Five Years Later, Effects Of #ColoradoRiver Pulse Flow Still Linger — KUNC

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

From inside a small airplane, tracing the Colorado River along the Arizona-California border, it’s easy to see how it happened.

As the river bends and weaves through the American Southwest, its contents are slowly drained. Concrete canals send water to millions of people in Phoenix and Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego. Farms, ribbons of green contrasted against the desert’s shades of brown, line the waterway.

Further downstream, near Yuma, Arizona, the river splits into threads, like a frayed piece of yarn.

A massive multi-state plumbing system sends its water to irrigate the hundreds of thousands of farm acres in southern California and Arizona, hubs for winter vegetables, alfalfa, cotton and cattle.

When it hits the final dam, located on the U.S.-Mexico border, every drop has been claimed and put to use. In a typical year, what’s left of the river’s flow — promised to Mexico in a 75-year-old treaty — is sent to farm fields in the Mexicali Valley, and then on to the Mexican cities of Tijuana, Mexicali and Tecate.

All this reliance on an overallocated river has left its final hundred miles as the ultimate collateral damage. Since the early 1960s, when Glen Canyon Dam impounded the river near Page, Arizona, it has rarely reached the Pacific Ocean. The thread is frayed beyond recognition, leaving no water for the river itself.

“About 90 percent of the water is retained on the U.S. side and it’s used and diverted,” said Karl Flessa, a researcher at the University of Arizona. He studies the Colorado River Delta.

“In effect, one of the things we’ve done historically — not meaning to especially — what we’ve done is export some of the environmental consequences of water diversions,” Flessa said. “We’ve exported them to Mexico.”

The Colorado River’s inability to complete its journey from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez has become one of its defining characteristics. Its historic delta, a haven for birds and mammals in the Sonoran desert, is a husk of its former self.

From the air, in a flight arranged by non-profit group LightHawk, the Colorado River Delta transitions from a jigsaw of farms to a staggering sprawl of muddy salt flats. (LightHawk receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also funds KUNC’s Colorado River coverage.) The river’s historic channel in most parts through Mexico is nothing more than a sandy bed, scattered with saltcedar.

Where the river used to meet the ocean, tidal pools and drainages carve the sand and soil into organic patterns, like the cross-section of a lung.

Within the last twelve years, both the U.S. and Mexico have acknowledged the delta’s problems, signing agreements to commit both water and funding to restoring it to some semblance of its former self.

The splashiest of those efforts took place five years ago this spring, and left a lasting imprint on those who witnessed it.

The pulse flow

Around 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning in March 2014, water began spilling through Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border. The release was a culmination of years of negotiation between the U.S., Mexico and environmental organizations.

It was known as the pulse flow — flujo pulso in Spanish.

“You think of it as this wall of water that’s going to come down, but really it was this creeping tongue of water across the sand,” said Jennifer Pitt, who worked for the Environmental Defense Fund at the time, and now directs the Colorado River program for the National Audubon Society. Both groups receive Walton Family Foundation funding. Pitt was a key negotiator to make the pulse flow possible…

It took a few days after the dam opened for the water to arrive at the bridge, where Pitt and her colleagues gathered to wait. About 70 people in garden chairs sat in anticipation. A community clean-up a few days prior left the riverbed scrubbed of trash and debris.

For many young people, it was the first time they had ever seen water flowing in this stretch of the Colorado River. For older residents, it had been decades since they saw this much water here.

“They started getting up just one by one, people coming over to the water and getting down on their hands and knees and just touching it,” she said. “It was like the arrival. The great arrival of the river.”

A spontaneous festival started, complete with music, food vendors, horses and boats.

“I’ve spent 20 years thinking about how we can restore the Colorado River from where it dries out to where it reaches the sea,” Pitt said, “And in all of that thinking have never imagined that this site could bring so many people in as a magnet for people to enjoy something.”

Within weeks the flow was soaked up by depleted soils, though it did eventually reach the Pacific Ocean. From where Pitt and I are standing at the bridge in early December 2018, you’d never know the West’s mightiest river was supposed to flow here.

The pulse flow was about 105,000 acre-feet of water, enough to turn the channel again into a river for a few weeks. One acre-foot generally provides enough water for two average American households for a year. Historically more than 12 million acre-feet flowed into the delta each year…

Combined, that amount of water led to a green up along the river corridor, and sustained more than 275,000 new trees, according to a December 2018 report from the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The pulse flow’s biggest effects were short-lived. Both the green up and increases in certain species dropped again after the water stopped flowing.

The pulse flow’s biggest effects were short-lived. Both the green up and increases in certain species dropped again after the water stopped flowing.

