Rock Mountain Area 120 Day Large Fire Potential Outlook — 04/29/2020

Firefighters work to contain the Ryan Fire in northern Colorado on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo credit: USFS via Firehouse.com

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Water restrictions now in effect for #ColoradoSprings Utilities’ customers — KOAA.com

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From KOAA.com:

As of May 1 customers cannot run sprinklers or water your lawn more than three days a week. You can choose which days to water, but it’s best to spread it out.

Also under the Water-wise Rules, you can only run sprinklers before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Those restrictions remain in place through October 1.

@USBR: Water experiment to be conducted along the #ColoradoRiver while maintaining hydropower production this summer #COriver #GrandCanyon

Non-biting midges are one of the aquatic insects predicted to benefit from the Bug Flow Experiment. Photo credit: USGS/Freshwaters Illustrated via the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke, Robyn Gerstenslage):

From May 1 through August 31, the Department of the Interior will conduct a Macroinvertebrate Production Flow at Glen Canyon Dam. This experiment, also known as a Bug Flow, aims to improve egg-laying conditions for aquatic insects, which are the primary food source for endangered and native fish in the Colorado River. This is the third consecutive year for the Bug Flow under the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan.

During the Bug Flow experiment, the Bureau of Reclamation will make targeted adjustments to water releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. That adjusted release schedule will include low and steady flows during weekends, while weekday operations will maintain normal flows to meet hydropower demands. Weekday release rate hourly changes will remain unchanged.

Aquatic insects lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation and other materials near the river’s edge. If flows are too variable, water levels may drop below where eggs are laid, causing them to dry out and die.

Caddis fly hatch photo via http://ValiValleyAnglers.com

“Findings indicate that some aquatic insects are already benefiting from the bug flows, which also benefits fish and other animals that eat them,” said Scott VanderKooi, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “For example, our research suggests that caddisflies, an extremely rare aquatic insect in the Grand Canyon over the past several decades, increased nearly four-fold during the first year of the experiment in 2018, before returning to pre-Bug Flows numbers in 2019. In contrast, non-biting midges, another type of aquatic insect that is a key food source for fish and other wildlife, may have increased, and a third year of Bug Flows should help verify this finding.”

Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry. Photo credit. Gonzo fan2007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3631180

Recreational fishing at Lees Ferry also improved during Bug Flows, with anglers catching an average of 1-2 more rainbow trout per day during Bug Flow weekends, when flows were low and steady, compared to weekdays when flows fluctuated.
“Our current experimental plan initially recommended two to three years of Bug Flows given the complexity of the Colorado River ecosystem, which is constantly changing,” said Lee Traynham, Reclamation’s Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Manager. “We’ve already learned a lot about the ecosystem and have observed several resource improvements over many years of experimenting with flows. We are excited to see how the ecosystem responds this year.”

The decision to conduct this experiment was based on technical input and recommendation from a collaborative team of scientists and technical experts from federal agencies and states involved in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. This team includes representatives from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration; Arizona Game and Fish Department, Upper Colorado River Commission and all seven Colorado River Basin States.

Experiments are designed to maximize benefits to the Colorado River ecosystem through the Grand Canyon, while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

This experiment is expected to benefit aquatic insects and the fish, birds and bats that feed on them, while providing valuable scientific information for future decision making.

For more information about the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program and flow volumes below Glen Canyon Dam, please visit the following websites:

Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/amp/index.html

Flow volumes for the Colorado River at Lees Ferry: https://www.gcmrc.gov/discharge_qw_sediment/station/GCDAMP/09380000

Colorado River Storage Project: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/index.html

Citizen Science Light Trapping in Grand Canyon: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/sbsc/science/citizen-science-light-trapping-grand-canyon?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

Science Behind the Bug Flows: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70170803

Five Ditches project wraps up — #RioGrande Headwaters Restoration Project

Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

From The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project via The Valley Courier:

Over the past several years, the Restoration Project has worked with five ditch companies and diverse stakeholders to improve irrigation infrastructure on the Rio Grande between Alamosa and Del Norte, while also benefiting the river as a whole. The project’s founding document, the 2001 Study, found that changes in hydrology and aging, failing diversion structures were causing sediment deposition, erosion, loss of riparian habitat, and inefficient diversion of water.

