@EklundCWCB: Kudos to Meg Dickey-Griffith & Rachel Duran working together to build 1st ever Arkansas River Compact website

Healthy Animas, healthy animals: quality of water & vegetation is the focus of a $159K project — The Durango Herald

Open Water Foundation wins SXSW Eco Social Impact Not-for-profit Startup Competition!

Click here to go to the Open Water Foundation website for all the inside skinny about the award and to watch Steve Malers presentation.

Here’s an article about the SXSW conference from Popular Mechanics (Tom Foster). Here’s an excerpt:


Open Water Foundation, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, is a social enterprise that builds open-source software that helps people and organizations conserve water resources. The collaborative, open-innovation model frees groups from relying on government funding or self-funding to build smart water solutions. The result, in theory, is a focus on solving shared problems, which increases both cost-effectiveness and overall usefulness.

Evergreen: Popular fishing holes need to shore up water rights

Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com
Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

The two ponds beside Buchanan Rec Center are stocked with trout and are popular among Evergreen residents and visitors who like to try their luck fishing.

The source of water for the ponds is Troublesome Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek that flows under the Highway 74 overpass near the property in Bergen Park.

Since Buchanan Park was developed in the early 2000s, maintaining water for these small lakes has not been a significant issue.

However, the Colorado Division of Water Resources recently informed the Evergreen Park and Recreation District of a potential problem concerning water rights for the Buchanan ponds, said Ellen O’Connor, EPRD executive director.

“We have learned the ponds were originally part of the Village at Soda Creek Lake development,” O’Connor said. “The original water rights were pretty robust and included storage, irrigation and augmentation.”

However, it is unclear as to whether the park district acquired those water rights when the property was purchased for Buchanan Park in December 1994.

“We’re trying to make them aware of the issue,” said David Nettles, an engineer with division one of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “Someone could seek water rights from the ponds.”

“From looking at what I have, I don’t see any water rights,” Nettles remarked.

The park district would be notified if someone filed a claim for water rights at the Buchanan ponds, he added.

There are two inactive cases on file with the state water court regarding water rights for the Village at Soda Creek development. In the early 1980s applications were filed by Gayno Inc. and George Alan Holley to acquire water rights for the planned project. Those rights were tied to an original decree dating from 1884 for the Lewis and Strouse Ditch.

It’s possible that the rights were subsequently abandoned because of a failure on the part of the previous owners to file a required diligence report with the state, Nettles said.

To address the issue, EPRD has formed a two-member subcommittee. Board members John Ellis and Peg Linn are researching the matter and are expected to report to the board on their findings. O’Connor also has been conferring with Tim Buckley, the water commissioner serving the district for Evergreen…

Historic water issues at Buchanan Park

When Thomas Bergen, founder of Bergen Park, acquired his homestead from the federal government in 1875, water rights for the property were not a given.

The homestead certificate, which bears the signature of President Ulysses Grant, gave Bergen and his heirs an 80-acre tract of land, subject to “any vested and accrued water rights for mining … and rights to ditches as reservoirs used in connection with such water rights, as may be recognized and acknowledged by the local customs, laws and decisions of the courts.”

The Evergreen Park and Recreation District purchased two parcels of this historic property from the Fahnenstiel family in 2006 as part of a bond issue. This property is now part of Buchanan Park and the site of the Evergreen community garden, which is served by water taps provided by the Evergreen Metropolitan District.

A final note: While it is impressive to see, the authenticity of the signature of President Grant on the 1875 homestead certificate for Bergen is questionable. According to historical research, secretaries copied presidents’ signatures onto these documents after being authorized to sign them as proxies by President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.

More water law coverage here.

@alexwitze: See #Elwha dams come down in a @ScienceNews video


More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

The BBC looks at Didymo (rock snot)


From the BBC (Larry O’Hanlon):

It began with a few small strange patches of slime, clinging to the rocks of the Heber River in Canada. Within a year, the patches had become thick, blooming mats. Within a few years the mats had grown into a giant brownish-yellow snot. And within a few decades this snot had spread around the world, clogging up rivers as far away as South America, Europe and Australasia.

This snot, which is still flourishing today, is caused by a microscopic alga, a diatom that goes by its scientific name Didymosphenia geminata. It has become so notorious it has its own moniker, Didymo. People have been blamed for the sudden, global explosion of this tiny organism, unwittingly carrying the algae from river to river on fishing gear, boats and kayaks. The huge snots it forms have wreaked havoc in waterways, forcing governments and environmental organisations to initiate huge and costly clean-up operations.
But underlying the snots’ strange appearance is an even stranger story. About Didymo itself, about what it is, and how it behaves.

Scientists are now discovering that the sudden appearance of Didymo may not have been so sudden after all.

Its blooms aren’t really blooms – instead they are more of an elixir-induced metamorphosis. And Didymo seems to ignore the usual rules followed by invasive species. It even appears likely that this little diatom may not even be a significant problem itself; instead the brownish-yellow snot it forms may be a symptom of greater changes underway in freshwater systems around the world.

