New four-part series goes behind the scenes to explore the people and system that brings water to our homes.
The proposed dam project still resonates three decades later, enabling a new path forward.
From the University of Colorado (Molly Phannenstiel):
Jessica Ghent has had an eventful summer.
As part of a nine-week research internship at CU Boulder, the Front Range Community College student is studying the topography of Colorado’s Mount Princeton to find the ideal placement for ground control points, which are physical markers that drones can follow to create a digital map of the area.
Ghent will use the drone images to make a 3D digital elevation model of the area to understand how to help prevent debris flows, which are fast-moving masses of rock that can destroy towns and homes in a matter of minutes.
She wants to find out how debris flows start and how to improve early-warning systems in the future.
Ghent is one of 11 students participating in the Research Experience for Community College Students (RECCS) program hosted by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).
Now entering its fifth year, RECCS gives Colorado community college students hands-on research opportunities as they look ahead in their careers.
“The RECCS program is amazing, and it’s so beneficial,” Ghent said. “We all go into something lacking confidence and feel like we don’t know enough, but it’s cool to be around a lot of different people with science backgrounds and learn more about things that you wouldn’t have necessarily come into contact with.”
Sean Will, a student at the Community College of Denver, is studying beaver habitats by looking at water properties and soil permeability to study how this might affect droughts. The research will help reveal whether beaver dams can efficiently manage a limited water supply.
“The research experience is very valuable, not just if I continue on with the research career track, but even if I go back into business or something, I can take a lot of the skills from the RECCS program,” Will said.
RECCS Director Anne Gold and Program Manager Renee Curry Minaya say the program teaches community college students valuable skills that will help them in their careers.
“Being part of a professional research group gives a lot of skills: multitasking, organization, professionalism, interpersonal professional communication skills and how to set goals realistically and work towards them,” Gold said.
Students are assigned a research question to answer on their own while they work alongside their faculty mentors to answer big picture research questions. At the end of the program, they present their findings to their peers, their mentors and the general public.
With RECCS funded for two more years via the National Science Foundation, Gold and Curry plan to continue expanding the program’s reach.
“We are trying to reach more rural community colleges, because for them, the lack of access to resources is even stronger than Front Range community colleges,” Gold said.
Their efforts are already beginning to push past the Front Range. Susannah Rozak, a member of this year’s RECCS class from Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, has always been passionate about research and the program has been a perfect way to expand her knowledge.
“There’s so much about the world that we don’t know yet and so being able to take part in finding things out and discovering things and sharing those discoveries is really fun,” said Rozak, who is studying student engagement in climate change. “I feel like RECCS has helped me grow a lot and be more confident.”
Ghent hopes to transfer to CU Boulder in the fall, possibly continuing her research into debris flows under her faculty mentors.
“I’ve gained experience in really tangible ways that I’ll be able to take to my future career,” Ghent said.
From The Littleton Independent (Kailyn Lamb):
In the lower levels of the Denver Botanic Gardens, the nonprofit’s herbarium holds more than 70,000 plant specimens as well as fungal samples and plant DNA. The plants are pressed in blotting paper to remove water and preserve the specimen.
Christina Alba, a research associate at the Gardens, has been working since April to collect a small portion of the samples from the High Line Canal trail system. The project will span into September to collect plants from all seasons.
“These collections are living data,” she said. “It’s not just dusty old stuff stuffed away. People are actively using it.”
The herbarium at the Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St., is mostly concentrated on plant samples from Colorado, Alba said. Her recent project with the Denver-based High Line Canal Conservancy will help create a better picture of what plant life lives along portions of the 71-mile trail system…
Alba and a team of 10 volunteers have been collecting samples from every plant along the canal to take back to the Botanic Gardens herbarium. From there, botanists can use microscopes to indentify the plant. Then, the Botanic Gardens will research that plant and whether it’s native to Colorado.
The data being collected by the Botanic Gardens across Colorado is not being hoarded in the herbarium for only scientists to see, Alba said. The organization has been digitizing its archives and making them available online for people to research plant trends and species data.
“People 20 years from now can search the High Line Canal and link to the species list that we generate,” Alba said.
The amount of plant life along the trail depends on the area and how much water it gets. Human interaction in the area has also changed the types of plants growing there. In some spots, residential gardens are directly next to the trail. Plants from those gardens have traveled across the path and down toward the canal itself.
“There’s a lot of influence onto the corridor,” Alba said. “There’s that native ecosystem, or the original ecosystem, and what kind of plants were there, but now there’s that human imprint laid over that.”
Plant counts will help bring data back to the Highline Canal Conservancy, which is working to build a new master plan for the canal’s future.
The master plan will also look at landscaping around the trail, including drought-tolerant plants and using storm water. Josh Phillips, manager of community initiatives with the conservancy, said Denver Water will stop delivering water to the canal in the next few years. The conservancy’s master plan is looking into retrofitting the canal to use storm water for other properties.
“We really want to understand how the ecology of the canal might change as storm water is introduced into the system,” Phillips said.
He added that retrofitting the canal for storm water use would be cheaper than building new storm water retention facilities. The conservancy is hoping that storm water will help keep the vegetation around the canal thriving.
From The Aspen Times:
The Colorado River District is working with state and federal water managers to increase flows in the Fryingpan River by as much as 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), helping trout in the watershed survive warm temperatures while supplying water for downstream irrigation needs in the Grand Valley.
Anticipated releases are expected to range between 50 cfs and 100 cfs and will be coordinated between the River District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase flows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers downstream from Ruedi Reservoir.
“This should significantly benefit flows below Ruedi Reservoir,” said John Currier, chief engineer for the district. “We expect that the supplement flows may also help to mitigate water-quality problems anticipated from fire-related ash and debris flows stemming from the Lake Christine Fire on Basalt Mountain.”
Technically, the water will be delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs while creating environmental benefits as it flows downstream. Green Mountain Reservoir releases will be reduced by an equal amount in order to conserve storage for late-season releases, which in turn will be needed to help endangered fish near Grand Junction.
The coordinated approach was given final approval by the Bureau of Reclamation on Monday. In order to boost Fryingpan levels while the plan awaited approval, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a 50 cfs release from its dedicated endangered fish pool in Ruedi on Friday. Those flows were supplemented by 30 additional cfs Monday, bringing the flow in the Fryingpan to 200 cfs.
Both Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs contribute water to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. In this case, the changed water release plan will benefit trout below Ruedi while endangered fish still receive water from upstream Colorado River reservoirs.
Increased flows of cold water out of Ruedi should also help to alleviate some stress on trout fisheries in the watershed brought on by higher-than-normal water temperatures. Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced voluntary fishing closures earlier this month on sections of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.