A study from U.S. Geological Survey scientists confirmed that. It found that the amount of water in the pulse flow was too small to change the channel in a significant way, or scrub the riverbed, which would’ve happened during a more natural spring flood when flows would be much higher.

Because of the delta’s low water table, a lot of water seeped into the ground before it could do any good on the surface to help establish new wildlife habitat in expanded restoration areas. It was an experiment, said University of Arizona researcher Karl Flessa. Scientists experiment all the time, chart the results and move on.

Does he think the delta will ever see another pulse flow on the scale and magnitude of the one seen in 2014?

“Probably not,” he said. “Because you can get the water to do more restoration work by delivering it in smaller doses as it were, and delivering it to the right places where the vegetation can really take advantage of it.

“I think restoration, like any other activity with water, we’re really obliged as a society to be as water efficient as possible.”

Rifle: Garfield County State of the Rivers Meeting, June 5, 2019

An irrigation ditch south of Silt, and the Colorado River, moves water toward a field. The state of irrigated agriculture in Garfield County is expected to get a closer look as part of an integrated water management plan being prepared by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

Click here for all the inside skinny:

The 2019 Garfield County State of the River meeting is coming up next week, Wednesday, June 5th, at the Rifle Branch Library.

Please join us for this evening of presentations, discussions, and updates on the Western Slope’s most important natural resource: The Colorado River.

Presentations at this year’s event will include information and updates about local planning efforts, current and forecasted conditions for the summer months, and an overview of “big river” issues including recent Drought Contingency Plans (DCP’s) for the Upper and Lower Basin states.

Who: Garfield County Water Users (That’s all of us!)
When: June 5. Free food and drink at 5:30pm – Program begins at 6:00pm.
Where: Rifle Branch Library, 207 East Avenue, Rifle, CO

We hope you’ll attend to hear ongoing efforts at the local, regional and national levels to sustain and enhance critical water resources in the Colorado River Basin.

@USGS story map: 150th Anniversary: J.W. Powell’s Perilous River Expedition #Powell150

Click here to view the story map.

#Runoff news: There’s a lot of SWE still to melt out

Durango flood of 1911 river scene. Photo credit Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College.

From The Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Forecasters are anywhere from concerned to alarmed about the potential for flooding in Colorado’s high country…

“I wouldn’t say go out and get ready for a massive flood, but getting prepared is a good idea,” NWS meteorologist Natalie Sullivan said Friday. “These levels are definitely something to keep an eye on, but it is not overly alarming.”


Above-normal spring precipitation and below-normal temperatures have allowed snowpacks in the Colorado Rockies to remain high this year, the weather service said.

Another factor that raises concern is that temperatures are forecast to rise to the mid-80s next week in the Denver metro area and into the 90s in southwest Colorado, where authorities in small towns have bigger flooding concerns, NWS meteorologist Dave Barjenbruch told The Denver Post.

With days getting longer and temperatures across Colorado rising to above normal next week, flooding is a real possibility, Barjenbruch said. For example, the temperature in Denver is forecast to reach 84 degrees (28.8 Celsius) on Monday, which is 6 degrees above normal, after three weeks of temperatures well below normal, Barjenbruch said.

“What that is telling us is there is an awful lot of snow in the mountains, especially above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). That will accelerate the snowmelt. We’re going to be melting it off quite fast in the next two weeks,” Barjenbruch said.

There is cause for concern about flooding in mountain towns in the north-central mountains, but real alarm in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, he said.

The trouble is, there isn’t a lot of historical data about how serious the situation is in southern Colorado because usually there isn’t a lot of snow in the San Juans by June, Barjenbruch said. This year, the snowpack in the area is at 728 percent of normal, an alarming level, he said.

With warm temperatures next week, 2 inches (5 centimeters) of water could be melting off the snowpack a day.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

A day after decreasing the outflow from Lake Estes, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Saturday it would more than double the amount of water flowing from the lake into the Big Thompson River on Sunday.

Releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson will increase from 150 to 310 cubic feet per second (cfs) and remain at 310 cfs until further notice, according to a news release.

Larger runoff inflows into Lake Estes prompted the increase.

Portland, Oregon: ‘Climate kids’ lawsuit faces critical hearing, Tuesday, June 4, 2019

From the Mail Tribune (Maxine Bernstein):

The 21 young people who sued the federal government over climate change four years ago have gained a wide swath of supporters as the case has bounced from one legal challenge to the next.

Another 32,340 people representing all 50 states — most of them 25 or younger — have signed on to one of 15 friend-of-court briefs filed this year.

