#AnimasRiver fish survey shows encouraging signs — The Durango Herald

Animas River photo via Greg Hobbs.
Animas River photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Each year, the Parks and Wildlife department conducts an annual survey of fish populations in different stretches of the Animas River. Recently, crews focused on the portion of the river from the bridge behind Durango High School to High Bridge, near the La Plata County Humane Society.

For more than a decade, fish populations in the Animas have been on a steady decline, attributed to a number of factors, including less water in the river, urban runoff, higher water temperatures and elevated levels of heavy metals.

As a result, Parks and Wildlife stocks about 20,000 brown and 20,000 rainbow fingerlings a year, which usually have a survival rate of 3 to 5 percent, about the state average.

Although White said this year’s count didn’t indicate a turning point for fish in the Animas, he did say certain population trends are encouraging.

“The good news is we captured twice as many fish of quality size – 14 inches or better – compared to last year, so that’s really good,” he said.

White said another positive sign was crews caught a lot of 2-year-old brown trout, which means more juvenile fish stocked last year survived winter.

“We haven’t seen that recruitment for a while,” White said. “We also saw a higher number of larger rainbow trout. We’ve seen lots of small fish over the years that don’t seem to make it through the winter, but this year we’re seeing a lot more relative to the past several years.”

White said it would take a couple weeks to generate a population estimate, but he expects that number to reach or be very close to the Gold Metal Standard the river currently holds on the 4-mile stretch between the confluence with Lightner Creek and the bridge near Home Depot that contains 60 pounds of trout per acre and at least 12 14-inch or larger trout per acre.

Michigan Ditch tunnel update

Joe Wright Reservoir (Courtesy of Dick Stenzel at the Applegate Group) and the City of Fort Collins.
Joe Wright Reservoir (Courtesy of Dick Stenzel at the Applegate Group) and the City of Fort Collins.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

After overcoming equipment problems and putting in 24-hour work days, crews on Wednesday were within 35 feet of reaching the end of what will be a 764-foot-long tunnel.

“We’ve made tremendous progress …,” said Owen Randall, chief engineer with Fort Collins Utilities. “We should be out sometime (Thursday) or Friday at the very latest.”

Breaking through the mountain will be done slowly and carefully to avoid destabilizing the mountainside, he said.

Crews still have four to six weeks of work to wrap up the project, which will carry Michigan Ditch and its valuable water to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir near Cameron Pass.

Dismantling and removing a custom-built tunnel boring machine from the mountain will take three to four days. Hydraulic and electronic equipment used to operate the machine will be stripped from the tunnel before a 60-inch diameter pipe is installed to carry the water.

#Drought news: D0 and D1 expanded around #Denver, 30 days of below normal precip for #Colorado lowers streamflow

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

Summary
For the USDM 7-day period ending on September 27, a low pressure system produced above-normal precipitation in the western High Plains southwestward into the much of the Mountain West. The frontal boundary that was associated with the low produced copious amounts of rainfall for the Southern Plains stretching northward into Upper Midwest. Parts of the Mid-Atlantic also saw above-normal precipitation for the period. Drier-than-normal conditions existed for much of the country east of the Mississippi, especially for the Ohio Valley. Temperatures were as much as 10 degrees above normal for the parts of the Midwest while the Southwest and Northwest were cooler than normal. These warm and dry conditions in the nation’s eastern half contributed to expansion of drought in the Northeast and Southeast, while drought conditions improved in the High Plains and parts of the South. Please note that the Drought Monitor depicts conditions valid through Tuesday morning, 8 a.m., EDT (12 UTC); any of the recent locally heavy rain which fell after Tuesday morning (September 27) will be incorporated into next week’s drought assessment…

High Plains and Midwest
In the middle of the USDM period, an inch of rainfall fell in the drought stricken areas of the High Plains. As a result, short term dryness was removed in northwest North Dakota and multiple levels of drought were contracted in western South Dakota. It was reported that some small grasses have greened up and winter wheat planting is going full steam ahead. However, an extended dry period in the northeastern part of South Dakota kicked off the soybean harvest, and harvest activities should increase this coming week. Precipitation during the last 30-days in Montana and Wyoming was much above normal, which contributed to improved conditions in southern Montana, western Wyoming and eastern Idaho. Streamflow levels at 7 and 14 days were at or above average, while the 30-day percent of normal precipitation was more than 200 percent of normal…

