@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

The Colorado River Basin. The Upper Colorado River Basin is outlined in black.
The Colorado River Basin. The Upper Colorado River Basin is outlined in black.

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

US House passes Bolts Ditch bill to aid Colorado towns

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via  LessBeatenPaths.com.
Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
LessBeatenPaths.com.

From The Vail Daily:

The U.S. House of Representatives Monday passed the Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act, and the Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act, legislation sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. to help Colorado communities and protect public lands. Several Colorado members of Congress co-sponsored the bills.

Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act will allow the town of Minturn to use its existing water rights to fill Bolts Lake by giving the town special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. When Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness Area in 1980, Bolts Ditch was inadvertently left off the list of existing water facilities.

The Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act would expand the Arapaho National Forest to include 10 new parcels of land, informally known as the “Wedge,” which are currently undeveloped. The move enables the U.S. Forest Service to protect and preserve an area were millions of people travel annually.

Polis, who lives near Boulder, represents part of the mountains including Summit County and about one-third of Eagle County.

“Today was a great win for Coloradans,” Polis said. “At a time when it seems that partisanship and divisiveness is at historic levels, it’s heartening to see members of the Colorado delegation work together to protect our public lands and find practical solutions for our communities. We should all be proud of the passage of these bills that will protect our wonderful wilderness and help our local economies.”

TWO ADDITIONAL BILLS APPROVED

The House of Representatives also approved two additional bills that Polis co-sponsored. Both bills settled long-standing land disputes in Colorado. The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would resolve a costly title dispute between the federal government and private landowners. It would convey a small portion of land near Rifle to property owners who have used and paid property taxes on the acreage for years. The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act would convey 320 acres of land on the west side of Pikes Peak to the U.S. Forest Service. The Broadmoor Hotel currently owns the land, and in exchange, the government will transfer an 83-acre parcel located at Emerald Valley Ranch to the Broadmoor.

Both Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner introduced Senate companion legislation to these four bills this session.

#ColoradoRiver: Check out this breathtaking view of the #Colorado Plateau, as seen from the International Space Station

Nearly the full length of Lake Powell on the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona is visible in this photograph shot by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, on Sept. 6, 2016. The view is toward the southwest. Water flow is from the lower right toward the top. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)
Nearly the full length of Lake Powell on the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona is visible in this photograph shot by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, on Sept. 6, 2016. The view is toward the southwest. Water flow is from the lower right toward the top. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

From Discovery Magazine (Tom Yulsman):

Almost the entire lake is visible in this photograph, taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station last September. I was really struck by the clarity, the color, and the oblique angle at which it was taken. The photograph almost looks like it was taken from an aircraft — not from orbit almost 25o miles above the surface.

Report: Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy — Mountain Studies Institute

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

“Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy,” is an extensive three-year analysis done in cooperation with the Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton.

The study used 72 climate models to tease out potential impacts to 46 trout streams in the basin from the town of Dolores to Lizard Head Pass up to the year 2100.

“We know there will be change, the question the study addresses is what kind of change can we expect, the approximate timing, and what are the impacts,” said Duncan Rose, director of the Dolores River Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited.

When climate scientists ran the models over time, they pointed toward a “feast and famine” scenario, where wet periods with higher temperatures are followed by longer, more intense droughts.

According to the study, between 1949 and 2012, the upper Dolores watershed experienced wet periods with increasingly higher temperatures, followed by dry periods that were longer and more intense.

“We see that pattern developing where each drought gets more intense, and the wetter periods have higher temperatures, which causes increased evaporation and overall net loss of moisture,” Rose said.

If cyclical drought conditions were like 2002, the worst in recent years, and lasted for many years, the result could mean an average of 44 percent reduction in stream flows throughout the upper basin in 50-70 years, according to the study. Low stream flows contribute to higher water temperatures, which if reach above 63 degrees, are detrimental to trout species.

“Trout have survived these cycles for millennia, but the climate conditions may be more intense than what we have seen, so we’re going to have more challenges, particularly on the lower elevation streams,” Rose said.

The study is intended to aid current and future managers of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Juan National Forest in sustaining good trout habitat in the basin.

For example, higher elevation streams will be less impacted by the climate predictions. Lower trout streams may be more or less a lost cause, with many perennial streams potentially becoming intermittent or drying up completely.

“That leaves the middle elevation band of streams, where mitigation and stream rehabilitation will do the most good,” Rose said. “It’s an adaptive management model, where we don’t rush in, take it a step at a time and invest limited resources with what climate pattern emerges.”

Protecting trout streams from higher temperatures and lower flows means improving shade, installing instream rocks and trees to create pools where fish can find refuge in lower flows and hot conditions. Streams like Roaring Fork, Scotch Creek, Kilpacker, Burnett, and higher-up stretches of the Dolores Main stem, plus others, would likely benefit the most from habitat improvement in the future.

More regulations may by on the horizon, as a result of the study’s projections, for example, lower bag limits, catch-and-release only rules, barbless hooks, and even rotating some streams into non-fishing status for a year to allow recovery.

The climate models indicate there will likely be a reduction in the 295 miles of trout streams in the upper Dolores Basin in the next 50 to 100 years. More of the fishing spots will be concentrated in the higher elevations, which would result in more people fishing in a smaller area.

“There will be more competition for fewer fish, but the good news it will not happen overnight,” Rose said. “We have time to adapt, as long as we are aware of the potential impacts.”

This summer, the Dolores chapter of Trout Unlimited will be installing eight temperature gages on various streams and rivers at different elevations to start monitoring changes and trends.

