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

Upper Colorado River Basin September 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin September 2015 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.

USGS: Lessons Learned from a Legend: Luna Leopold’s View of the River

From the United States Geological Survey (Curt Meine):

Dr. Luna Leopold discusses the importance of bankfull discharge on the New Fork River near Boulder, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
Dr. Luna Leopold discusses the importance of bankfull discharge on the New Fork River near Boulder, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

No time seems more fitting than now – with the epic drought in California and major flooding from a nor’easter and Hurricane Joaquin – to pay tribute to Luna B. Leopold, the first chief hydrologist at the USGS. More so than any other scientist, he set the course for the USGS approach to understanding river flows, groundwater and surface water interactions and the value of long-term data collection. Today, the USGS is the world’s largest provider of hydrologic information with a mission to collect and disseminate reliable, impartial, and timely information that is needed to understand the Nation’s water resources.

Born on Oct. 8, 1915 in Albuquerque, Luna Leopold lived a rich life. From his renowned father, the biologist and author Aldo Leopold, he inherited a passion for outdoor life, a respect of craftsmanship, a highly disciplined curiosity, and an appreciation of the complex interactions of human society and natural systems. From his mother Estella, he inherited a deep connection to the semi-arid landscapes and watersheds of the American Southwest, a rich Hispanic cultural tradition, and a keen aesthetic sense. These qualities would meld and develop over time, across an extraordinary career in the earth sciences.

Luna Leopold in the mid-1970s along the East Fork River in Wyoming. Photo courtesy of U.C. Berkeley
Luna Leopold via the USGS

According to the Virtual Luna Leopold Project, “He was trained as a civil engineer (B.S degree), meteorologist (M.S. degree) and geologist (Ph.D.) and his publications reflect that blending of fields. His first publication in 1937 was entitled Relation of Watershed Conditions to Flood Discharge: A Theoretical Analysis and his most recent publication in 2005 was Geomorphic Effects of Urbanization in Forty-one Years of Observations. Few have written papers spanning 68 years, and fewer still have had such an influence on a field or on society.”

Middle fork of the Salmon River near Shoup, Idaho
Middle fork of the Salmon River near Shoup, Idaho

Luna Leopold’s creative intellect compelled him to explore the territory where science, policy, ethics, and environmental stewardship come together. In discerning the complex physical processes of stream formation and development, climate, precipitation, erosion, sedimentation, and deposition, he made connections to our human capacity to alter, or adapt to, hydrological realities. He understood that water science could not be separated from the water management and stewardship, which could not be separated from water ethics. On this he has been widely quoted: “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.”

“The stream has to have change”

What he was referring to, of course, was our dominant historic tendency to reduce the inherent flux in stream systems, to manage flowing waters by controlling their dynamic variability. It is a fundamental lesson that several generations now of river managers and stewards have taken to heart and employed in restoration practice.

I suspect I highlighted that line in my notes, in part, because of its rich metaphorical potential. Luna Leopold understood change. He saw the reality of change and the need for change. He was himself an agent of change. In his field work, in his policy work, in his teaching and writing and consulting, he came to a view of rivers, of water, and of our future, that called for change. Through Luna’s understanding of science, history, and aesthetics, he came to perceive a “harmony in natural systems,” and held that “the desire to preserve this harmony must… be incorporated into any philosophy of water management, and I will call this, as did Herodotus, a reverence for rivers. If this is environmental idealism, then let it be said that I am an idealist.”

In the midst of a research expedition in Cataract Canyon, Utah, former USGS Chief Hydrologist Luna Leopold and eminent physicist Ralph Bagnold take a moment to rest
In the midst of a research expedition in Cataract Canyon, Utah, former USGS Chief Hydrologist Luna Leopold and eminent physicist Ralph Bagnold take a moment to rest

Wisdom from the past shapes the USGS today

Leopold was best known for work on the geomorphology of rivers, the study of land features and the processes that create and change them. He initiated a new era in the study of rivers, one that involved quantitative approaches that spread to the broader field of geomorphology. His research related meteorology and climatology to landscape process, a concept that has become a central feature of geomorphology. One of his better known papers, The Hydraulic Geometry of Stream Channels, published in 1953, initiated a new era in the quantitative study of rivers and stimulated quantitative approaches in geomorphology generally. Revealing an orderly framework of river behavior, the paper provided a basis for observing rivers worldwide through objective measurements and data collection.

