Southern Colorado Plateau has dried 17 percent since 1985

#ColoradoRiver #COriver

Summit County Citizens Voice

New study projects impacts for world’s drylands

Hikers enjoying the view at Colorado National Monument, near Grand Junction. Researchers say recreation economies in the world’s drier zones are likely to take a big hit from global warming in the next few decades. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Global warming is bad enough on its own for the world’s drylands, but when you add in the impacts of population growth, development and the increasing demand for water, the future looks downright grim.

The end result will be conditions that are detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, according to a recent paper published in Ecosphere. Drylands are of concern because broad-scale changes in these systems have the potential to affect 36 percent of the world’s human population.

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#Drought ebbs across most of the US, lowest level in two decades

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view the September 25, 2012 US Drought Monitor to the one from May 23, 2017.

From Climate Central (Andrea Thompson):

After years of intense, record-setting drought across the U.S., particularly in the Great Plains and California, the country is now experiencing its lowest level of drought in the 17 years since the U.S. Drought Monitor began its weekly updates.

Less than 5 percent of the U.S. was in some stage of drought as of May 4, the most recent update, compared to the 65 percent mired in drought in September 2012.

“I have been an author of the U.S. Drought Monitor since 2005 and we have had very few instances where there was so little drought, and to see the changes we have in the last year, especially out West, it does astonish me,” Brian Fuchs, of the U.S. Drought Mitigation Center, said in an email.

The last time drought levels across the country were this low was in July 2010, when 8 percent of the U.S. was in drought — then came a remarkable period of deep, damaging drought that led to billions in crop and livestock losses, spurred major water restrictions, and helped fuel terrible wildfires.

The ups and downs in drought could be linked to some of Earth’s natural climate cycles that can usher in relatively wet and dry periods. But climate change is likely to play a role — and probably already has — as higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation and therefore worse drought conditions.

The epicenters of drought were in the central and southern Plains states from 2011 to 2013 and California from 2012 to this winter. At the peak of its drought, more than half of California was experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest category. At the end of September 2011, more than 85 percent of Texas was in this category.

Both droughts were fueled by a combination of dry weather and repeated, sizzling heat waves. The exceptional heat that blanketed much of the central and eastern portions of the country in 2012 boosted it to the hottest year on record for the U.S., while California experienced back-to-back record-hot years during its drought.

That heat is probably the clearest link between climate change and droughts, as rising global temperatures fueled by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere tilt the odds in favor of record heat and away from record cold.

Studies have pointed to the role of climate change-fueled heat in California’s drought, and droughts in the future, no matter where they happen in the U.S., are likely to be more intense than those of today because temperatures will be higher on average.

Less clear, though, is how climate change might impact the atmospheric patterns that can lead to prolonged dry periods. During California’s drought, a persistent area of high pressure kept storms from bringing rains and snow to the parched state. While research has suggested this has been happening more often, it’s unclear if the reason is linked to global warming.

Perhaps the clearest regional signals of climate change increasing drought are in the already arid Southwest, where droughts are expected to happen more often, last longer and be more intense than in the past. There is also some suggestion of more consecutive dry days for the Southern Plains, which could make it easier for that region to tip into drought.

And for the West Coast — which depends on its winter snowpack to provide meltwater that keeps reservoirs topped up through the dry summer months —warming could mean more water falls as rain instead of snow, throwing a wrench in the current water storage systems and making dry summer conditions more likely.

The warming climate will also interact with Earth’s natural climate cycles, such as the El Niño-La Niña seesaw that can lead to wetter or drier conditions in parts of the country, as well as longer-lasting cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

It is a recent switch in the phases of these two cycles that may have tipped the country from deep drought to normal conditions, said Victor Murphy, climate services program manager for the National Weather Service’s Southern Region. Studies have shown, he said, that certain phases of these cycles are connected to larger drought footprints in the U.S. and the opposite phases to less drought.

For the time being, overall drought levels in the U.S. are likely to hover around the current level, Fuchs said. Some areas, such as Florida, are likely to come out of drought as the summer wet season kicks in. Others, such as Georgia and parts of Texas, may see drought develop or deepen in the coming weeks.