Eight members of Congress, including four from Oregon, as well as environmental history professors, eco-justice ministers, dozens of international lawyers, scientists and public health experts have filed the other briefs.

They all urge that the long-delayed case, first filed in 2015 in Oregon, be allowed to go to trial.

Meanwhile, a national federation of independent businesses, as well as oil companies and a trucking association are backing the government’s push to dismiss the suit.

A three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments at 2 p.m. Tuesday in an expansive 16th floor courtroom at the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland, with an overflow room for the anticipated crowd.

Supporters of the suit are expected to rally at nearby Director Park and watch a livestream feed of the hearing in a case that’s turned into a growing global youth crusade.

The movement — and the lawsuit — have attracted the attention of many leading scholars studying climate change today.

Drawing on the name of the lead plaintiff in the case, Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, 23, of Eugene, a group of public health and medical experts said it shares an urgency to help the “Juliana Generation.’’ They have documented the harmful impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on people born in the United States since 1995, they said in one of the friend-of-court briefs.

“This generation is suffering — and will continue to suffer as they age — harms different from those of prior generations,’’ wrote Shaun A. Goho, deputy director of Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic. He represents dozens of physicians, professors and 15 public health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and National Medical Association.

The young people in their lawsuit asserted a constitutional right to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life’’ and contend the government has violated that right and the public’s trust.

They’ve asked a trial judge to order eight federal agencies to prepare a “national remedial plan” to phase out fossil fuel emissions, draw down excess atmospheric carbon dioxide and then monitor compliance.

An Oregon judge, U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken of Eugene, decided in October 2018 to allow the case to proceed to trial. At the same time, she dismissed President Donald Trump as a defendant, citing respect for the separation of powers and calling his involvement non-essential because lower-level government officials carried out the challenged policies.

The government unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court last November to stop a scheduled trial. But days later, a 9th Circuit panel temporarily halted the trial while a government appeal of Aiken’s ruling proceeds. The 9th Circuit later agreed to fast-track the government’s appeal.

“Time is not our friend on this issue,’’ said Andrea Rodgers, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “While the children in this case have been getting older, the climate changes that are facing them are unprecedented. We hope that’s something that will resonate with the court.’’

Government lawyers call the suit “misguided,’’ arguing that it’s not up to a federal district judge to require the government to stop global climate change. A single judge, the government contends, “may not” seize control of national energy production, energy consumption or transportation and doesn’t have the power to perform such a sweeping policy review related to fossil fuels, public lands or air quality standards.

They argue that the young people have a “generalized’’ grievance and can’t point to particular injuries directly tied to government conduct, largely because climate change stems from a “world web of actions.’’

The Administrative Procedure Act created by Congress, they say, is the proper avenue for challenging federal agency actions.

The plaintiffs counter that an appeals court shouldn’t dismiss the case before a trial is held to gather evidence.

Their injuries are specific and deeply personal, they argue, pointing to the flooding of one boy’s house and school, another boy’s lost recreation from watching his island’s coral reefs die and beaches disappear and other plaintiffs’ asthma and allergies from exposure to hazardous wildfire smoke.

“They have concrete individual harms that don’t rest on a ‘global universal harm,’” their lawyers wrote.

The young people — now between the ages of 11 and 23 – push back at the government’s notion that a court can’t examine the constitutionality of government practices.

“Defendants’ theory that the judiciary is without power to assess the constitutionality of large and pervasive government policies and systems would have been the downfall of cases addressing desegregation, prison reform, interracial and same-sex marriage, and the rights of women to serve on juries and have access to contraception, among other rights,’’ their lawyers wrote to the appeals court.

In February, a youth-led climate justice organization called Zero Hour launched a nationwide campaign to seek supporters for the Juliana suit and more than 30,000 signed up in less than two weeks. Another group called Sunrise Movement Education Fund, a national nonprofit mobilizing young people to stop climate change, submitted essays from 30 students to the appeals court.

Anglers encouraged to catch illegally introduced northern pike at Kenney Reservoir, earn $20 per fish — @CPW_NW

Photo reenactment showing a ‘bucket biologist’ in action, a person that illegally dumps live fish into a body of water. (Photo/CPW)

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porras):

The illegal, unapproved relocation of fish from one body of water to another continues to cause significant problems for management agencies, water providers and ethical anglers across Colorado.

Recently joining the list of reservoirs impacted by the presence of illegally introduced northern pike is northwest Colorado’s Kenney Reservoir. In the fall of 2018, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists confirmed the presence of the nonnative predator in the estimated 335-surface-acre reservoir located near the town of Rangely. Authorities believe the northern pike were most likely dumped illegally into the reservoir, or the White River, by a ‘bucket biologist,’ a pejorative term used to describe someone that moves live fish in an effort to create their own personal, unapproved fishery.

