The “E-Waternews” is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

The Bear Lake SNOTEL (Big Thompson watershed) site's normal peak is 18.6 inches of snow water equivalent. As of Feb. 15, the site was reporting 20.4 inches of SWE. This is above the normal peak, with two additional snow accumulation months to go.
The Bear Lake SNOTEL (Big Thompson watershed) site’s normal peak is 18.6 inches of snow water equivalent. As of Feb. 15, the site was reporting 20.4 inches of SWE. This is above the normal peak, with two additional snow accumulation months to go.

Click here to read the news. Here’s an excerpt:

Snow, snow and more snow

Thank you, January. Numerous storms last month provided much-needed precipitation in Colorado’s mountains. As a result, all eight of the watersheds monitored by Northern Water currently have above-average snow water content, and the most probable streamflow forecasts are also well above average.

As of Feb. 14, statewide snowpack was 147 percent of normal. And the two major river basins Northern Water monitors for its forecasts, the Upper Colorado and South Platte basins, were at 147 and 142 percent of normal, respectively.

Beginning each February, Northern Water’s Water Resources Department releases monthly snowpack and streamflow forecasts. The forecasts provide:

  • Snow water content comparisons in the eight watersheds Northern Water monitors
  • April through July maximum, minimum and most probably streamflow forecasts
  • C-BT Project storage also remains above average for this time of year. On February 1, active storage in the project was 530,331 acre-feet, or 121 percent of normal.

    Stormwater is a big problem for Gore Creek

    From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

    A host of problems threaten Gore Creek in Vail, but one of the biggest is what runs through the town’s storm drains.

    Some of the problem will take years and a lot of money to solve. For instance, much of the runoff in town is no longer filtered through the soil, which has been replaced by pavement, concrete and rooftops throughout the years. But a number of problems may be due to people simply not knowing what happens when something runs into a storm grate.

    Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden recently updated the Vail Town Council about state of stormwater and its treatment in town.

    IMPROVED FILTRATION

    There are a number of ways to treat stormwater, including catch basins that can capture sand, oil and other material before it flows into the creek. There are 27 of those basins in town at the moment, and they’re cleaned out a couple of times every year, Wadden said. Upgrading those basins would be effective, but expensive, Wadden said.

    Filtration has been improved at the town’s snow storage site, and improvements are planned for this year at the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange.

    But the basins don’t catch everything.

    There are also more than 2,000 storm drains, many of which flow directly into the creek. Slowing the runoff is a good start at cleaning up those areas. Creating zones where runoff could filter through rocks and soil before going into the creek could be effective.

    Then there’s the problem of people dumping stuff into the storm grates.

    During his presentation, Wadden went through a small list of stuff that people dropped into storm grates in 2016. That list includes cooking grease, paint and window cleaner.

    A member of a construction crew in Vail Village dumped a bag of cement into a storm drain.

    Town crews had to vacuum out the storm grate to catch as much of the powdered cement as possible. Wadden said the construction company wouldn’t name the employee who dumped the cement, so no ticket was issued.

    In a separate incidence, no ticket was issued to a vendor at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games who dumped 120 hot dogs down a storm drain, which resulted in another good-sized cleanup.

    “People just don’t know where the water goes,” Wadden said.

    Council members said that needs to change.

    An education campaign is already under way that includes advertising on town buses, and a proposal to create awareness-raising art on town storm drains. There’s also a town hotline, 970-476-4673 (GORE), to report dumping into storm drains. But that phone is only answered during normal business hours.

    Council member Dick Cleveland asked if the phone could be routed into the town’s emergency dispatch center.

    ‘EASY TO UNDERSTAND’

    Cleveland also asked Wadden if the education campaign could be expanded to include some sort of notice at virtually every storm grate in town. Cleveland said that’s the case in a California town near the beach.

    Report: Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy — Mountain Studies Institute

    Dolores River watershed
    Dolores River watershed

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    “Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy,” is an extensive three-year analysis done in cooperation with the Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton.

    The study used 72 climate models to tease out potential impacts to 46 trout streams in the basin from the town of Dolores to Lizard Head Pass up to the year 2100.