Report: State of the Poudre — @fortcollinsgov

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary
The purpose of this first State of the Poudre River (SOPR) is to provide a description of the current health of the Cache la Poudre River (Poudre) from approximately Gateway Natural Area to I-25. The Poudre is a complex natural system that has been altered by nearly two centuries of human influence. This has resulted in dramatic changes to the physical structure of the river, water quantity and quality, floodplain, forests, and wildlife communities. The human footprint continues to expand, placing additional pressure (or stresses) on the river ecosystem and the natural processes that sustain it. This river health assessment provides the City of Fort Collins with a new tool to track trends and benchmark progress towards its vision of sustaining a healthy and resilient Cache la Poudre River.

While the Poudre flows 126 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley this study focuses on a 24-mile reach from the lower canyon through Fort Collins. The study area was divided into four zones (Canyon, Rural, Urban, and Plains) and further into 18 study reaches based on natural changes on the landscape and human influences.

Overall Grade: For the 24-mile study area the Poudre River received an overall grade of C. This grade indicates the even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem.

The framework for this baseline assessment includes nine indicators of river health which are informed by 25 indicator-specific metrics. Collectively these provide a thorough evaluation of how well the system is functioning. Metrics grades are developed by collecting and incorporating many types of data, which were then translated into an A-F grading system. Indicator and metric numerical scores and their corresponding letter grades were calibrated to categorical definitions relating to degree of functionality or impairment.

Recommended ranges developed for each metric (as established in the River Health Assessment Framework, City of Fort Collins, 2015) and were developed based on the City’s concept of working towards a functioning river ecosystem. The recommended ranges consider the contemporary real- world context and reasonable expectations for future change and the potential for improvement. They should, however, be used as a guide and aspiration rather than a directive. Also, when interpreting results for a comprehensive scientific assessment such as this, it is important to consider that uncertainty and variability exists across scientific disciplines, data sources, and river reaches. The methods and grading guidelines provide an explicit description of the analytical approaches used and can help the reader understand this variability.

This report is structured to allow the reader to understand the project approach (Sections 1 and 2) followed by identification of potential influences, or stressors, on river health in Section 3. The health assessment scores (Section 4) reveal the ramifications these anthropogenic stressors are having on ecosystem condition. Results indicate there is considerable variability across aspects of river health as scores vary widely (from A to F) at smallest unit of measurement (metrics scores by reach). In Section 5, the focus shifts to an overview of river health, describing the link between stressors and degree and type of impairment for each of the four zones. Poudre River health indicator grades for each zone are compared to the ranges recommended in the City’s Poudre River Health Assessment Framework (2015)—to highlight areas where there is the greatest gap between the City’s goals for the river and today’s conditions. This section also includes an analysis of the causes of impairment and explores which problems are tractable to practical solutions. Section 6 looks toward the potential future applications and improvements for the project.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In their first-ever health assessment of a 24-mile stretch of the Poudre River, a group of Fort Collins water experts awarded the river an overall grade of a C.

In other words, the river is functional, the assessment’s authors said. But it could, and should, be better.

City officials aspire to a B grade for the river, which would mean the assessed stretch is considered “highly functional.”

The report was put together by a group of ecologists and resource managers from the city’s natural areas and utilities departments, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and several consulting firms. The goal was to develop a tool city officials can use to benchmark progress toward a healthier river.

The study focused on the Poudre from the lower canyon near Gateway Natural Area to Interstate 25 and used an A-F grading system. The spotlight was on six key indicators of river health:

  • Flows, the primary driver of river health
  • Sediment, a natural component of rivers that can be harmful if amounts are too much or too little
  • River channel, including shape, width and depth
  • Water quality
  • Aquatic life
  • Riparian corridor, including riverside forests, wetlands and grasslands
  • The overall grade of C “indicates that even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system-wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem,” the report states.

    The river’s lower canyon zone fared better than the urban, rural and plains zones, scoring an overall B-minus with high marks for riparian corridor health, water nutrients and land and channel erosion. The canyon zone scored poorly on habitat connectivity and water temperatures, the latter because warming water temperatures represent risks for aquatic life.

    The river’s urban zone earned a C grade with high marks for water nutrients, trout population and land erosion. The urban zone failed in riparian corridor health, habitat connectivity and river flows.

    Overall, river flows were an issue for most of the 24-mile stretch.

