#ColoradoRiver: Dog Island restoration update

McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area via the BLM

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Kelly Slivka):

[Kate] Graham is the assistant director for the Colorado Canyons Association, a nonprofit that works closely with the Bureau of Land Management to care for and protect the three National Conservation Areas skirting Grand Junction — Gunnison Gorge, Dominguez-Escalante and McInnis Canyons, the last of which is home to Dog Island.

With the help of an army of volunteers from the wide conservation network that operates in western Colorado, Graham, her co-workers and BLM officials have been attempting to restore Dog Island’s vegetation after a visitor from Breckenridge set off fireworks there two summers ago, in August of 2015, and burnt it to a crisp…

[Troy] Schnurr has been keeping track of the local stretch of the Colorado for 27 years, and he’s one of the people spearheading the Dog Island restoration efforts.

The island, a large, sand and stone bank a little over a half-mile long, sits about two-thirds of the way between the Loma Boat Launch, just northwest of Fruita, and Westwater, the first river access point across the border in Utah.

It’s a very popular river outpost, hosting a shady, roomy campground on its western side, and it’s now slowly starting to recover from the fire.

It’s not a barren wasteland but has greened up ­— yes, with fast-growing, weedy Russian knapweed but also with sage, salt grass and many other native and non-native plants.

And though most of the cottonwoods studding the island are now scorched skeletons, fresh foliage from sucker shoots have begun to poke up from around some of the burnt trunks — a sign that the fire didn’t completely fry the root systems…

But these little victories toward recovery belie the painstaking, time-consuming and unpredictable road of restoration.

Invaders

Invasive plant species famously excel at taking over landscapes after fires or other destruction, and knapweed and Canadian thistle reign on Dog Island, creating a sea of weeds in which young native sumac shrubs can hardly be seen, much less thrive.

“Ecologically, this is a pretty sick island,” Schnurr said.

More than the proliferation of weeds, Schnurr mourns the loss of cottonwoods, staple riverside habitat that stabilizes river banks and shelters wild animals — and recreators — from the elements.

Some of the cottonwoods on Dog Island were probably over a hundred years old, Schnurr said, but only took a moment to burn down the night of the fire.

“We’ll never see old cottonwoods like this again on this stretch in my lifetime,” he said, gazing at the bleached white trunks of the dead trees.

After the 2015 Dog Island fire was doused, Schnurr was one of the first people to survey the damage and begin clean-up.

He and other BLM officials, including Collin Ewing, who manages the region’s National Conservation Areas, brought in a crew from the Western Colorado Conservation Corps, an organization that recruits youth volunteers to help with service projects, and began to clear out fallen trees and burnt tamarisk, another invasive plant overwhelming many parts of Ruby Horsethief.

By the fall of 2016, Graham and the Colorado Canyons Association had secured funding through the Colorado Water Conservation Board to restore three areas in Ruby Horsethief, one of which was Dog Island.

The association worked with Ewing, Schnurr and others to replant the island’s native species, like sumac, supplied by the Upper Colorado Plant Center in Meeker, a nonprofit that specializes in revegetating disturbed environments with natural growth.

The group also continued to clear out dead tamarisk, and they trimmed back extraneous cottonwood growth to encourage the recovering trees to focus their energy on establishment.

The game-plan for Dog Island now, a year after the original restorative push and two years after the burn, is to treat invasive weeds with herbicide and wait for nature to take its course, Schnurr said. He said once the weeds die, the native plants should move in to replace them.

But there’s more hands-on work to be done elsewhere in the canyons. Dog Island isn’t the only target for Schnurr’s and Graham’s conservation and restoration efforts.

Along the 25-mile Ruby Horsethief stretch, the Colorado snakes through the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and borders the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, protected lands managed for use by the BLM.

“Lack of water doesn’t stop growth” — Eric Wilkinson

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Rebecca Powell):

The panel last week gave its unanimous support to Northern Colorado Water
Conservancy District’s plan, which set out to address the impacts of the Northern Integrated Supply Project on fish and wildlife.

Concerns about the plan have centered on peak water flows and whether flows outlined in the plan will be enough to allow for a flushing that is vital to the Poudre River’s health…

Both Fort Collins City Council and Larimer County commissioners reviewed the plan, which was released in June.

Council sent comments back to the commission with recommendations, such as guaranteeing three days of peak flows on the river for critical flushing.

Commissioners opted not to send feedback to the commission, and its members said they were comfortable with the plan…

Northern Water is working with 15 Front Range partners who seek to build the project to meet water demands brought upon by future growth.

“Lack of water doesn’t stop growth. It just changes where it comes from,” Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson told the Coloradoan Editorial Board on Monday. “In Colorado, it’s going to come from ag. … Without this project, there are 100 square miles of farms that will be dried up to provide that water.”

[…]

Now NISP must go through more water quality mitigation as part of the Federal Clean Water Act.

An Army Corps of Engineers decision on whether to allow the nearly $1 billion project is expected in 2018, after the proposal has cleared regulatory hurdles in Colorado.

#ColoradoRiver: Hualapai Tribe settles water rights claim #COriver

Photo By Ericm1022 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From Fronteras Desk (Laurel Morales):

The Hualapai Tribe has agreed to end a decades-long conflict over Colorado River water rights in exchange for a $134 million pipeline that will supply water to the tribe’s Grand Canyon tourist attractions.

About a million people visit Grand Canyon West each year to step out on the glass skywalk over the natural wonder.

Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke spoke before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last year, and said the attraction employs 300 tribal members and 300 non-natives. He said most drive two hours to work each day to live near a water source.

“We’re proud of the fact that the tribe is moving forward towards achieving full employment for our members and economic self-sufficiency, but the severe lack of water on the reservation is a major obstacle in reaching these goals,” Clarke said.

Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have introduced legislation that would give the Hualapai 4,000 acre feet of Colorado River water each year.

Little Thompson Water District wins AWWA #Colorado Section taste test

Map via the Little Thompson Water District

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Sample No. 5, we’d find out later, was from Little Thompson, and it is this year’s winner, folks.

Here’s how it went:

Eight samples are set in front of you on numbered coasters. You’re given a sheet to rate each sample 1-10, with 10 being the best-tasting water on this earth and 1 being the opposite of that.

Other than that, there wasn’t much in the way of instruction.

So I briefly tasted each sample, starting at No. 8 and working my way down while making little marks along the way. Then I tasted the ones I marked poorly again, again working my way toward the ones that caught my attention in a good way.

A final taste of my top three yielded a winner — at least in my book.

But then there was a final round, then there was a tie, and each of those things caused more water to be consumed and so I can really see now why the folks running the competition recommended a pre-competition restroom break.

Greeley, which won last year’s competition, didn’t enter this year’s competition. It didn’t have to. Consider it a first-round bye thanks to the city winning the national championship last year.

Aurora came in second and Louisville took third. Little Thompson will go on to the national competition next, as Greeley attempts to defend its title.

Warmer Air Means More Evaporation and Precipitation #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Graphic credit: Climate Central

From Climate Central:

Climate change intersects with hurricanes by increasing storm rainfall, intensity, and surge.

A warming atmosphere causes more evaporation, meaning more water is available for precipitation. For every 1°F increase in temperature, the atmosphere can hold around 4 percent more water vapor, which leads to heavier rain and increases the risk of flooding of rivers and streams. We saw the impact of extreme rainfall during Harvey. Though no research has yet been done to attribute the staggering rainfall totals from this storm to climate change, the downpours are very much in line with heavy precipitation trends.