    “We know there will be change, the question the study addresses is what kind of change can we expect, the approximate timing, and what are the impacts,” said Duncan Rose, director of the Dolores River Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited.

    When climate scientists ran the models over time, they pointed toward a “feast and famine” scenario, where wet periods with higher temperatures are followed by longer, more intense droughts.

    According to the study, between 1949 and 2012, the upper Dolores watershed experienced wet periods with increasingly higher temperatures, followed by dry periods that were longer and more intense.

    “We see that pattern developing where each drought gets more intense, and the wetter periods have higher temperatures, which causes increased evaporation and overall net loss of moisture,” Rose said.

    If cyclical drought conditions were like 2002, the worst in recent years, and lasted for many years, the result could mean an average of 44 percent reduction in stream flows throughout the upper basin in 50-70 years, according to the study. Low stream flows contribute to higher water temperatures, which if reach above 63 degrees, are detrimental to trout species.

    “Trout have survived these cycles for millennia, but the climate conditions may be more intense than what we have seen, so we’re going to have more challenges, particularly on the lower elevation streams,” Rose said.

    The study is intended to aid current and future managers of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Juan National Forest in sustaining good trout habitat in the basin.

    For example, higher elevation streams will be less impacted by the climate predictions. Lower trout streams may be more or less a lost cause, with many perennial streams potentially becoming intermittent or drying up completely.

    “That leaves the middle elevation band of streams, where mitigation and stream rehabilitation will do the most good,” Rose said. “It’s an adaptive management model, where we don’t rush in, take it a step at a time and invest limited resources with what climate pattern emerges.”

    Protecting trout streams from higher temperatures and lower flows means improving shade, installing instream rocks and trees to create pools where fish can find refuge in lower flows and hot conditions. Streams like Roaring Fork, Scotch Creek, Kilpacker, Burnett, and higher-up stretches of the Dolores Main stem, plus others, would likely benefit the most from habitat improvement in the future.

    More regulations may by on the horizon, as a result of the study’s projections, for example, lower bag limits, catch-and-release only rules, barbless hooks, and even rotating some streams into non-fishing status for a year to allow recovery.

    The climate models indicate there will likely be a reduction in the 295 miles of trout streams in the upper Dolores Basin in the next 50 to 100 years. More of the fishing spots will be concentrated in the higher elevations, which would result in more people fishing in a smaller area.

    “There will be more competition for fewer fish, but the good news it will not happen overnight,” Rose said. “We have time to adapt, as long as we are aware of the potential impacts.”

    This summer, the Dolores chapter of Trout Unlimited will be installing eight temperature gages on various streams and rivers at different elevations to start monitoring changes and trends.

    The Dolores River climate change study cost about $20,000 with $15,000 paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Other groups, including TU, Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Montezuma Land Conservancy contributed funds as well.

    For a power point summary of the study go to bit.ly/Troutunlimited

    #Snowpack news: SWE is variable in snowfall day-to-day @CoCoRaHS

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 7, 2017 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 7, 2017 via the NRCS.

    From the Teton Valley News (Bruce Mason):

    The rule of thumb is that 10 inches of snow contains the water equivalent of one inch of water. In other words, if you melted down 10 inches of snow it would produce as much water as if one inch of rain had fallen instead. But like so many other things based on averages, there are wide variations in this rule of thumb and they are very important, making all the difference as the snow melts.

    Some snow is very wet with as much as half of the snowflake actually liquid water instead of ice. We have seen plenty of that this winter. With wet snow, 5 inches of snow can produce an inch of water when it melts.

    On the other hand, dry snow, our beloved powder, contains very little water with lots of air space between the flakes. It can take 30 inches of very dry, fluffy powder to produce an inch of water.

    In a typical winter, we have mixed layers of wet and dry snow on the ground as the spring thaw starts. With a typical mix, the 10 to 1 rule of thumb does pretty well to estimate how much water will come rolling down out of the hills toward us as the snow melts. Depending on conditions, much of it sublimates into the air or soaks down into the water table anyway, so springtime flooding is usually minimal here. Usually.