“Releasing fish unlawfully and selfishly is self-defeating and will not work as intended,” said Lori Martin, CPW’s Northwest Region senior aquatic biologist. “Because northern pike are indiscriminate predators and consume any fish they catch, we will not throw our hands in the air and ignore the problem. We will take action one way or another to deal with this illegal introduction because it is very harmful and the stakes are so high. This hurt existing fisheries and it certainly has negative impacts on anglers, the majority of whom are law-abiding and ethical.”

CPW says illegal fish stocking can result in fines up to $5,000 and the permanent loss of hunting and fishing privileges. In addition, anyone convicted of illegal fish dumping will likely have to pay up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to reclaim the body of water.

The presence of northern pike has prompted CPW and reservoir owner Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District and other partners, including the Town of Rangely, Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to initiate an angler harvest incentive targeting all northern pike found within the District’s boundaries. Beginning June 1 and continuing through Nov. 30, licensed anglers can earn $20 for each northern pike caught and removed from Kenney Reservoir, the White River and other waters, from approximately Stedman Mesa to the Utah border.

Kenney Reservoir is very popular with anglers and currently recognized as an excellent channel catfish, black crappie and common carp fishery. In addition, CPW stocks rainbow trout annually at the expense of the State of Colorado; however, due to the presence of northern pike, Martin says the agency will have little choice but to cancel the remaining catchable trout plants in Kenney Reservoir in 2019. She says until the issue is resolved, she is not sure when they can resume stocking.

“Moving any live fish is a criminal act and can cause great damage to an existing fishery, threaten our native fishes and cost the sportsmen and women of Colorado thousands of dollars annually,” said CPW’s Area Wildlife Manager Bill de Vergie of Meeker. “We would prefer to dedicate our time and sportsmen’s dollars on other projects that directly benefit the angling public, rather than spend money and manpower on fish removal efforts.”

Research conducted by partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has shown that the unapproved presence of nonnative predators like northern pike and smallmouth bass in critical, native fish habitat is among the most significant impediments to the recovery of Colorado’s endangered fishes – Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail and razorback sucker. The rare species exist nowhere else in the world except in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the White River, upstream to the Rio Blanco Lake dam west of Meeker and downstream of Kenney Reservoir, is designated critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow, and the lower 18 miles of the White River in Utah is designated as critical habitat for razorback sucker. Smallmouth bass, northern pike and other nonnative species in these river stretches have proven detrimental to native fishes.

Other Northwest Region reservoirs dealing with the repercussions of unlawful stocking of northern pike include Green Mountain Reservoir and Wolford Mountain Reservoir. CPW and the Colorado River Water Conservation District initiated angler harvest incentives at both reservoirs several years ago, similar to the one planned at Kenney Reservoir. Licensed anglers can earn $20 for each northern pike caught and removed.

To participate in the angler harvest incentive within the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District’s boundaries, anglers should bring their freshly caught northern pike to the District office at 2252 East Main Street in Rangely during typical business hours, 7 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday, and 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Friday. The District will administer the cash harvest incentive with funds provided by CPW through a Colorado legislative bill that appropriates severance tax dollars to the Species Conservation Trust Fund.

To collect CPW’s angler harvest incentive at Green Mountain Reservoir, anglers can bring freshly caught northern pike to the Heeney Marina during business hours. Call 970-724-9441 for more information. To collect the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s angler harvest incentive at Wolford Mountain Reservoir, take the freshly caught northern pike to the campground host, or call 970-724-1266.

For each body of water, anglers must present their fishing license to qualify for the harvest incentive.

“Our removal efforts thus far have been effective at reducing the number of northern pike in Kenney and we believe the population is still relatively small,” said Martin. “But northern pike are prolific and it doesn’t take long for a small population to grow, especially if no management action is taken. We encourage anglers to participate and help us eliminate northern pike from Kenney and the surrounding area. If the pike population continues to grow, we may have to resort to less palatable options for managing against northern pike in the future.”

For more information about the angler harvest incentives contact CPW Northwest Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin at 970-255-6186.

To report unlawful fish stocking anonymously, call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Rewards are available for information that leads to an arrest or citation.

Field day at the Central Great Plains Research Station east of Akron, CO, June 19, 2019

From Joel Schneekloth via Twitter:

Field day at the Central Great Plains Research Station east of Akron, CO on June 19, 2019. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. Address is 40335 CR GG, Akron, CO. Free lunch served.