Luna Leopold (3rd from left) visiting the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center in 2002.
Luna Leopold (3rd from left) visiting the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center in 2002.

Leopold retired from the USGS in 1972, having had a distinguished 22-year career where his focus on research and interpretation of data made a profound impact on the earth sciences. His enthusiasm for rivers proved contagious, inspiring generations of colleagues and students to devote their talents to the pursuit of science and to its application for society. Following his USGS career, Leopold, became a professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 90.

Today, as our nation is faced with the challenge of balancing a finite freshwater supply among competing needs, including agriculture, drinking water, energy production, and ecosystem health, we can appreciate even more Luna Leopold’s combination of field knowledge, leadership, and wisdom. His reverence for rivers, his way of connecting head and heart, has continued to inform new generations of scientists, policy-makers, land stewards, and philosophers who are extending his insights, exploring new dimensions in water ethics, and putting that ethic into practice. The stream has to have change. The change that Leopold helped to initiate and inspire must come. It comes more predictably, perhaps, in natural systems than in human ones. But now, as we come to know how the human and natural inevitably flow together, we can perhaps allow reverence and knowledge to flow together as well—as they did through Luna’s life.

#ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead, for the first time since filling, ends water year below 10 million acre feet — John Fleck

From InkStain (John Fleck):

It’s one of those milestones that’s an entirely arbitrary result of the units we use to measure, but it’s probably nevertheless worth marking: for the first time since it was filled in the 1930s, Lake Mead ended the “water year” below 10 million acre feet of storage.

The finally elevation at midnight last Wednesday, Sept. 30, was 1,078.1 feet above sea level at the big Colorado River reservoir, which holds water for use in Nevada, Arizona, California, Sonora, and Baja. That translates to an estimated 9.854 million acre feet in storage, down from 10.121 maf a year ago. That is 38 percent of capacity.

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Thursday: Republican River Water Conservation District board meeting in Wray

Wray Colorado
Wray Colorado

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Approving the 2016 budget, and electing officers for the Executive Committee are among the agenda items for the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors’ regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, October 8, in Wray.

The meeting will be held at Cobblestone Inn & Suites on Highway 385 north of Wray beginning at 10 a.m. Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m.

A hearing will be held on the proposed 2016 budget, followed by consideration and approval of the budget.

It also is time for new terms for some of the 15-member board, as well as elect officers for the Executive Committee. New terms will begin for directors representing Washington, Sedgwick and Lincoln counties, as well as the W-Y, Central Yuma, and Plains ground water management districts.

The compact compliance pipeline will remain in the forefront. The board is scheduled to approve the application to the Central Yuma Ground Water Management District for the export of water from wells within the Central Yuma district for the pipeline. The board also is set to receive a a report from the State Engineer’s and Attorney General’s offices on negotiations with Kansas regarding the pipeline and the Bonny arbitrations. Some of that report might be in executive session if negotiation and litigation strategy is going to be discussed.

A special meeting is held each fall in Greeley. The board will be asked to approve a resolution to hold the special meeting.

Discussion of the 2016 Ogallala Aquifer Initiative will be held, as well as other matters. The board will hear reports from General Manager Deb Daniel, as well as from the district’s engineer and legal counsel.

Cobblestone Inn & Suites is located at 35952 Highway 385.

For further information about the meeting, please contact Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com. The RRWCD’s website is http://www.republicanriver.com.

The Urban Drainage and Flood Control District has applied for a 404 permit for portions of the South Platte River

From @USACEOmaha:

The District Engineer, U.S. Army Engineer District, Omaha, Nebraska is evaluating a Department of the Army Section 404 Permit application from Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, 2480 West 26th Avenue, Suite 156-B, Denver, CO 80211. Permits are issued under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (Section 404) which regulates the placement of dredged or fill material in the nation’s waters. Urban Drainage and Flood Control District (District) is requesting authorization for river channel work along approximately 3,000 linear feet of the South Platte River. The channel improvements are proposed to improve aquatic, wetland, and riparian habitat; provide boat passage through this section of river; and maintain flood conveyance and grade control. This reach of the South Platte River is part of a Flood Risk Reduction Project implemented by the Corps in the 1970s following the devastating flood of 1965. The reach has been channelized because of encroachment by development.

Click here to read the whole notice.

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