The Dolores River climate change study cost about $20,000 with $15,000 paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Other groups, including TU, Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Montezuma Land Conservancy contributed funds as well.

For a power point summary of the study go to bit.ly/Troutunlimited

#Snowpack news: SWE is variable in snowfall day-to-day @CoCoRaHS

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 7, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 7, 2017 via the NRCS.

From the Teton Valley News (Bruce Mason):

The rule of thumb is that 10 inches of snow contains the water equivalent of one inch of water. In other words, if you melted down 10 inches of snow it would produce as much water as if one inch of rain had fallen instead. But like so many other things based on averages, there are wide variations in this rule of thumb and they are very important, making all the difference as the snow melts.

Some snow is very wet with as much as half of the snowflake actually liquid water instead of ice. We have seen plenty of that this winter. With wet snow, 5 inches of snow can produce an inch of water when it melts.

On the other hand, dry snow, our beloved powder, contains very little water with lots of air space between the flakes. It can take 30 inches of very dry, fluffy powder to produce an inch of water.

In a typical winter, we have mixed layers of wet and dry snow on the ground as the spring thaw starts. With a typical mix, the 10 to 1 rule of thumb does pretty well to estimate how much water will come rolling down out of the hills toward us as the snow melts. Depending on conditions, much of it sublimates into the air or soaks down into the water table anyway, so springtime flooding is usually minimal here. Usually.

The thing is, this winter has not been typical. With sparse data to back it up, many weather observers and sportsmen feel that we have had much more wet snow this season than normal. The La Niña watch issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center last fall implied that we could be in this situation this spring. Warmer than average temperatures plus higher than average precipitation equals wet snow, and so it seems to have worked out.

How can we get hard data to back up the observations by those in the know about the moisture content of the snow out there? It takes more than measuring the depth; it requires snow water equivalent measurements. Water equivalent measurements are a little more involved than measuring snow depth, but can be much more important to emergency planners trying to prepare for droughts or floods in the spring. In fact in 1997, an unpredicted flash flood in the Fort Collins, Colorado area killed 5 people and did hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. Only 2 inches of rain fell in Fort Collins that day, but no one was measuring southwest of the city where the flood originated and seven times more rain fell.

As a result of the Colorado flood, the importance of widespread precipitation measurement, including the water equivalent of surrounding snow, was realized. Then it was addressed. A network of volunteer observers, called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, (CoCoRaHS for short… I guess) was formed. The network began in Colorado, the original Co was for Colorado, not Community, but it has since spread across the US and Canada. Major sponsors of CoCoRaHS include NOAA and the National Science Foundation. Starting next week, when the right equipment arrives from Pocatello, your genial Teton Valley weatherman will be among the CoCoRaHS volunteers in Idaho doing daily snow water equivalent measurements and sending the reports to CoCoRaHS headquarters.

Humpback chubs are making a comeback in the Little #ColoradoRiver

NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.
NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.

From the Arizona Daily Sun (Emery Cowan):

Thanks to fewer predators and more food at the upriver location, the transplanted fish have come to thrive compared to their downstream brethren, making for a conservation success story that just received national recognition.

The fish-moving process, called translocation, is headed up by a team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with help from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. The team received the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 Rachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment for its contribution to the recovery of the endangered humpback chub, a distinctive and well-known pillar of the Grand Canyon ecosystem…

Humpback chub congregate in the lower part of the Little Colorado, close to its confluence. Before translocations started the species hadn’t been found above a natural travertine dam 14 kilometers upriver. But that stretch of the river, above what’s called Chute Falls, has warmer water, abundant food sources like insects and the tiny speckled dace and far fewer predators, which for the chub include invasive trout and catfish. Like an in-stream fish hatchery, the area makes for an ideal natural rearing habitat that comes with less disease transmission and genetic challenges, said Randy Van Haverbeke, a senior fish biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who is involved in the work. Seeing an opportunity to expand the chub’s range and establish another aggregation that could contribute to the population downriver, biologists started translocating humpback chub above Chute Falls in 2003 and now move about 300 baby fish annually, said Mike Pillow, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

More than a decade in, biologists have consistently measured increased growth and survival among the translocated chub compared to non-translocated chub, indicating promise for the conservation tactic to augment the species’ populations in Grand Canyon, Van Haverbeke said.

In the area above Chute Falls, biologists have recaptured an average of 24 percent of fish translocated the year before, Pillow said.

In the bigger picture, he said, the project’s goal is to build up humpback chub numbers to enable the eventual delisting of the species.

Going beyond the Little Colorado River, the translocation process has been replicated by officials at Grand Canyon National Park as well, where chub from the Colorado River were transported up Havasu and Shinumo creeks. The goal was the same: to establish new population groups of chub within the species’ ancestral habitat where they may be better able to survive. Doing so in more locations creates redundancy, so if something were ever to happen in the Little Colorado River “all our eggs aren’t in one basket,” Van Haverbeke said.

Biologists with the National Park Service have seen as much as a five to 10-fold increase in chub in the mainstem of the Colorado River below those two creeks, suggesting translocation is having a positive impact, he said.

Measurable impacts on total chub population numbers in the Little Colorado River are harder to determine because the population is bigger and the fish are affected by other factors like the temperature of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam, Pillow and Van Haverbeke said.

“But the bottom line is we have increased survival and growth rates compared to not translocating (the fish). Then you have to assume it’s a positive (impact),” Van Haverbeke said.

Also important to note is the fact that this is a feasible, doable conservation action proven to help the fish, as opposed to something much harder to influence like modifying dam operations, he said.

The process also involves relatively minimal human impact, Pillow said, instead helping Mother Nature with “little nudges.”

Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.