Governor Polis Announces #Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s Discovery of Greenback Cutthroat Naturally Reproducing in Ancestral Waters of their Native #SouthPlatteRiver Drainage

Stocking Greenback cutthroat trout September 22, 2021. Photos credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

After more than a decade of intensive efforts to rescue the greenback cutthroat trout from the brink of extinction, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Friday it has discovered that the state fish is naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch, one of the first places the agency stocked it in its native South Platte River drainage.

This is a huge breakthrough by CPW’s aquatics team considering that in 1937 the greenback cutthroat trout was considered extinct. For decades, it was believed only two native cutthroat – the Colorado River and Rio Grande – had survived while the greenback and yellowfin had succumbed to pollution from mining, pressure from fishing and competition from other trout species.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

In 2012, CPW confirmed that tiny Bear Creek, on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs and in the Arkansas River drainage, was home to an unlikely population of wild greenback cutthroat trout. Outside their native range, the fish are believed to have been brought to Bear Creek from the South Platte Basin in the late 1800s for a tourist fishing enterprise. 

The discovery triggered a massive effort by CPW and the Greenback Recovery Team – a multi-agency group of state and federal aquatic researchers and biologists – to protect the 3½-mile stretch of water holding the only known population of naturally reproducing greenbacks.

After a decade of work to protect and reproduce greenbacks, the Herman Gulch discovery marks a major milestone.

“While we will continue to stock greenback trout from our hatcheries, the fact that they are now successfully reproducing in the wild is exciting for the future of this species. This is a huge wildlife conservation success story and a testament to the world-class wildlife agency Coloradans have in Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado’s ecological diversity strengthens our community, supports our anglers, and our thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “CPW’s staff and our partner agencies have worked for more than a decade to restore this beloved state fish, and today’s news truly highlights the success of the work.

The governor’s thoughts were echoed by officials throughout CPW.

“The bedrock mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state,” said CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan. “This is a tremendous example of CPW fulfilling its mission. I am so proud of all the aquatic researchers, biologists, hatchery staff, volunteers and partner agencies who helped achieve this milestone of naturally reproducing greenback cutthroat trout. 

“Despite more than a decade of setbacks and frustrations, CPW staff worked as a team across departments and across regions, stayed focused on the goal and now we gave this great news. It’s a great day.” 

Front-line aquatic researchers and biologists celebrated the news.

“It’s just great to see all the hard work everyone has put in to save these fish is starting to pay dividends,” said Kevin Rogers, CPW aquatics researcher who has devoted much of his career to rescuing the greenbacks. “This is just another affirmation that our conservation practices work and that we can save species on the brink.”

In the years since the 2012 confirmation of greenbacks in Bear Creek, CPW has worked with its partners including U.S. Forest Service to protect and improve the creek habitat and the surrounding watershed and to develop a brood stock –  a small population of fish kept in optimal conditions in a hatchery to maximize breeding and provide a source of fish for the establishment of new populations in suitable habitats.

Each spring, CPW aquatic biologists have strapped on heavy electro-fishing backpacks to painstakingly hike up Bear Creek to catch greenbacks and collect milt and roe – sperm and eggs.

Then, they use the milt to fertilize all the roe in a makeshift lab on the banks of the creek. All the spare greenback milt collected is then raced to the Leadville National Fish Hatchery to fertilize eggs from the greenbacks in its brood stock. In 2014, an additional broodstock was started in Zimmerman Lake, near the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River and thus within the greenback’s native South Platte basin.

Mount Shavano Hatchery. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

All fertilized eggs are then sent to the CPW Mount Shavano Hatchery in Salida where they are kept in a greenback isolation unit where conditions are carefully controlled to allow the maximum number of eggs possible to hatch.

In 2016, CPW began stocking the greenback fry that hatch from those eggs into Herman Gulch west of Denver. Stocking into other streams in the South Platte drainage soon followed. Today, fledgling greenback populations exist in four South Platte basin streams. But only the fish in Herman Gulch have existed long enough to reach adulthood and begin reproducing.

CPW and its partner agencies in the Greenback Recovery Team and others including Trout Unlimited have carried bags of greenback fry miles up steep mountain trails every summer since trying to get them into water where they might reproduce. The agency tried different age classes and sizes each year over a three-year period.