Malignant morphs

The diatom was first spotted in 1988, a few patches of alga within Heber River, in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. By 1989, several kilometres of river were covered in thick mats of the stuff, a surprise since the rare alga was not thought to grow this way. Today, Didymo coats the rocks of streams and rivers around the globe, from Quebec in Canada, Colorado and South Dakota in the US, Poland and Norway in Europe, even reaching Iceland, Chile and New Zealand.

Normally diatoms or other algae bloom when water is rich in nutrients, feeding an explosive increase in reproduction. This has a massive detrimental impact on freshwater systems. After diatoms increase in huge numbers, they also die in huge numbers, creating a surge in decay that depletes oxygen in the water. That suffocates freshwater animals such as insects, crustaceans and fish. Algal blooms essentially create an aquatic apocalypse.

But intriguingly, none of this applies to Didymo. When it creates huge snots, it’s not actually reproducing, scientists have discovered. Instead, it’s morphing, from something benign to something malignant. Each single-celled organism exudes long stringy stalks of mucous that entangle, creating the mats and snots that coat rocks.

“We usually think of massive cell division in a bloom,” says ecologist Cathy Kilroy, of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd, in Christchurch. “That’s not the case here.”
The water conditions which cause this transformation are also unexpected. “Most algal blooms are attributed to too much nutrients,” explains diatom researcher Sarah Spaulding, of the US Geological Survey in Colorado.
“This is the first time it’s attributed to too little nutrient.”

Didymo, it turns out, only turns malignant when waters are very low in phosphorus, a nutrient often associated with pollution by detergents and fertilisers. It’s this paucity of phosphorous that causes the stringy stalks to grow, not the alga trying to reproduce, says Kilroy, whose experiments helped establish the connection…


Didymo is also pulling a second surprise on scientists. For decades, it was thought that people spread the diatom around the world, the alga hitching a ride on the tackle, nets and wading boots of fishermen, and boats and boating equipment. To counter the threat, river users have been encouraged to clean their gear between visits.

But Didymo may not have been spread across the globe after all. It may have been there all along, believe Brad Taylor of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, US and Max Bothwell of Environment Canada’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, BC.

The two diatom researchers have just published a study in the journal BioScience. It reveals fossil and historical evidence that Didymo has long existed on every continent except Africa, Antarctica and Australia. Fossilised forms of Didymo, for example, can be found in at least 11 countries in Europe, across North America and Asia, and in South America.

“The idea that D. geminata is a recently introduced species or a native species expanding its range has been accepted and promoted,” say the scientists in their study. But that idea is wrong, they argue. And it explains why legislation banning certain types of wading gear, thought to help spread algae, has had no impact on the spread of Didymo’s brown snot into new rivers. Because Didymo was already there…

Catastrophic or not?

However, to fishermen and boaters wrestling with Didymo’s brown, or sometimes yellow or green snots, its origins are academic. They want to know what it’s doing to the waterways, whether it’s hurting fish or invertebrates such as the insects on which fish depend.

Even here though, the diatom continues to surprise. Research has shown that the alga boosts numbers of small insects, such as midges and gnats, while reducing numbers of larger insects, such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies. “That seems to be a universal change in these streams,” says fisheries biologist Daniel James of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where Didymo appeared in 2002.

James’s research has focused on the diets of freshwater fish, and whether they have less to eat due to the presence of brown snots. But the reduction in larger insects hasn’t so far caused a problem, as the fish are just eating more of the smaller insects.

While the fish of South Dakota seem unaffected by Didymo, which covers around a third of the riverbeds studied by James, he cautions that may not be so in other places, such as in New Zealand. There the snots can blanket the whole river.

However, on the whole, Didymo doesn’t yet seem to have caused the ecological catastrophe that so many feared. “At first there was a huge concern about how Didymo was going to affect fish,” says James. “But it’s more of an annoyance.”

It can cause some problems for irrigation systems, says Kilroy. But its biggest impact seems to be aesthetic. “The main effect of Didymo is how it changed the appearance of rivers and streams,” she says. “It’s not toxic. It really doesn’t do anything really awful.”

The real invaders

So what then, is the real meaning of the Didymo phenomenon worldwide? The true significance of the brown snot taking over the world’s rivers may not be the snot itself, but what it tells us about our own, human impact on freshwater ecosystems.

Bothwell, Taylor and Kilroy have collaborated on new research recently published in the journal Diatom Research. They propose a few mechanisms by which humans may have altered the world’s rivers, creating the opportunity for Didymo.

First, the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal has increased the amount of nitrogen compounds on the atmosphere. That nitrogen causes soil organisms to better use phosphorous in the soil, meaning less phosphorous runs into rivers and streams. That creates the more phosphorus-free water beloved by Didymo.