The Five Ditches Project addressed these issues by replacing diversion dams and head-gates for five ditches and restoring surrounding streambanks. These efforts have resulted in a multitude of benefits, including improved diversion efficiency and irrigation operations, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, reduced erosion and increased community safety. As the Five Ditches Project wraps up, those involved wanted to once again acknowledge the incredible collaboration that made this project possible and give an overview of everything that has been accomplished together.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out the film made by Moxiecran Media about the Five Ditches Project…

Rio Grande #2

Ditch The Rio Grande #2 Ditch irrigates 250 acres northeast of Del Norte. It suffered from an inefficient diversion dam and high maintenance due to trash and sediment. In Winter 2017, the diversion dam and headgate were removed and replaced with a fish-passable stacked rock cross vain diversion structure and a steel headgate. The surrounding channel and streambanks were also reshaped and stabilized, and aquatic and riparian habitat improvements and a rock deflector were added.

Consolidated and Pace Ditches

The Consolidated Ditch irrigates 6,849 acres, and had a crumbling, century-old concrete headgate with a difficult to maintain push-up diversion dam. To remedy these issues, the headgate was replaced with a new concrete structure with trash rack and automation, and a new concrete diversion dam was constructed featuring a fish ladder and two Obermeyer gates for fine control and sediment flushing. The adjacent banks have also been reshaped and revegetated, improving habitat for wildlife and channel stability. The Pace Ditch is a smaller diversion irrigating 107 acres, and is located directly adjacent to the Consolidated Ditch. Both ditches share the new diversion dam, and the Pace headgate was replaced at the same time as the Consolidated headgate, with a manual slide gate and pipe to convey water to the ditch. San Luis Valley Canal The San Luis Valley Canal provides water for 20,200 irrigated acres. Its headgate was redesigned to replace the existing hundred-year-old structure. Over time the river had moved away from the headgate structure, resulting in a static pool in front of the headgate that caused sediment deposition. The new concrete headgate is situated closer to the river and features automated gates. The banks were reshaped around the new structure, and a severely eroding bend in the vicinity of the diversion was reshaped, stabilized, and revegetated. The project also includes a trash deflector and rock weir check structure.

Centennial Ditch

Supplying water to 8,500 acres, the Centennial Ditch had a degraded concrete diversion that was dangerous to maintain. In order to divert water at certain flows, the ditch rider would have to wade into the river to put boards across the dam and raise the water level. In Winter 2017, the old diversion structure was removed and replaced with a grouted rock dam. The new structure also includes an Obermeyer gate in the low flow channel for fine control and sediment flushing. By request from CPW, the dam is a fish barrier to prevent the passage of nonnative species. Nearby streambanks were also stabilized.

Location map for the Five Ditches Project. Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

Thanks again to each of the five ditch partners!

Centennial Irrigating Ditch Company

Consolidated Ditch and Headgate Company

Cooley & Sons Excavating

Pace Ditch

Rio Grande #2 Ditch Shareholders

Riverbend Engineering

Robins Construction

San Luis Valley Canal Company National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)

Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)

The Five Ditches Project made great strides toward meeting agricultural, environmental, and recreational needs on the Rio Grande, however aging infrastructure and bank erosion is still a significant challenge across the Rio Grande headwaters. Your support will allow them to continue working with irrigators, landowners, and partners on the Rio Grande and Conejos River to complete infrastructure improvement and river restoration projects!