“The news of the natural reproduction of greenback cutthroat trout in Herman Gulch is truly monumental,” said Josh Nehring, CPW’s assistant aquatic section manager who previously was senior aquatic biologist in the Southeast Region and oversaw efforts to protect the lone greenback population in Bear Creek.

“CPW aquatic biologists in the Southeast Region have worked incredibly hard to protect and preserve the only known population of greenbacks in Bear Creek,” Nehring said. “Our hatchery staff along with our federal hatchery partners overcame immense obstacles to be able to replicate the species in captivity. Now to see them on the landscape in their native habitat replicating on their own is a huge sense of accomplishment for everyone involved.”

The news of reproducing greenbacks in Herman Gulch was never a sure bet. And over the years CPW aquatic biologists even feared they could lose the population in Bear Creek. There was intense pressure from increased recreation on adjacent trails and traffic on a road that parallels the creek, delivering sediment into Bear Creek. 

There were flash floods that could have wiped out the rare trout. Invasive and aggressive brook trout remain a constant threat to move upstream and outcompete the greenbacks. And there have even been wildfires that have erupted in the forests that surround the creek.

Worst was a survey conducted by CPW aquatic biologist Cory Noble in the fall of 2020 that showed a troubling decline in the greenback population in Bear Creek with no reproduction that year. Noble launched even greater efforts to modify the habitat to reduce the influx of sediment, to patrol for invasive brook trout and to monitor the population by less stressful techniques using underwater cameras.

While Noble worked on Bear Creek, a long list of his CPW aquatic colleagues were spending countless hours and piling up miles hiking high-country streams in the gritty work of identifying host creeks, preparing them for greenbacks and then hauling them miles in heavy backpacks to be stocked.

“As our colleagues worked to protect the Bear Creek population and successfully raise them in our hatchery, our Northeast Region biologists were on the ground building a wild brood source at Zimmerman Lake and searching for just the right habitats where we could remove non-natives, safely stock the greenback and protect them from other threats and give them the best chance to survive and reproduce,” said Jeff Spohn, senior aquatic biologist in the Northeast Region.

Leading that effort was Boyd Wright, aquatic biologist in Fort Collins, who has dedicated the past decade to returning wild populations of greenbacks to their native range in the South Platte Basin.

Like Noble on Bear Creek, Wright and his team hauled heavy electro-fishing backpacks up Herman Gulch and the other stocking sites to study the fish they had stocked. After some disappointments, just a few days ago they made a stunning discovery: they documented greenbacks up to 12 inches long and found fry.

“Our team of field technicians literally high-fived right there in the stream when we captured that first fry that was spawned this year,” Wright said. “When moments later we captured a one year old fish produced in 2021, we were truly beside ourselves.”

“After many years of hard work and dedication, it is extremely satisfying to see our efforts paying off.”

It’s news the entire agency had waited to hear for a long time: greenback cutthroat trout that were naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch.

“This is a great achievement for the recovery of greenback cutthroat trout,” said Noble, the Colorado Springs-based aquatic biologist who has shouldered daily responsibility for the greenbacks in Bear Creek. “It is really rewarding to see that all of CPW’s hard work is paying off.”

Similar relief was voiced by Bryan Johnson, hatchery manager at Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery in Salida. Johnson, a 20-year CPW hatchery veteran, has endured 10 years of frustration trying to find the right combination of water temperatures and genetic combinations just to get greenbacks to survive in the hatchery, much less in the wild.

“This represents a lot of years and a lot of hard work and a lot of disappointment along the way,” Johnson said. “Frankly, we have low survival rates in the hatchery compared with other strains of cutthroat. We started the broodstock in 2008 and here it is 2022 and we’re finally seeing the first natural reproduction. We’ve gone through a lot to get these fish back on the landscape.”

Just this week, Johnson and staff were bagging greenback fry at 4:30 a.m. so he could drive them 11 hours up gravel roads to a new reintroduction site. There, he handed off the fish to the Northeast Region team led by Kyle Battige, aquatic biologist from Fort Collins.

“This is just the start,” Johnson cautioned. “We need more. We’ve only got a few places where we have greenbacks  on the landscape. But it’s awesome to see natural reproduction in Herman Gulch.”

Harry Crockett, CPW’s native aquatic species coordinator and chair of the Greenback Recovery Team, said he’s confident the news of natural reproduction in Herman Gulch will be followed by even better headlines.

