the $4 million, 6-year project is to continue with weed mitigation. To learn more about the project, click here.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

Some still wait for #COflood relief dough

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

The town, local businesses and residents have rolled up their collective sleeves and gone about the task of rebuilding the community.

It has taken a lot of hard work. It’s also taken a lot of money from a variety of sources. But, a large part of the recovery work has been accomplished.

The work was expected. The recovery money was expected, too.

What wasn’t expected was how hard and how long it was going to take to get funds – especially grant money – that was needed to offset huge losses.

While some federal and state recovery funds have been received by the town, the only money that local businesses have received has been SBA loans, which must be paid back, and some assistance from the United Way of Larimer County’s Small Business Recovery Funds.

The latter amounted to 42 small businesses divvying up a gracious pot of $1.17 million. That’s about $28,000 per business on the average. While it helped a lot, and business owners admit they’re very grateful, most of those businesses suffered a loss in business exceeding those amounts.

That’s why receiving federal and state flood recovery grant funds – assistance they applied for many months ago – would be a big help right now for local businesses as the tourist season winds down.

Arkansas Valley: “…there’s an abundance of hay because of the shortage of cattle” — Dale Mauch

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A more normal year for rainfall in the Arkansas Valley meant better yields for crops this year, but that may not translate into big financial gains for farmers.

“It really is tough. We’ve got crops, but there’s going to be people who made more with preventive planting (drought crop insurance) than they got for their crop,” said Lamar farmer Dale Mauch.

Rainfall for the area is about 93 percent of average on the year, although it has varied widely. Some areas flooded in early summer, while others are awaiting a break from the drought that began in 2010.

Some corn yields on irrigated land are topping 200 bushels per acre, but the cost per bushel is about $3 — half of what it was when crops were planted. Also, many acres were not planted in corn because it looked like another dry year might have been coming last spring.

“Corn dictates everything,” Mauch said. “Hay has followed suit, because there’s an abundance of hay because of the shortage of cattle.”

Cattle prices have soared this year after farmers thinned herds during the drought of the past three years.

“With all the rains, we grew a lot of weeds, but we didn’t have the cattle to eat them,” said Dan Henrichs, a Pueblo County rancher who also is the superintendent of the High Line Canal.

“I would imagine that the calf you sold three years ago for $1,000 would sell for $3,000 today,” he said.

Cattlemen still face tough choices of whether to keep cows to try to rebuild herds or sell them to pay the bills. Some also could face tax consequences from previous sales.

The high price of cattle also is making a dent on cattle feed lots in the Arkansas Valley.

“We’re slower than we were last year,” said Tyler Karney, manager of the Ordway Feedyard. “There are higher prices for cattle and a lower supply.”

At Ordway, there are about 35,000 cattle on the lot, which is 20,000 less than at the same time last year. The situation is similar at the Rocky Ford Feedyard.

“One of the biggest reasons is the drought of the last couple of years. People have reduced the size of their herds. This year, people are holding cows,” said Robert Petty, manager of the Rocky Ford operation.

The smaller numbers in feed yards has implications for farmers because they are buying less feed, adding to the oversupply and lower prices.

“The yields look great, but it’s not the bonanza you think it is,” Mauch said. “With prices where they are, it’s not enough to cover the expense of getting the crop in.”

More on the SE Colorado drought from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Grassland in Southern Colorado is making a comeback after taking a beating the last three years, but it will take a while to get anywhere close to normal.

“Range production is average or above average,” said Rich Rhoades, conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Pueblo. “It’s still poor in isolated spots.”

Grasses are coming back in, and the die-off so far has not been as severe as in the last three years.

“If we have another good year rain-wise, we could see a lot of improvement,” Rhoades said. “I think the further west you go, the better off you are.”

Summer rains benefited some of the warm-season grasses, but not at a sustainable level, said Bruce Fickenscher, Colorado State University Extension range specialist.

“The rain came as the warm-season grasses were peaking,” Fickenscher said. “It helped growth in the short term. But the grasses in a lot of places are dead, or have not filled in.”

Weeds — the kind that will blow and tumble after they freeze and break off — also popped up following the rains, but neither Rhoades nor Fickenscher expect them to be as big a problem as last year’s crop.

“Most the weeds are maturing out and are past their growth point,” Fickenscher said. “We’re always going to have tumbleweeds, but I think the level of management has been higher. I don’t think it will be as bad as last year.”

Ranchers are being encouraged not to graze too many cattle on new grass, and reseeding is probably too expensive an option for most, he added.

“The basic problem is still the subsurface moisture,” Fickenscher said. “Some of the areas haven’t recovered from drought for a long time, so they have to watch how they graze it.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.