    The thing is, this winter has not been typical. With sparse data to back it up, many weather observers and sportsmen feel that we have had much more wet snow this season than normal. The La Niña watch issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center last fall implied that we could be in this situation this spring. Warmer than average temperatures plus higher than average precipitation equals wet snow, and so it seems to have worked out.

    How can we get hard data to back up the observations by those in the know about the moisture content of the snow out there? It takes more than measuring the depth; it requires snow water equivalent measurements. Water equivalent measurements are a little more involved than measuring snow depth, but can be much more important to emergency planners trying to prepare for droughts or floods in the spring. In fact in 1997, an unpredicted flash flood in the Fort Collins, Colorado area killed 5 people and did hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. Only 2 inches of rain fell in Fort Collins that day, but no one was measuring southwest of the city where the flood originated and seven times more rain fell.

    As a result of the Colorado flood, the importance of widespread precipitation measurement, including the water equivalent of surrounding snow, was realized. Then it was addressed. A network of volunteer observers, called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, (CoCoRaHS for short… I guess) was formed. The network began in Colorado, the original Co was for Colorado, not Community, but it has since spread across the US and Canada. Major sponsors of CoCoRaHS include NOAA and the National Science Foundation. Starting next week, when the right equipment arrives from Pocatello, your genial Teton Valley weatherman will be among the CoCoRaHS volunteers in Idaho doing daily snow water equivalent measurements and sending the reports to CoCoRaHS headquarters.

    Humpback chubs are making a comeback in the Little #ColoradoRiver

    NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.
    NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.

    From the Arizona Daily Sun (Emery Cowan):

    Thanks to fewer predators and more food at the upriver location, the transplanted fish have come to thrive compared to their downstream brethren, making for a conservation success story that just received national recognition.

    The fish-moving process, called translocation, is headed up by a team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with help from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. The team received the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 Rachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment for its contribution to the recovery of the endangered humpback chub, a distinctive and well-known pillar of the Grand Canyon ecosystem…

    Humpback chub congregate in the lower part of the Little Colorado, close to its confluence. Before translocations started the species hadn’t been found above a natural travertine dam 14 kilometers upriver. But that stretch of the river, above what’s called Chute Falls, has warmer water, abundant food sources like insects and the tiny speckled dace and far fewer predators, which for the chub include invasive trout and catfish. Like an in-stream fish hatchery, the area makes for an ideal natural rearing habitat that comes with less disease transmission and genetic challenges, said Randy Van Haverbeke, a senior fish biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who is involved in the work. Seeing an opportunity to expand the chub’s range and establish another aggregation that could contribute to the population downriver, biologists started translocating humpback chub above Chute Falls in 2003 and now move about 300 baby fish annually, said Mike Pillow, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    More than a decade in, biologists have consistently measured increased growth and survival among the translocated chub compared to non-translocated chub, indicating promise for the conservation tactic to augment the species’ populations in Grand Canyon, Van Haverbeke said.

    In the area above Chute Falls, biologists have recaptured an average of 24 percent of fish translocated the year before, Pillow said.

    In the bigger picture, he said, the project’s goal is to build up humpback chub numbers to enable the eventual delisting of the species.

    Going beyond the Little Colorado River, the translocation process has been replicated by officials at Grand Canyon National Park as well, where chub from the Colorado River were transported up Havasu and Shinumo creeks. The goal was the same: to establish new population groups of chub within the species’ ancestral habitat where they may be better able to survive. Doing so in more locations creates redundancy, so if something were ever to happen in the Little Colorado River “all our eggs aren’t in one basket,” Van Haverbeke said.

    Biologists with the National Park Service have seen as much as a five to 10-fold increase in chub in the mainstem of the Colorado River below those two creeks, suggesting translocation is having a positive impact, he said.

    Measurable impacts on total chub population numbers in the Little Colorado River are harder to determine because the population is bigger and the fish are affected by other factors like the temperature of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam, Pillow and Van Haverbeke said.

    “But the bottom line is we have increased survival and growth rates compared to not translocating (the fish). Then you have to assume it’s a positive (impact),” Van Haverbeke said.

    Also important to note is the fact that this is a feasible, doable conservation action proven to help the fish, as opposed to something much harder to influence like modifying dam operations, he said.

    The process also involves relatively minimal human impact, Pillow said, instead helping Mother Nature with “little nudges.”

    Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.
    Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

    @fortcollinsgov plans open house on NISP

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The public is invited to an open house on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St.

    The open house will provide information regarding a proposal by Fort Collins staff members to explore the potential for negotiated outcomes for NISP with Northern Water, the primary proponent of the…project…

    Fort Collins has not supported the project as described in a draft Environmental Impact Statement for several reasons, including its potential impacts on city water facilities and the health of the river through the city.

    City staff members have proposed discussing mitigation for the project with Northern Water officials and possibly entering into negotiations…

    City Council is scheduled to consider staff’s recommendation during its Feb. 21 meeting.

    The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

    The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
    The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Lizzie Schoder):

    This past year will likely break 2015’s mark of being the hottest year on record. Colorado has seen a similar trend, with a 2 degrees Fahrenheit bump statewide in the last 30 years. Colorado, like much of the Southwest, has also seen drought for the past decade, which has been felt most strongly in the western part of the state.

    How does this affect our rivers? A warmer atmosphere has a drying effect overall — meaning more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow and peak runoff and snowmelt happen earlier in the year. Although there is no significant change detected (so far) in the amount of precipitation, the change in the form of precipitation is what’s significant. Our snowpack levels, measured in snow water equivalent, act as nature’s time release to recharge our rivers. Less snowpack, or more precipitation that falls instead as rain, means less natural recharge, since rain runs through the watershed at a quicker rate.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports show trends of peak runoff and snowmelt occurring anywhere from one to four weeks earlier in the spring. Rain is an immediate surge to our rivers, but can give way to evaporation during hotter months of the summer. Snow, on the other hand, melts slowly, recharging the rivers at a steadier pace, especially during July and August when we need it most. Though predictions of how this will affect annual runoff vary, the 2011 Bureau of Reclamation report estimates that Colorado River flows will decrease by about 8.7 percent by 2060, or roughly the annual amount diverted by canal to Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. These trends along with increased evaporation due to warmer temperatures does not bode well for a region already dealing with prolonged drought.

    Snowpack levels are a pivotal factor in ski communities. But it matters too for agriculture, irrigation, hydropower, river recreation and water quality. Lower water levels lead to shallower and therefore warmer rivers, affecting our plant and fish populations, as well as the aquatic bugs they need for food. Warming temperatures also mean that everything from crops to humans will need more water to compensate. The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people in seven different southwest states. The rising temperature trend will only put more pressure on an over-allocated system, pushing both the supply and demand of the Colorado River in the wrong direction.

    While communities that depend on the Colorado River have gone to extraordinary lengths to buffer the impacts of climate change, we are heading for times where water shortages will be felt more than ever. According to the New York Times, Lake Powell provides water to one in eight Americans and waters one-seventh of the nation’s crops. Like the other dams and reservoirs in the Colorado River system, it’s completely over allocated — the water levels continue to dwindle and more water is being taken out than what flows into it. If Lake Powell isn’t able to supply the 7.5 million acre feet annually to the Lower Colorado Basin as required by the 1922 interstate compact, then a river call requiring Upper Basin communities, such as Eagle County, to use less water could come into effect in coming years.

    The national political debate over the legitimacy of climate change will inevitably continue. But with our county’s population projected to nearly double by 2050, we must recognize that water is a nonpartisan issue. It is important that we voice our opinions and demand action at the national level, while also encouraging action at state and local levels where it can likely happen more quickly. From the standpoint of water and river protection however, we do not need to stand around waiting for our leaders to reach consensus on the existence of climate change.

    There is no arguing that the level of water in Lake Powell — and its sister, Lake Mead — continue to drop, making it clear that water conservation and efficiency is of critical importance. That can happen through legislative actions, regulatory measures, but also where you can make an impact — in your home and garden. For more information, visit http://erwc.org.

    Lizzie Schoder is the education and outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.