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

In #Montana, Children File Suit to Protect ‘the Last Best Place’ — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Photo credit: Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/pest-management

From Inside Climate News (Judy Fahys):

Part of a 50-state strategy, the lawsuit highlights Montana’s love of wild landscapes to force the state to address the climate impacts of fossil fuels.

She’s identified only as Kathryn Grace S., one of 16 youths who’ve sued to keep the state of Montana from promoting the use of fossil fuels, threatening their future.

To read the 108-page complaint, filed in March, is to understand that they’re fighting for what Montanans call “the last best place.”

Grace, 16, says in the complaint that drought has dried up the Clark Fork River for rafting.

Georgianna F., 17, fears shortened winters have reduced snow she needs to train for Nordic skiing.

Ruby D., 11, of Crow descent, claims frequent wildfires have scarred lodgepole pines needed for the teepees essential for the ceremonies that are part of her identity.

While lawyers for the state responded last week in briefs that the courts aren’t the right place to fix the climate crisis, attorneys for the children say they are suing Montana not for failing to act on climate change, but for harming the environment by promoting the use of coal, oil and gas.

The Montana case, led by the non-profit public interest firm, Our Children’s Trust, is part of a 50-state campaign to put government policy contributing to climate change before the courts.

A landmark national climate change suit, Juliana v. USA, was thrown out in January by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where judges ruled 2 to 1 that climate change is not an issue for the courts. The plaintiffs, also led by Our Children’s Trust, have since petitioned for a rehearing.

The Montana case is one of seven state actions, including lawsuits filed in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.

In Montana, lawyers for the plaintiffs offer vivid examples of how their young clients’ lives are being shattered by a warming planet to underscore the state’s failed constitutional obligation: guaranteeing all citizens an inalienable right to a healthy environment.

“What we’re trying to do is uphold our constitutional rights,” said Grace, in an interview. (None of the minor plaintiffs used their last names in the lawsuit).

A sixth-generation Montanan, she spends a lot of time outdoors, playing soccer, rafting nearby rivers and hiking the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of where she lives in Missoula. Perhaps her favorite place is the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, which is sometimes called the American Serengeti because of its rich wildlife: bison, antelope, elk, trout and a famous wolfpack.

But now she’s worried enough about the climate impacts she already sees—the wildfire smoke that nixed soccer practice, the drought that’s dried up the rivers—that she wonders whether her own children will have the chance to experience the place she loves so much, and even whether it’s ethical for her to have children.

“What we want is for the courts to encourage or institute a climate recovery plan that lowers our fossil fuel rates to the point where we’re not harming the environment anymore,” she said, “and to uphold our constitutional rights for a clean environment.”

Nate Bellinger, one of the childrens’ lawyers, acknowledged the storytelling strategy. “A central part of that story is how the youth plaintiffs … are currently being impacted by climate change,” he said, “and how they are expected to be impacted by climate change if it’s not addressed.”

Two brothers, Lander B., 15, and Badge B., 12, say the changing climate is making it harder to hunt the elk and deer that their family depends on for food and that warm temperatures and low stream waters make it harder to fish for cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout.

Kian T., 14, reports in the complaint that trees on his family’s property—birch, spruce, aspen, cottonwood and firs—are dying because warmer winters have led to increased insect activity.

The young plaintiffs’ concerns are exactly the sort of complaint you’d expect from Montanans whose shared identity is bound up in the wildness and beauty of the Big Sky state’s breathtaking mountains and plains.

In some ways, the lawsuit itself is the latest chapter in the 50-state, coming of age story about the legal fight to combat climate change that began eight years ago. In Utah that year, children were among 20 petitioners who pressed environmental regulators to start accounting for climate change in state regulations.

In Wyoming, a case called Kids v. Global Warming pressed environmental agencies to begin restricting and reducing fossil fuel emissions enough to limit CO2 to 350 ppm by 2100. The petitions were denied in both cases.

An earlier Montana case asked the state Supreme Court to rule that the atmosphere should be held in trust for citizens, but justices declined to take up the case.