“We found a greenback that was born in Herman Gulch that was already a year old,” Crockett said. “This indicates successful reproduction both this year and last, plus overwinter survival. This is important because trout that survive to one year are likely to live even longer.

“And with more of these reintroductions going, we expect to find more reproduction in more places in the coming years.”

Navajo Dam operations update (September 22, 2022): Bumping down to 500 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today at 12:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

The #ColoradoRiver Is Dying. Can Its Aquatic Dinosaurs Be Saved? — Mother Jones Magazin #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Mother Jones website (Stephanie Mencimer). Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

Found nowhere else in the world, the native razorback has occupied the waterways of the Colorado River basin for at least 3 million years, one reason why Olsen says they’re known as the “dinosaurs” of the Colorado. Known as “detritivores,” the bottom-feeding fish were once an important part of the river’s food chain because they nosh on dead plant and animal matter that might otherwise build up and cause disease while returning essential nutrients to the ecosystem. The fish have adapted to the harsh monsoon-to-drought cycles of the desert rivers that flood with melted mountain snowpack in the spring and are parched in the late summer. Razorback suckers can grow up to three feet long, 80 pounds, and live for 50 or 60 years. But such geriatric monster fish are rare in the wild today.

The native fish have not fared so well over the past century since humans began trying to make the western desert bloom by damming the Colorado and its tributaries, a watershed that was once one of the most biologically diverse in North America. “They’re a bellwether for the health of the entire river ecosystem, from Wyoming to the Gulf of California,” says Taylor McKinnon, senior public lands advocate at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity…

The US Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the razorback as endangered in 1991, and the species would be extinct in the Upper Basin but for the hatchery program, which was established in 1996 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and is funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The program has been successful enough that last year, FWS proposed downlisting the razorback from “endangered” to merely “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. But the extreme mega-drought of the past two years makes that proposal seem wildly optimistic…

Meanwhile, the biggest ongoing threat to the Colorado’s endangered fish is other, nonnative fish. Only 12 fish are native to the Upper Colorado River Basin, Breen says. But now more than 50 species compete in the rivers. Many that were intentionally introduced to promote sport fishing are highly predatory in a way the razorback and others have not evolved to survive…The recovery program spends more than $2 million a year trying to eliminate the non-native fish from the Green River and elsewhere in the system—a move that is not always popular with local anglers who like to fish for the bass. “For the record: I love smallmouth bass,” says Breen. “I grew up fishing for smallmouth bass in the Midwest. But that’s where they’re supposed to be. Bass are very predacious, and they’re not supposed to be in that river.”

Left Out to Dry: Wildlife Threatened by #ColoradoRiver Basin #Water Crisis — The Revelator #COriver #aridification

The drought’s ‘bathtub ring’ of Lake Mead at the inlet for Hoover Dam, May 2022. Photo: Don Barrett (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

Lost in much of the coverage of the region’s water woes is the ecological crisis caused by prolonged drought, climate warming and development.

In the Colorado River basin, our past has come back to haunt us.

We’re not just talking about the dead bodies emerging from the drying shoreline of Lake Mead. The river’s water crisis has caused the nation’s two biggest reservoirs to sink to historic lows.

It’s a problem of our own making — in more ways than one.

The Colorado River Compact, signed a century ago, overallocated the river’s water. Experts have long warned that nature can’t continue to deliver the water that the government has promised to farms, cities and towns.

A drying West, warmed by climate change, has now made that shortage impossible to ignore.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

For years demand has outstripped natural flows on the river, and some states and Tribes have already taken cuts to their allocations. Additional conservation measures were expected as the seven U.S. states that share the river — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California and Nevada — have been working on hammering out a new deal. The region’s more than two dozen federally recognized Tribes have also been fighting for a seat at that table and a hand in the river’s management. But the deadline for a revised agreement between all the parties came and went this summer with no resolution in sight.

To say there’s a lot at stake would be an understatement.

Some 40 million people rely on the 1,400-mile-long river in the United States and Mexico, including in many of the West’s biggest cities. It also greens 5 million acres of irrigated agriculture.

But that’s come at a cost. Long before cities and industrial farms emerged, the river supported diverse mountain and desert ecosystems, providing refuge and resources for countless animals and plants.

Many of those species now struggle to survive the cumulative pressures from drought, climate warming and human developments. And they remain an overlooked part of the region’s water crisis…

Hot Drought

A lot can happen in two decades.

In 2000 Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which help manage water supplies along the Colorado, were nearly full. Today they’re both hovering just above one-quarter capacity — the lowest ever since being filled.

Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2014. Photo: James Marvin Phelps (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In the intervening 20 years the Colorado River basin has seen a prolonged drought that’s now believed to be the driest period in the region in the last 1,200 years. River flows have fallen 20% compared to the last century’s average.

And it’s not just from a lack of precipitation. Researchers attributed one-third of that reduced river flow to climate change. Warming temperatures increase evaporation, as well as evapotranspiration by plants. So even when the Rocky Mountains do receive snow or rain, less of that runoff makes it to the Colorado River and its tributaries.

CO2 trend: This graph shows the monthly mean abundance of carbon dioxide globally averaged over marine surface sites since 1980. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

Experts say we’ll see more of these so-called “hot droughts” as the climate continues to warm. The basin is expected to see a five degree-Fahrenheit jump by 2050. That will make things not just hotter but drier. If we don’t dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Colorado’s flow could drop 35% to 55% by the end of the century.

Years ago the region’s prolonged drought was dubbed a “megadrought,” but some of the region’s top scientists say “aridity” may be a better term. That means that the combination of warming and drying will be much more permanent.

Aridity and Animals

The region’s ecosystems — and those who live in them — are feeling the heat.

“Climate warming is just hammering this basin, and part of what we see in addition to the water disappearing is this protracted wildfire season,” says Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River program director for Audubon, the bird-conservation organization. “The fires are more intense and cover ever-larger landscapes, that in turn has the possibility to severely impact the health of the watershed.”

Millions of trees have also been lost to insects and disease exacerbated by drought, including along riverbanks, where less shade is warming streams. Many desert plants, like ocotillos, Washington fan palms and Joshua trees, are also declining from warming temperatures, less precipitation and thirstier animals.

Across the region streams and springs are drying up, too, leading to declines in populations of aquatic amphibians, fish and insects that make up the base of the food chain.

“We haven’t seen any entire species go extinct yet,” says Michael Bogan, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. “But if you project this into the future, that’s certainly something we’re worried about.”

His concern includes the fate of endangered desert pupfish and Gila topminnows.

“They used to be present in large river systems, but the changes in the habitat and the introduction of non-native fishes have basically excluded them from all of those large historic habitats,” he says. “Now the only refuge where they can survive is these smaller habitats — these headwater streams and springs — and those are the exact types of places that are disappearing now.”

Birds are at risk, too, a recent study found. The researchers visited areas of the Mojave Desert that had been studied in the previous century and found that, on average, the sites lost 43% of their species. The main driver, they believe, is decreased precipitation from climate change.

Birds who live in the desert already endure harsh conditions, but climate change could push them past tolerable limits, causing lethal hyperthermia or dehydration. A lack of water can also cause reduced fitness and or force birds to skip a breeding cycle.

We already see this happening with burrowing owls. A study by researchers from the University of New Mexico looked at how increasing air temperature and aridity affected the species.

Burrowing owls. Photo: Wendy Miller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Between 1998 and 2013 the birds at their study area in New Mexico experienced a decline in the number of young that left the nest and a precipitous 98.1% drop — from 52 breeding pairs to just one.

The researchers associated the declines with the effects of decreased precipitation and increased temperature. “An increasingly warm and dry climate may contribute to this species’ decline and may already be a driving force of their apparent decline in the desert Southwest,” they concluded.

Mammals aren’t immune to the changes, either. Another recent study found grave threats to pronghorn across the region. Their models predicted that half of the 18 populations they studied would disappear by 2090.

A decrease in water supply affects animals’ health but can also cause behavioral changes that could put them in harm’s way. If animals need to move outside their normal range in search of declining food or water, it could lead to more interactions with predators or more human-wildlife conflicts, especially if animals look for resources in more urbanized areas.

Fewer sources of water also force a greater number of animals to congregate at the remaining watering holes. Experts say this increases the risk of disease outbreaks like the one that happened in 2020 along the Pacific flyway in California and Oregon, when 60,000 birds crowded into sparse wetlands perished from avian botulism.

An Altered River

Many of the most severe ecosystem impacts currently affecting the Colorado basin predate the 20-year drought.

Hoover Dam’s construction in 1936, followed by the building of Glen Canyon Dam 30 years later, dramatically altered river’s flow, blocked sediment that creates riparian habitat, and changed the temperature of the river…

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. Photo: Simon Morris (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Today the 360 miles between the two dams, which include the Grand Canyon, have become “a river that’s managed to pool-to-pool,” says Pitt. “There’s not much flowing river once you get below Hoover Dam.” That’s caused a loss of riparian forest, which supported birds and other wildlife, and pushed four native fish — humpback chub, bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker — to the brink of extinction.

“There’s concern for quite a number of species because of the historically altered river flow,” says Pitt.

Colorado River Delta via 2012 State of the Rockies Report

It also decimated 1.5 million acres of wetlands downstream at the Colorado River Delta in Mexico.

“For most of the last 50 years, the river has not flowed to the sea,” says Pitt. “An untold wealth of wildlife disappeared off the map because of the desiccation of that landscape.”

Compounding Problems

Development, dams and water diversions along the Colorado, along with today’s drought and climate warming, have pushed many species to the razor’s edge. Some are barely hanging on.

Humpback chub

Of particular concern right now are humpback chub, which suffered after Glen Canyon Dam’s construction. Managers have spent decades trying to recover the fish — with some recent success.

But now the species faces a new threat: non-native largemouth bass — a voracious predator of humpback chub — who thrive in the warmer water that’s being released from the diminished reservoir.

In June researchers detected the fish downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, in the same habitat where humpback chub numbers were finally improving.

“The National Park Service is really worried that if those populations of non-native fish get established in the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, that could be catastrophic for the humpback chub,” says Pitt.

Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2014. Photo: James Marvin Phelps (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The situation is emblematic of the larger ecological consequences stemming from our river management.

“How we manage the dams and the water levels is directly affecting the ecology of the Colorado River itself,” says Bogan.

And while that imperiled ecology may not be the headline news regarding the Colorado River crisis, its significance shouldn’t be understated.

Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon each year to peer over the canyon’s lip and glimpse the Colorado’s path through the ancient towering walls. They come, too, to see California condors, bald eagles and southwestern willow flycatchers — all of whom could disappear if the river does.

The loss of plants and animals across the basin is also a loss of cultural resources for the region’s Tribes.

And as the river declines, so does everything around it…

Worse Before It Gets Better

As states work to deal with shortages of water from the Colorado River, there’s a chance that things could get worse before they get better.

One concern is an overdrafting of groundwater, particularly in Arizona, which legally bears the brunt of shortages on the Colorado and has many areas where groundwater pumping is not regulated.

That can leave groundwater-dependent springs and streams at risk of drying.

Another area of concern is California’s Salton Sea — the famously saline lake in the desert fed now only through agricultural runoff from the neighboring irrigation districts. One of those is the Imperial Irrigation District, which gets the biggest chunk of California’s Colorado River allotment. As the region attempts to work out a new plan to decrease water use, there’s pressure on the agency to fallow some of its 475,000 acres, but that would also mean less runoff making it to the Salton Sea.

Burrowing owls. Photo: Wendy Miller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“The Salton Sea is some of the only remaining habitat for migrating water birds and shorebirds in interior California,” says Pitt. “The Central Valley was that habitat once upon a time, but has been completely developed. So it’s a critical habitat for many species.”

It’s also a public health threat. As winds sweep across the drying lake, particles of dust and pollution are swept into neighboring communities where residents suffer from high rates of asthma and respiratory problems.

“The answer is not that we can’t reduce any water use from the Imperial Irrigation District,” she says. “As uses of water are reduced in irrigated agriculture that drains to the sea, there needs to be mitigation.”

A plan, that includes habitat restoration and dust mitigation suppression projects, created decades ago to do just that has been slow to get off the ground. It needs to “ramp up quickly to protect wildlife and to protect public health,” she says.

The Path Forward

There is some good news.

Minute 323 environmental section signing. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

Agreements between Mexico and the United States in the past decade have enabled “pulse flows” of water to flow downstream to repair a small amount of the lost wetland habitat in Mexico’s California River Delta. And in the desert, fortunately, a little can go a long way.