Southwest
In Colorado, below normal precipitation during the past 30 days was reflected in the low streamflows, resulting in a small expansion of D0 in the central part of the state. Stations in and around Denver were showing near-extreme to extreme dryness at the 3-4 month time scale, resulting in the expansion of D0 and D1 in the area. Due to the unseasonably high precipitation totals in eastern Utah, SPIs have shifted from negative to positive through the six month timescales. It was reported that the benefits of this could be seen in both the soils and streams…

West
It is the dry season in much of the western U.S. , so no changes were made during this USDM shift…

Looking Ahead
During the next few days, a strong upper level low pressure system stalls out over the Ohio Valley providing much needed drought to the Mid-Atlantic region. As much as 3-6 inches of rain is forecasted, so flooding and flash flooding is possible in some areas. Some of the areas that were placed in D0 status this USDM week may see several inches of rain from this event. Please note that the Drought Monitor depicts conditions valid through Tuesday morning, 8 a.m., EDT (12 UTC); any of the recent locally heavy rain which fell after Tuesday morning (September 27) will be incorporated into next week’s drought assessment. Meanwhile, the rest of the CONUS will be relatively quiet. For average temperatures during the next few days, the largest positive anomalies are forecasted to occur in the West, Northwest, and High Plains. The largest negative anomalies should be concentrated in the Midwest and are forecasted to gradually slide southward. For the second half of the next USDM period, much cooler than normal temperatures return to the West Coast, while the warmer than normal temperatures are confined to much of the area east of the Rockies. The 6-10 day outlooks from CPC show an increase probability of warmer than normal temperatures for the eastern half of the country and the western half has the best chance of cooler than normal temperatures. There is an increased probability that above normal precipitation will fall in the Northern Rockies and High Plains while the probability is best for below normal precipitation to occur in the Southeast.

Gov. Matt Mead: Clean Power Plan Case Heard Before the U.S. Court of Appeals

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

Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office:

Wyoming and 26 other states, industry groups and others presented arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday in opposition to the Clean Power Plan. The states argued the proposed rule goes far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority. Wyoming would be particularly impacted as the rule requires the state to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 44%.

“Federal regulatory agencies continue to push the boundaries of their legal authority. This results in unreasonable and onerous burdens on industry, businesses, individuals and states,” said Governor Matt Mead. “The Clean Power Plan is just such a situation. I am pleased the Court stopped the implementation of the rule pending a decision in this case.”

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit denied a petition from states to halt implementation of the rule while litigation was pending. The petition was then submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court which ultimately granted the stay and stopped implementation of the rule. The petition argued the EPA did not have the proper authority, the Clean Power Plan would take authority away from states to regulate in-state power generation and transmission and the final rule was substantially different from its draft version, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

#ColoradoRiver: The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center #COriver

ruthpowellhutchinswatercentercmuviakjct8

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

COLORADO RIVER RISK STUDY
The Colorado River District has released a memo summarizing the results of the first phase of the Joint West Slope Roundtables Risk Study. This study looked at the potential for Lake Powell to hit critically low levels under different hydrologic and demand scenarios. The memo outlines additional work to be done in Phase 2, including an exploration of how different management options could affect water users and sub-basins.

Avon: The 11th Annual Sustaining #Colorado Watersheds Conference, Oct. 11-13

Avon photo via Jack Affleck and the Mountain Town News.
Avon photo via Jack Affleck and the Mountain Town News.

Click here for all the inside skinny about the conference:

Our annual conference expands cooperation and collaboration throughout Colorado in natural resource conservation, protection, and enhancement by informing participants about new issues and innovative projects. In 2016, the conference will focus on what is needed to help ensure long-term sustainability for river health, public education, and organizational management.

To learn more and to register for the conference go to the
Colorado Watershed Assembly Website.

Native Americans and Conservationists Collaborate to Return Vital Flow to the #RioGrande — National Geographic

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

The first time I saw the channel of the Rio Grande completely dry, I was stunned. Here was the second largest river in the Southwest, which flows through three U.S. states and Mexico, and instead of water between its banks there were tire tracks. And I wasn’t standing at the tail end of the river, but rather on a bridge in central New Mexico, in the Rio Grande’s middle reach. For a freshwater conservationist, it was a sad sight.

Even worse, it was not an aberration. Each year, portions of the Middle Rio Grande dry up when its flows are diverted into irrigation canals for delivery to farmers in the valley. A few miles of the channel might dry up for a couple of weeks, or, if the monsoon rains are disappointing and irrigation demands are high, the dry stretch might extend thirty or more miles for much of the summer. Either way, for a time the river is no more.

So earlier this year when I learned about an innovative idea spearheaded by Audubon New Mexico to return some flow to the Rio Grande at its driest time of year, I felt a surge of hope for the river and the life it supports—from native fish like the Rio Grande silvery minnow to birds like the Southwestern Willow flycatcher, both federally endangered and dependent on the Rio Grande for habitat.

