Increasingly extreme wildfires are raging across the West – leaving behind barren, charred areas and threatening drinking water.
Jill Oropeza is director of sciences for water quality services for Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado.
She says in a healthy forest, trees and shrubs buffer the impact of rain on the ground. Pine needles and detritus on the forest floor help retain water.
“That is the sponge that soaks up and holds a lot of that moisture and allows the precipitation to percolate downwards,” she says.
If this vegetation burns up, melting snow and rain run across the land instead of seeping into the soil. And as the water flows, it picks up ash, sediment, and other debris.
“And those substances in the soil itself and the ash are dissolved and carried in the river and into reservoirs,” Oropeza says.
She says Fort Collins was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with influxes of contaminated water. And it’s using helicopters to spread mulch in burned areas to help plants start growing again.
Doing so is expensive but critical to providing people with clean water as the climate warms.
From the National Park Service via National Parks Traveller:
Continued declines in runoff into the Colorado River are forcing federal officials to alter releases from Glen Canyon Dam and leading to a year-long closure of the Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
In a bid to keep the hydroelectric generating plant in the dam operational, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has adjusted the monthly releases from Lake Powell to hold back 350,000 acre-feet of water each month from January to April when inflows to the reservoir are low.
The same amount of water will be sent downstream to Lake Mead between June and September after spring runoff, the agency said.
“Under the Drought Response Operations Agreement, making these monthly operational adjustments at Glen Canyon Dam is essential to protect Lake Powell from dropping to critically low elevation levels in the weeks and months ahead,” said BuRec’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional director, Wayne Pullan. “Although the basin had substantial snowstorms in December, we don’t know what lies ahead and must do all we can now to protect Lake Powell’s elevation.”
The modified release pattern was put into action after BuRec staff met with basin partners including the basin states, tribes, federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and water managers to discuss the purpose and need to shift the delivery schedule of water.
According to a BuRec release, the 2022 water year got off to a promising start in the Colorado River Basin with a wetter-than-normal October, but it was followed by the second-driest November on record that resulted in a loss of 1.5 million acre-feet of inflow for Lake Powell compared to the previous month’s projections. December projections showed the reservoir dropping below the target elevation of 3,525 feet as early as February 2022, the agency said. As defined in the Drought Response Operations Agreement, the target elevation provides a sufficient buffer to allow for response actions to prevent Lake Powell from dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, the lowest elevation that Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower.
Meanwhile, Glen Canyon NRA officials announced Monday that the Dangling Rope Marina in the southern end of Lake Powell will not open this year.
Due to dropping reservoir levels, park and concessioner staff are removing marina components from the Dangling Rope location to ensure they do not become beached and inaccessible.
The park, in partnership with concessioner Aramark, is continuing to look for a way to provide mid-lake fuel service during the 2022 season. Available options are complicated by lake levels that continue to decline, inherent challenges associated with the infrastructure needed to power and operate a fuel system, and operational considerations related to safety, staffing, and resources. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.
Restoring visitor services at the Dangling Rope Marina remains a high priority for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The importance of this visitor use area is identified in the park’s General Management Plan. The park will continue to seek long-term solutions that maintain a mid-lake marina presence at low and high lake levels…
Dangling Rope Marina has been the only place to obtain boat fuel between the Wahweap area in South Lake Powell and the Bullfrog area in North Lake Powell, a distance of approximately 100 miles. Boaters should plan ahead for their needs. For boaters averaging 20-25 mph, the trip to Bullfrog from Wahweap takes at least four to five hours. Fuel remains available at Wahweap, Antelope Point, and Bullfrog Marinas.
After a slow start to the snow accumulation season in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains the jet stream finally brought a favorable storm track to the state during the month of December. Many river basins were able to build up a higher-than-normal snowpack within just a matter of weeks.
Since the arrival of the new year it has been fairly quiet with just a couple of weak storm systems passing through, but despite that, the snowpack is still above normal in six of the eight major river basins. The Upper Rio Grande and Arkansas river basins are the only two lagging behind but its not by much.
A new storm expected on Tuesday will bring light accumulations to most of the state but we could see some modest amounts fall across the two basins in the most need.