A second mechanism, which has the same effect as the first, is the increasing addition of nitrogen-rich fertilisers to soils by agriculture and forest managers.

A third involves climate change, and the way it changes the timing of growing seasons and melting of snow. This might somehow also reduce the amount of phosphorous entering freshwater ecosystems, the researchers say, again creating the environment in which Didymo brown snots can flourish.

It could be that different mechanisms are the cause of Didymo blooms in different places around the world, or that they are working in synergy.

But whichever turn out to be at work, the research seems to suggest that we have met the invaders, and they are not brown snot-causing Didymo diatoms. They are us.

More invasive species coverage here.

Arkansas River Basin: Watershed group expands — Leadville Herald-Democrat

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat:

The Lake Fork Watershed Working Group elected to expand the group to focus on a larger geographic area, include additional stakeholders and prioritize additional watershed issues. The decision was made at the group’s Nov. 14 meeting.

The Lake Fork Watershed Working Group was created in 2000 by approximately 30 stakeholders to address water-quality issues associated with historic mining in the Lake Fork Watershed, focusing on the Sugarloaf Mining
District located just southwest of Turquoise Reservoir.

Since the group’s formation, roughly $5 million, largely grant funds, have been spent on projects that have measurably improved water quality in the Lake Fork.

The newly expanded watershed group will focus on the entire headwaters of the Arkansas River upstream of Granite, including the Twin Lakes area. The next steps for the group will be to create a watershed plan document that analyzes watershed issues affecting this area and then prioritize projects that will further improve overall watershed health. The plan will address issues that could impact the watershed, such as forest health, water quality, water quantity, sedimentation and erosion, development, open space, climate, wetlands, riparian, education and recreation.

Citizens or organizations that have an interest in watershed issues or would like further information are encouraged to contact the watershed group by emailing nrm@coloradomtn.edu.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Montana v. Wyoming and North Dakota: “The test comes in dry years. That’s when the system gets pushed” — Pete Michael

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Bismarck Tribune:

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote Monday’s decision.

It centered on modern irrigation systems that use sprinklers to allow farmers to increase crop yields by applying water directly to crops, rather than flooding entire fields. In the case of the Tongue and Powder rivers, that means less water left over to run downstream into Montana.

But justices determined Montana’s loss does not mean Wyoming is doing anything wrong. Thomas compared improved irrigation methods with farmers who recapture water so it can be used more than once – a practice that has been upheld by the Montana Supreme Court.

“By using sprinklers rather than flood irrigation, those water users effectively recapture water,” Thomas wrote. “They are simply different mechanisms for increasing the volume of water available to the crops, without changing the amount of diversion.”

North Dakota is also listed as a defendant because it is a party to the Yellowstone Compact. However, no claims have been made against it and the outcome of the lawsuit is likely to have little bearing on the state.

Wyoming Deputy Attorney General Pete Michael said the ruling resolved an important issue, by putting to rest at least one aspect of a case that could threaten the state’s agriculture and energy industries if it ultimately goes in Montana’s favor.

Although river levels are expected to be high this year following heavy winter snows, the struggle over the region’s scarce water supplies will continue, Michael said.

“The test comes in dry years. That’s when the system gets pushed,” he said.

Justice Antonin Scalia was the only dissenting vote. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case because she worked on it while in the solicitor general’s office.

Scalia wrote in his dissent that Montana was merely trying to protect its rights under the 1950 agreement – not seeking a precise volume of water every year. The question is not how much water is diverted from the rivers but how much is depleted from the overall water supply, Scalia wrote.

He added that his colleagues disregarded the text of 1950 agreement and instead substituted their own “none-too-confident reading” of common law.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock had argued the case before the high court in January. Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Anders said Monday it was “hard not to be disappointed” with Monday’s ruling but said it needed to be put in perspective.

“We brought four claims, and the Court is allowing three of those claims to move forward,” she said. “. “Our objective in bringing this lawsuit was to protect Montana water users and to fairly administer the agreement between our state and Wyoming. Even with today’s decision, we will reach those goals.”

A court-appointed special master had rejected part of Montana’s claim last year. Stanford University law professor Barton Thompson Jr. agreed with Wyoming attorneys who argued that the case came down to how much water was being taken out of the Tongue and Powder rivers, not what happens to the water after that.

In October, the court ruled that Montana has raised a valid issue with its lawsuit and rejected Wyoming’s attempt to dismiss the case.

Remaining aspects of the lawsuit could have consequences for Wyoming’s natural gas industry. Over the last decade, companies seeking a type of gas known as coal-bed methane have pumped billions of gallons of water from underground aquifers shared by the two states.

Montana contends the companies are draining water that would otherwise feed the Tongue and Powder rivers. A Texas-based energy company, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., attempted to intervene in the case but was denied.The case is Montana v. Wyoming and North Dakota, 137, Orig.

More water law coverage here.

@NWSBoulder: The Year 2014 at a Glance for Denver