Audubon New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based non-profit conservation organization, had reached out to Native American tribes in the Middle Rio Grande Valley with a proposition: if the tribes transfer to Audubon a portion of their allotted water from the San Juan-Chama diversion project, which brings New Mexico’s share of Colorado River water into the state, Audubon would ensure that the water benefits the Rio Grande and seek funding for habitat restoration on tribal lands.

The idea struck a positive chord with a number of the tribes, and a unique partnership was born. Two pueblos, Isleta and Sandia, decided to donate their water, while Cochiti and Santa Ana agreed to a transactional transfer. Before summer, the 400 acre-feet from the four tribes was augmented by a nearly equal donation of surplus water by the Club at Las Campanas, a private Santa Fe golf club, bringing the total volume of water to benefit the Rio Grande to nearly 800 acre-feet, or more than 260 million gallons (980 million liters).

“We will increase flow in the river channel for a 35-mile stretch for nearly 24 days,” said Julie Weinstein, Audubon New Mexico’s Executive Director, in a statement earlier this month. The organization worked closely with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to determine the best sites to deliver water back to the river to maximize ecological value.

The Rio Grande’s corridor through New Mexico supports over 200,000 waterfowl and 18,000 greater sandhill cranes. It provides the largest number of contiguous breeding territories for both the endangered flycatcher and the threatened Yellow-billed Cuckoo in their entire range.

With over 80 percent of the wetland and riparian habitat gone along the river in New Mexico, sustaining and rebuilding habitat is crucial. As part of this collaboration with Audubon, the Pueblo of Santa Ana is planting trees and restoring habitat along the river.

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Hermosa Creek: Improved cutthroat trout habitat

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From The Durango Herald (Pam Bond):

The San Juan National Forest hired Durango contractors G2 and AJ Construction to complete 500 feet of streambank stabilization in preparation for reintroduction of native Colorado River cutthroat on a stretch of the creek where non-native fish have been removed.

“It’s important to conduct these operations at times when we have low flows and no fish,” said Clay Kampf, fisheries biologist for the San Juan National Forest Columbine District. “We started at the headwaters of each tributary and worked our way downstream to make sure there were always other fishing opportunities.”

Under the direction of Kampf, Grady James, equipment operator with AJ Construction, spent September maneuvering rocks and logs into place to reinforce streambanks and create small waterfalls and deep pools. The goals were clean water and a diversity of habitat for all seasons.

“When the creek takes a corner, and an unstable bank erodes, sediment washes into the water and impacts the ability of fish to survive in many ways,” Kampf said. “Corners are high-stress points so we place large rocks there to protect the banks during higher flows.”

This fall’s water level was only about three to five cubic feet per second, which offered an opportune time to conduct improvements, but the project was designed for a wide diversity of flows. While spring flows of up to 40 to 50 cfs in the East Fork of Hermosa Creek threaten habitat by eroding the banks, very low flows in winter also endanger the fish.

“Keeping water moving in winter keeps it from freezing, which has been the biggest limiting factor for long-term cutthroat survival,” Kampf said. “Constricting the channel and creating small pour-overs increase the winter flow levels.”

Buried logs are effective for stabilizing banks where the stream splits and creates shallow stretches that offer spawning habitat in the spring. But where the creek had divided into multiple channels, rocks were used to divert water back into the main channel to keep flows steady.

Encouraging vegetation is also important for stream stabilization. When the heavy equipment scooped up grass and forbs to make way for placement of rocks and logs, its giant claw replanted the native vegetation with the skill of a seasoned gardener.

“We retain any disturbed vegetation and replant it nearby,” Kampf said. “We avoid disturbing any established willows, which in this stretch are about five to 10 years old.”

North American beaver (Castor canadensis)
North American beaver (Castor canadensis)

Kampf also hopes nature’s furry engineers will return to the area and help with recovery.

“There were beavers, but they moved upstream and downstream during disturbance from the project,” Kampf said. “If the beavers return and flood the area, they will create additional overwintering and larger pools for the cutthroat.”

The Forest Service will closely monitor the project area for three years, keeping an eye out for noxious weeds. Volunteers with the Durango Chapter of Trout Unlimited will help the agency later this fall to plant additional native grass and forb seeds and alder/willow cuttings along the banks to further revegetate the area.

“Our goals are to improve water quality and mimic natural features that will aid in the conservation of the Colorado River cutthroat, which will, in turn, improve recreational fishing,” Kampf said.

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald
Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald