#Snowpack news: Things are drying out, where’s Ullr?

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for November 27, 2017.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map November 27, 2017 via the NRCS.

Water: A Zero Sum Game (From Learn About Climate)

US Supremes turn down appeal of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ case

Aqua Caliente Reservation in 1928. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Ian James):

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will not hear an appeal by water agencies in the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ landmark lawsuit asserting rights to groundwater beneath the tribe’s reservation.

The Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water Disitrict appealed to the Supreme Court in July, challenging a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the tribe has a right to groundwater dating back to the federal government’s creation of the reservation in the 1870s.

The high court’s denial of the agencies’ petition means that the tribe has prevailed in winning legal backing for its claim to groundwater rights, and the next phase of the case in federal court focuses on whether the tribe owns storage space within the desert aquifer in Palm Springs and surrounding areas.

The case is likely to have far-reaching effects for Indian water rights throughout the West and across the country. By ruling that the tribe holds special federally reserved rights to groundwater, the court decisions so far in the case are expected to strengthen other tribes’ positions in negotiations or lawsuits over water disputes.

The case is being closely watched by tribes and water suppliers across the West.

In August, 10 states from Nevada to Texas weighed in to support the California water agencies. They said in a “friend-of-the-court” brief that every state “has an obvious stake in the preservation, maintenance and allocation of their most precious natural resource.”

If the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case, it would have had a rare opportunity to settle the question of whether tribes hold special federal “reserved rights” to groundwater as well as surface water, and to define more clearly the boundaries between state-administered water rights and federal water rights. Now that the Supreme Court has let the lower court’s ruling stand, it will be up to lower courts – at least for now – to decide on lingering ambiguities in the established law.

Cities explore the future of urban #stormwater — University of Denver Water Law Review

From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Alicia Garcia):

Need for a New System
Chicago has the largest wastewater capture quarry, water treatment facility, and water treatment plant in the world. However, Chicago still continues to experience significant flooding from stormwater runoff. In the past five years, there have been approximately 181,000 claims totaling over $753 million in flood-related property damage.

Brenna Berman, Chicago’s chief information officer, says that the city is, “still getting the same amount of rain annually that we got [in the past] but it’s coming at a different rate than it once did. However, we’re getting rain more quickly, rain for a shorter period of time, most likely due to global warming.” Therefore, the same solution does not work the same in every location.

A Greener Solution?
In response, Chicago has been installing green infrastructure to hold and treat stormwater. Currently, Chicago is in the midst of a five-year, $50-million plan towards creating ten million gallons of stormwater storage in hopes of reducing stormwater runoff by up to 250 million gallons per year. Permeable pavement has been installed in bike lanes and alleys, which allows for water to be soaked into the ground rather than flowing into the sewer system. Additionally, there are bioswales, tree pits, and infiltration planters, which are areas of vegetation and soil collecting and filtering stormwater that prevent flooding and allow cleaner water to enter the sewer system. Although there are a number of green infrastructure solutions available, there is not much data available regarding which types work best and how well they are working. That’s where City Digital comes in.

City Digital, a partnership of companies based at University of Illinois’ UI LABS, heads the pilot project which combines sensors and cloud computing as an innovative solution to stormwater runoff. The project aims to develop the next generation of sensing and monitoring tools for green stormwater infrastructure. The partnership is comprised of large, multinational companies including Microsoft, ComEd, Siemens, Accenture, Tyco, and HBK Engineering, as well as academic institutions such as the University of Illinois, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, and Argonne National Laboratory.

These companies, universities, and the City of Chicago are collaborating together to identify and solve large-scale infrastructure challenges in order to develop solutions that can be broadly commercialized.

How it Works
Beginning in August of 2016, City Digital has been installing low cost sensors and innovative software tools throughout the city in order to monitor and evaluate the city’s current green infrastructure.

The ultimate goal of this smart green infrastructure monitoring is to create a system of sensors that combines weather information with surface and groundwater monitoring to evaluate the amount of water present, whether or not it is entering the green infrastructure, and what the water undergoes once it enters the infrastructure. Additionally, the system will measure the pH levels and the temperature of the water. Above the ground, the sensors work to monitor the weather conditions, such as precipitation amounts and air pressure levels. Below ground, the sensors monitor soil moisture, chemical absorption rates, and water quality to determine if the infrastructure is managing the water as intended.

The data collected by the sensors is then communicated via cellular network into an analytics platform. There, the effectiveness of the various green-infrastructures can be monitored in real time. As of this past spring, there are six sites throughout Chicago that are transmitting more than 20,000 streams of real time data that translate into site specific recommendations for green infrastructure being built in the future.