“We’re seeing improvements in both the number of bird species detected there and the populations of those species,” says Pitt. She’s optimistic that the two governments will continue to support that environmental program in the future.

It’s an idea that could help upstream habitat as well.

“I think really the most important thing that’s being done at both the state level and at the local level is trying to get dedicated flows in streams that are explicitly for the conservation of aquatic species,” says Bogan. Although right now, because of the complexities of water rights, that work is limited and usually local in scope.

“But it’s something that at least has given me a little bit of hope,” he says.

Another strategy, says Pitt, is “natural distributed storage,” which means restoring wetlands and high-elevation meadows to slow water down as it runs across the landscape. That can help recharge groundwater and provide moisture to soil and plants.

“The more moisture we’re keeping around the less vulnerable these areas are to fire,” she says. “It will have an incredible wildlife benefit because those meadows are rich habitat.”

It’s akin to the work that beavers do naturally, but people can replicate.

“It sounds small if you look at it on one little creek,” she says, “but if we can start to see it implemented across the upper basin, I think it could really scale up to make a difference.”

With the cumulative impacts of human development and climate change adding up, Pitt says we should look to the federal government and states to make sure that Endangered Species Act programs are supported to help protect and restore habitat for the dozens of already at-risk species in the basin. This means going beyond supplementing the number of endangered wild fish with hatchery-raised fish, which is the current management strategy.

And of course, the region still needs to grapple with how it allocates and manages the Colorado River’s water. Pitts says she’d like to see a greater role for Tribes in that process and the inclusion of adequate water to maintain healthy ecosystems.

“Environmental water needs to be recognized as part of our objectives for water management,” says Pitt.

“It’s both extremely challenging at this moment because there’s so much less water available to carve up between users,” she says. “But it’s a moment to really rethink how we do things.”

More wolves, beavers needed as part of improving western United States habitats, scientists say — #Oregon State University

Beaver. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Click the link to read the article on the Oregon State University website (Steve Lundeberg):

Oregon State University scientists are proposing management changes on western federal lands that they say would result in more wolves and beavers and would re-establish ecological processes.

In a paper published today [September 9, 2022] in BioScience, “Rewilding the American West,” co-lead author William Ripple and 19 other authors suggest using portions of federal lands in 11 states to establish a network based on potential habitat for the gray wolf – an apex predator able to trigger powerful, widespread ecological effects.

In those states the authors identified areas, each at least 5,000 square kilometers, of contiguous, federally managed lands containing prime wolf habitat. The states in the proposed Western Rewilding Network, which would cover nearly 500,000 square kilometers, are Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“It’s an ambitious idea, but the American West is going through an unprecedented period of converging crises including extended drought and water scarcity, extreme heat waves, massive fires and loss of biodiversity,” said Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the OSU College of Forestry.

Gray wolf. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in the West but were reintroduced to parts of the northern Rocky Mountains and the Southwest starting in the 1990s through measures made possible by the Endangered Species Act.

“Still, the gray wolf’s current range in those 11 states is only about 14% of its historical range,” said co-lead author Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral scholar in the College of Forestry. “They probably once numbered in the tens of thousands, but today there might only be 3,500 wolves across the entire West.”

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

Beaver populations, once robust across the West, declined roughly 90% after settler colonialism and are now nonexistent in many streams, meaning ecosystem services are going unprovided, the authors say.

By felling trees and shrubs and constructing dams, beavers enrich fish habitat, increase water and sediment retention, maintain water flows during drought, improve water quality, increase carbon sequestration and generally improve habitat for riparian plant and animal species.

“Beaver restoration is a cost-effective way to repair degraded riparian areas,” said co-author Robert Beschta, professor emeritus in the OSU College of Forestry. “Riparian areas occupy less than 2% of the land in the West but provide habitat for up to 70% of wildlife species.”

Similarly, wolf restoration offers significant ecological benefits by helping to naturally control native ungulates such as elk, according to the authors. They say wolves facilitate regrowth of vegetation species such as aspen, which supports diverse plant and animal communities and is declining in the West.

The paper includes a catalogue of 92 threatened and endangered plant and animal species that have at least 10% of their ranges within the proposed Western Rewilding Network; for each species, threats from human activity were analyzed.

The authors determined the most common threat was livestock grazing, which they say can cause stream and wetland degradation, affect fire regimes and make it harder for woody species, especially willow, to regenerate.