    “The Poudre is characterized by major changes in flow volumes and timing,” the report states. “Reductions have significantly altered peak and base flows, the effects (of) which are exacerbated the further one travels downstream. Diversions also cause unnatural fluctuations in flow volume, which likely affects critical habitat and reproductive needs of fish and insects in the river.”

    Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament targets smallmouth bass and northern pike

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    From WesternSlopeNow.com (Rebecca Hykin):

    The four native fish involved with the program are the Colorado Pikeminnow, Bonytail, Humpback Chub, and Razorback Sucker. As these unique fish are found only in this part of the world, the Colorado River Basin, the decline is due to the loss in habitat and several non-native fish species preying on them, including Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye.

    “The fish that we’re trying to remove compete for resources with the native fish as well as they are predatorial fish and they’ll eat the native fish as well,” said Tory Eyre, Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

    These non-native fish are coming into these native fish habitats from reservoirs overflowing and from a way that is a bit more unorthodox.

    “People are moving live fish from one body of water to another and that is illegal on the West Slope of Colorado, and when we have folks that are doing that, it results in a lot of our time and dollars to try to eradicate those species from areas in places that we don’t want them to be,” said Lori Martin, Senior Aquatic Biologist with CPW.

    Eyre explained the various instinctive recover efforts helping to save these native fish, “we propagate fish so we raise fish in hatcheries and stock them. We alter habitat [and] try to alter flows. Then our involvement is with the non-native removal.”

    Eyre added, “We placed gill nets in the backwaters that are a certain mesh size that targets the Northern Pike and we try to catch them in while they are entering the backwater to spawn.”

    CPW has also worked with other program partners to install spillway screens in reservoirs at Elkhead and Highline Lake State Parks to prevent non-native fish from escaping into the Yampa and Colorado Rivers.

    “It allows us to stock warm water fish that are okay with the recovery program into Highline Lake and the purpose of it is to keep those fish in the lake and not allow them to get in the Colorado River,” said Alan Martinez, Park Manager for Highline Lake State Park.

    However, those with the initiative have been running into a small issue as the recovery program is controversial for some people. Eyre explained, “Small Mouth Bass and Northern Pike are sport fish…people like to catch them.”

    As this is upsetting to some anglers, CPW has been working with the program’s agencies, and with anglers, to address their frustrations.

    “We’re trying to provide opportunities for anglers for similar species in waters or areas where there is no interaction with native fish,” said Martin.

    To encourage involvement by the angling public, CPW is sponsoring the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament from June 24-July 2 in Craig.

    “The aim is to have anglers help us remove small mouth bass and northern pike so we that can better provide a compatible sport fishery that’s in line with endangered fish recovery efforts downstream,” said Martin.

    With all of the efforts in helping to reduce the non-native fish to increase the native fish populations, CPW officials say some improvements with some species have already been made in some locations along the Western Slope.

    “This is kind of our one chance to recovery these species. They’re not found anywhere else, so if they’re gone, then they’re gone, and they’re gone forever,” said Eyre.

    Elkhead Reservoir

    Will the @EPA reconsider the Fountain Creek lawsuit?…@RepDLamborn pow wows with @EPAScottPruitt

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From the Associated Press via the The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    The Denver Post reports that Lamborn has spoken twice with EPA chief Scott Pruitt about the suit, which was filed in 2016 by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Pueblo County joined the suit this year.

    Colorado Springs insists it is investing $460 million with other municipalities over the next two decades to address the problem…

    The EPA declined to comment.

    [Stormwater] in Colorado Springs flows into Fountain Creek and south to Pueblo, where it joins the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is heavily used by agriculture in southeast Colorado.

    The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed suit in 2016, alleging water quality violations.

    Lamborn said he’d like to get the Colorado state agency to abandon the suit. But Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, said the agency believes “these significant violations need to be corrected in order to protect the state’s water quality.”

    “It’s not just the EPA, but it’s also the state of Colorado that filed the lawsuit,” said Jane Ard-Smith, chair of the Sierra Club’s Pikes Peak chapter. “The EPA doesn’t go around suing willy-nilly. We’ve seen a history of [stormwater] violations, so I would hope that the congressman would see the value of enforcing clean water laws.”