Ultimately, the purpose is not only to determine if the green-infrastructure is working, but where and when certain types of green infrastructure are most effective. Specifically, whether the green infrastructure is preventing rainwater from entering the sewer system and what green designs work best for different types of rain and lengths of the storm.

Supporters of the pilot project urge that smart green infrastructure monitoring can be a low-cost alternative to traditional monitoring. Joshua Peschel, one of the key players of the Chicago pilot project says, “the traditional way of monitoring stormwater infrastructure, if done at all, is with expensive measurements that are often very sparse in space and time. This project seeks to fill the data gaps by adding unique measurement techniques and intelligence to these new green streets in Chicago.”

By providing innovative, low cost monitoring for green infrastructure, the pilot project is changing the way not only Chicago, but cities all over the world address stormwater issues. The pilot project is designed to create a pathway to commercialization so that successful pilots can easily and directly be extended throughout other areas of Chicago and even further to other cities both nationally and globally.

Swan River restoration update

Photo credit: Summit Magazine

From The Summit Daily News (Jack Queen):

The Swan hasn’t flowed freely since the dredges chewed up its banks, kept the gold and spat the rocks back out. All of the sand and silt that kept the water out of the ground washed downstream, so the river has quietly gurgled under the rocks for the century since.

“One way to think of it is like a bathtub full of marbles, and the water is just sort of flowing through those,” Lederer said. “Sometimes you see it on the surface and sometimes you don’t.”

The Open Space and Trail Department has teamed up with Breckenridge and at least a half-dozen other partners to breathe life back into the Swan. Clearing out all of the marbles is the first step.

For the past two years, workers have been collecting and milling hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of the gravel and rocks that have been suffocating the river.

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, crews are set to wrap up another season of work, pulling out more than 43,000 tons of material since July. Over that time, roughly $122,000 in royalties from the sale of that processed material have gone to help offset the cost of the project.

A big load of the rock from last season was used for the Iron Springs bypass project, an ambitious re-routing of Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Frisco that was finished just weeks ago…

Last summer, the project liberated one of four sections of the Swan, digging out a channel that now meanders across a wide floodplain.

“We look at the geometry of the valley as a whole: how wide it is, how steep it is, how big the floodplain is,” Lederer explained. “And looking at these different parameters, we can make an inference into what the channel should look like.”

This summer, workers planted thousands of willows along the new banks of the Swan to help anchor the river while it stretches it legs for the first time in years. But it’s not stuck in place just yet.

“We’ve given the stream a lot of flexibility to move across the floodplain,” Lederer said. “It’s able to move a little bit over time, and that’s OK — that’s kind of what we want up there.”

After a dry start to the season, the area greened up nicely before the first snowfall, a stark contrast to the moonlike surface from just two years ago.

The stretch that’s flowing, dubbed Reach A, is one of four sections identified for de-dredging. That phase cost around $2.3 million total, provided by a combination of state and local government grants.

Gravel milling work this summer has taken place upriver on Reach B, and that’s set to continue next summer. Workers need to clear at least 195,000 cubic yards of material before restoration can begin.

The final two sections, however, are being actively quarried on private land and could take some time to free up for restoration.

“Everyone in the valley is sort of supportive of this work, but I don’t have a good idea of the timing on anything on private property,” Lederer said. “But ideally, we’ll continue to move upstream as the opportunity allows.”

From Colorado Summit Magazine (Devon O’Neil):

Today’s excavator work represents the latest step in a landmark project undertaken by local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as a group of private organizations that share a commitment to undoing the environmental damage inflicted by Summit County’s pioneers.

“It’s just basically a big mess. There is no real stream, to be honest. There’s no life,” Jason Lederer, an open space and trails resource specialist for Summit County, says while observing the scene last summer. “Our goal is to reintroduce the natural channel to the valley and restore the ecological and environmental value.”

Lederer watches as the earth mover pulls another few hundred pounds of melted chocolate from its expanding hole. When the restoration effort began, no one had a clue where the river was supposed to go—or where it ran before the dredges turned it upside down in the early 1900s. “We don’t have any pictures, but we can imagine,” Lederer says. Which seems a tad crazy, no? How could you not know where the river flowed as recently as a century ago?

Such is the legacy of dredge mining—not just in the Swan, but also French Gulch, one drainage south, and anywhere else a dredge ever operated.

Soon, though, this valley will be transformed, once again through a human touch. As part of a decades-long plan to restore three miles of the Swan, last summer’s work was a major step toward realizing the river’s potential once more. The envisioned final product evokes a page torn from a Colorado scenic calendar: a meandering stream with aspen and juniper on its banks, 10-inch brook trout snapping at your fly, native cutthroat trout flourishing just upstream (for the time being), and more than 130,000 cubic yards of dredge rock crushed and removed from the valley forever.

As Lederer says, “If we do our job right, nobody will ever know we—or the miners—were here.”

[…]

The first two dredges began churning up the river bottom in 1898, and two more followed in 1899. The four boats dug as deep as 70 feet, depositing their debris in giant piles next to the disappearing river channel. Before long, the Swan’s three forks—North, Middle, and South—no longer shared a visible confluence, having been driven underground by the mining. All that mattered was the gold. And if no one was making the mining companies clean up their mess, they weren’t about to do it of their own accord.

Just up the hill and south from where the boats were “flipping the river upside down,” as dredge mining’s impacts are described, the Cashier Mine pumped out ore in Browns Gulch (it remains one of the largest abandoned mines in the county). Workers loaded its waste into carts and scattered it about the valley, alongside the tens of thousands of smooth, round river rocks discarded by the dredge boats. This, of course, only made a bad problem worse.

What had once been a verdant river became a wasteland. People who have worked on the Swan restoration refer to the river they inherited as a “bathtub of marbles”—essentially a waterway that had been so churned up it no longer had a bottom … or any structure at all. Think of trying to contain water with a screen. That’s what the Swan had become: an underground trickle, dispersed to the brink of dissolution.

Even as work began last summer, questions remained: Was the river still there? If so, could it be channeled once more? What would it take to bring the ecosystem back to life?

There weren’t many precedents akin to the Swan, but one local project provided inspiration, and hope. From 2004 to 2006, Summit County government led an effort to restore the Blue River just north of Tiger Road along Highway 9. The 23-acre Four Mile Bridge Open Space, as it became known, turned out beautifully and served as a vital blueprint for the Swan, in that the remediated site was zoned strictly as open space with no concessions for development.

It took 10 years from when the county and town of Breckenridge began preliminary work on the Swan until the heavy equipment arrived last summer, but by the time operations ceased in mid-November, the progress was striking. They’d rebuilt nearly a mile of stream, including relocating a half mile of channel that had become a muddy ditch along Tiger Road. The reconstructed section of river—“Reach A” as it’s known in the broader plan—includes 22 riffles (minor rapids), glides (calm water stretches), and pools 3 to 6 feet deep, which combine to form optimal fish habitat. The river channel is 25 feet wide to accommodate high flows during spring runoff, anchoring a 65-foot-wide riparian corridor that will be populated this summer with native flora.

Best of all, the county did not have to line the riverbed to prevent water from seeping into the ground and disappearing. That’s because the Swan River, they discovered, is a “gaining stream” instead of a “losing stream”—that is, groundwater actually rises from the bed and into the river, increasing its flow. You could see this happening just upstream from the excavator last July; clear water spurted out of the gravel like a spring, then gradually coalesced as it moved downhill.

An uncommon range of backers has funded the restoration, with the largest financial contribution—$975,000—coming from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Summit County added $500,000, the town of Breck gave $300,000, Colorado Parks and Wildlife anted in $184,000, and the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service combined to donate $250,000. Also part of the mix: the Blue River Watershed Group and Trout Unlimited’s Gore Range Anglers Chapter, which works to protect, preserve, and restore coldwater fisheries. “This project hits every aspect of our mission,” says chapter president Greg Hardy.

Craft breweries join #climate alliance

From CERES (Click through to read the brewery by brewery detail):

The beer brewing industry is a major economic driver in America. There are more than 2,800 breweries in the U.S. responsible for $246.5 billion in economic output in 2012 alone. Directly and indirectly, breweries create more than 2 million American jobs. For every 1 job in a brewery, 45 indirect jobs are created in agriculture, transportation, distributing, business, packaging, machinery, and retail. But the effects of climate change are beginning to threaten the industry, putting both jobs and the future of great beer at risk.

Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.

That’s why leading breweries are finding innovative ways to integrate sustainability into their business practices and finding economic opportunity through investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste recapture, and sustainable sourcing. To highlight the steps they are taking and issue a call to action to others, brewers are signing the Climate Declaration.

By signing the Climate Declaration, these breweries are showing their leadership and commitment to brewing with the climate in mind. They are already reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using less energy, choosing clean energy, and investing in new technologies. They are also recognizing that these practices help grow their business, create jobs and strengthen our economy.