“We aren’t suing Montana or the other states for their failure to act on climate change,” Bellinger said, trying to correct a misperception about the cases. “It’s because the state is actively harming the environment it’s constitutionally mandated to protect.”

It’s this constitutional provision that gives the Montana suit its unique strength, Bellinger and other legal experts agreed. The preamble to the state’s constitution says: “We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.”

Montana’s unique approach to the environment is also part of a learning curve that builds upon the lessons of past setbacks and failures in the youth climate cases, said Richard Frank, a law professor, blogger and director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The Montana case, he noted, focuses on particular injuries being suffered by the 16 plaintiffs rather than simply making sweeping, heady arguments about violated “atmospheric trust litigation” as past legal and administrative actions did. The more recent cases are also stronger because they rely on new sophisticated, scientific conclusions that were not available to lawyers involved in the earlier cases, he said.

“The key point for me is that it’s a lot more strategic,” Frank said. “It’s more tactical, it’s more science.”

In the Montana lawsuit, the children argue that Montana undermines their birthright in two significant ways: with a state energy policy that explicitly promotes fossil fuels, and a prohibition on accounting for climate change in decision making. As a result, models project annual average daily maximum temperatures in the state will increase by as much as 6.0 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century, “a temperature increase that would imperil human civilization,” and go up by as much as 10 degrees by the end of the century.

“It is as if the Earth has a constant fever,” the lawsuit says, “and just as in the human body, even a slight rise in temperature weakens the organism, increases the vulnerability of the organism, and can have dangerous long-term effects on the system.”

The lawsuit contends that the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation “has authorized, permitted, licensed, and encouraged fossil fuel exploitation, extraction, and production, and forestry practices and activities that have caused and contributed to dangerous concentrations of atmospheric GHGs and the climate crisis and harmed Youth Plaintiffs.”

Allowing refineries to spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, permitting the 1,210-mile Keystone XL Pipeline to traverse the state, and approving a 977-acre expansion of the state’s largest coal mine are just some of the ways in which Montana has bowed to fossil fuels, the lawsuit says.

Regulators did not examine emissions impacts for the coal mine, nor did they estimate the climate impact of the 90 percent of Montana-mined coal that was burned out of state, the suit says

“Defendants—who manage, operate, and regulate the energy sector by and through the State Energy Policy—have the authority to produce renewable energy sources,” the lawsuit says, noting that state agencies authorized almost seven times as much fossil fuel energy as renewables. “Nevertheless, Defendants are manifestly indifferent to Youth Plaintiffs’ injuries and continue to authorize energy from fossil fuels as opposed to renewables.”

Bellinger, the childrens’ attorney, pointed out that as early as 1968, Montana leaders were discussing the implications of growing greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s just not really compatible with the future that these youth want to live in Montana and protect the environment,” he said.

Even with the more narrowly drawn claims in the Montana lawsuit, some still doubt it will be successful. Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit libertarian think tank, cited the state’s constitutional provision when he said: “I think it does have a slightly better shot than the Juliana case.”

But, ultimately, he’s not convinced that the Montana case will go any farther than the better-known national case. In an echo of the criticism leveled against the Juliana case, he said developing and implementing an energy policy is not something that courts are well-equipped to do.

“Ultimately, I think it is still trying to get a court to take over what really is a host of legislative functions,” Kazman said, echoing arguments made by the state’s attorneys.

Montana environmental lawyer Jack Tuholske said the case shines a compelling spotlight on the state constitution’s healthy environment provision. The guarantee of environmental health, he said, was added in 1972 because of historic mining pollution in a state where industry had outsized influence on lawmakers.

“This [case] is very much in a context of the history and culture of the state,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the court approaches this case, based on the Constitution.”

Montana Rivers Map via Geology.com, https://geology.com/lakes-rivers-water/montana.shtml