Nationally, about 2% of meat production results from federal grazing permits, the paper notes.

“We suggest the removal of grazing on federal allotments from approximately 285,000 square kilometers within the rewilding network, representing 29% of the total 985,000 square kilometers of federal lands in the 11 western states that are annually grazed,” Beschta said. “That means we need an economically and socially just federal compensation program for those who give up their grazing permits. Rewilding will be most effective when participation concerns for all stakeholders are considered, including Indigenous people and their governments.”

In addition to Beschta, Wolf and Ripple, authors from Oregon State include J. Boone Kauffman, Beverly Law and Michael Paul Nelson. Daniel Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is also a co-author.

The paper also included authors from the University of Washington, the University of Colorado, the Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, Michigan Technological University, the University of Victoria, the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the National Parks and Conservation Association, RESOLVE, the Florida Institute for Conservation Science, Public Lands Media and Wild Heritage.

Navajo Dam operations update (September 8, 2022): Bumping up to 850 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Fly fishers on the San Juan River below the Navajo Dam.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a hot dry weather pattern and continued decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 750 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs for tomorrow, September 8th, at 4:00 AM. 

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.  This scheduled release change is calculated to be the minimum required to meet the minimum target baseflow.

Navajo Dam operations update (September 2, 2022): Bumping up to 750 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a warmer drier weather pattern and continued decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 750 cfs for tomorrow, September 2nd , at 4:00 AM. 

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.  This scheduled release change is calculated to be the minimum required to meet the minimum target baseflow.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces $8.5 Million from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for #ColoradoRiver #Endangered Species Recovery — USBR #COriver #aridification

RAZORBACK SUCKER The Maybell ditch is home to four endangered fish species [the Humpback chub (Gila cypha), Bonytail (Gila elegans), Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)] © Linda Whitham/TNC

Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website (Rob Manning):

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced a $8.5 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for endangered species recovery and conservation in the Colorado River Basin. Funding will modify the current water intake system at the Lake Mead State Fish Hatchery, which supplies razorback sucker and bonytail subadult fish to the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Program as part of their fish augmentation program.

Given historically low water levels in Lake Mead, the Lake Mead State Fish Hatchery’s current water intake system is unable to deliver water, as it is positioned at a 1050 elevation, above current water levels. As a result, the Hatchery has been forced to cease operations and remove native fish from the hatchery. Grant funding will be provided to the Southern Nevada Water Authority to construct a new water delivery system at the facility that would draw water from a point in Lake Mead below expected lake decline and allow the Lower Colorado Multi-Species Conservation Program to continue operations.

“Investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in this program is a proven, effective way to reduce impacts to the environment and endangered fish species that are caused by operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of water diversion facilities,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “With drought putting more pressure than ever on water projects and the environment, the investment announced today will tackle known facility needs and help assure the continued survival of endangered fish species in the Colorado River Basin.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects to repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. This funding includes $300 million specifically set aside for the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which will work to reduce the risk of Lake Mead and Lake Powell reaching critically low elevations.

Detailed information on Reclamation programs and funding provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is available at https://www.usbr.gov/bil/

Innovative land management benefits Valley bird populations — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

Sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable on the Alamosa Citizen website:

THE waters of the San Luis Valley are a crucial part of life for the people and wildlife that call it home. Particularly tied to these water sources are the multitudes of bird species that reside in the area year-round, seasonally, or even just briefly during migration. As conditions become drier and water scarcer, collaboration and creative solutions on all fronts have grown to make the most of the available water supply. This is particularly relevant for riparian and wetland habitat for bird populations.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plays an important role in this effort by managing a number of riparian and wetland areas, including the Blanca Wetlands, McIntire/Simpson property and the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA). The BLM has many ongoing riparian and wetland habitat improvement projects, including riparian exclosures and fencing on the RGNA to protect portions of these delicate riparian habitats for nesting.

Unsurprisingly, water availability is a concern for even healthy habitats, which is why the BLM uses its water rights to irrigate these lands to mimic natural wetting and drying processes and provide habitat when species’ need it the most, whether for nesting or migration or other life cycle needs. In addition to the management of its own lands, collaborations with groups such as the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and others are improving willow habitat along riverbanks, benefitting bird species such as the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Though there are challenges, the future is hopeful. 

Sue Swift-Miller, who has worked as a wildlife biologist in BLM Colorado’s San Luis Valley Field Office for about 20 years, says, “It’s really exciting getting to work with such great partners and to be providing habitat for these species.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), like the BLM, works both independently and with partners to protect and enhance habitat for the benefit of birds. Collaboration with other entities in the Valley has been foundational to CPW’s efforts thus far, most notably with Ducks Unlimited and Wetland Dynamics. 

These two private organizations help CPW acquire funding for projects, research bird populations, and manage water use in riparian and wetland areas. CPW also works with farmers and ranchers on and near riparian and wetland areas, helping educate and inform them about practices that are beneficial to their production as well as wildlife. While this effort has presented a certain level of difficulty, the results work to benefit everyone involved.

Tony Aloia, wildlife technician with CPW, says, “Seeing [private landowners] sometimes progress away from what has always been to what is obviously a better way is pretty rewarding … to hear your message being heard.” 

Rotational grazing, preventing overgrazing, and other such practices have helped these landowners get more production value from their land, while simultaneously contributing to wildlife and species preservation through increased suitable habitat and less disturbed nesting periods. 

Sometimes these collaborations and projects can be challenging as well, but CPW’s staff enjoy the work they do and see the benefits it offers. 

Tyler Cerny, who works as a district wildlife manager for CPW, says, “My favorite part of [the job] is seeing the collaboration and people in the community … come together for one common goal, and that is wildlife.” 

Aloia added that one of his favorite aspects of this work is “seeing the wildlife, and seeing your work actually have some impact.”

While changes in climate and water supply challenges will continue to be pressing issues, the management of riparian and wetland habitat in the Rio Grande Basin is adapting to meet them through collaboration and innovation.

This article was brought to you by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. The roundtable meets the second Tuesday of the month. If we are in-person, we are meeting at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, 8805 Independence Way, Alamosa, CO 81101. Due to Covid restrictions we are also offering a Zoom option. We welcome your attendance but encourage checking the Roundtable website at www.RGBRT.org prior to the meeting to see if an in-person option is available.

More RGBRT Stories >>

How to build a pollinator garden — USFWS

A hummingbird clearwing moth visits a wild bergamot flower.

Click the link to read the article on the USFWS website (Mara Koenig):

Careful planning is essential to creating a successful pollinator garden. Follow these easy steps to make sure you have everything covered before you make your investment.

Choosing your location

While flowering plants can grow in both shady and sunny locations, consider your audience. Butterflies and other pollinators like to bask in the sun and some of their favorite wildflowers grow best in full or partial sun with some protection from the wind.

Identifying soil type and sunlight

Take a look at your soil – is it sandy and well-drained or more clay-like and wet? You can turn over a test patch or check out the soil mapper for your county to learn more. Your soil type and the amount of sunlight it gets will help determine the kinds of plants you can grow.

Choosing your plants

Research which varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area and do well in your soil and sunlight conditions. Native plants are the ideal choice, because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier. Find a nursery that specializes in native plants near you – they’ll be familiar with plants that are meant to thrive in your part of the country. It’s essential to choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides or neonicotinoids. You’ll also want to focus on selecting perennials to ensure your plants come back each year and don’t require a lot of maintenance.

Remember to think about more than just the summer growing season. Pollinators need nectar early in the spring, throughout the summer and even into the fall. Choosing plants that bloom at different times will help you create a bright and colorful garden that both you and pollinators will love for months!

Seeds vs. plants

Once you’ve identified your plant species, you’ll need to decide whether to use seeds or start with small plants. While both are good options, your choice will depend on your timeline and budget. Seeds are more economical, especially for larger gardens, but will require more time. If you’re using seeds, plan on dispersing them the fall or late winter ahead of your summer growing season. This gives the seeds time to germinate. Nursery-started plants cost more, but will generally give you a quick return on your investment and bring pollinators into your yard during the same growing season.

Planting your garden

Purple prairie clover, purple coneflower and yellow coneflower in a native pollinator garden at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

When you’re ready to start planting, you’ll need your seeds or plants along with essentials like gardening tools to break the soil as well as extra soil or compost and mulch.

Prepping your garden

If you’re converting an existing lawn, you’ll need to remove grass and current plant cover and turn your soil to loosen it up. If you’re planning on using raised beds or containers, there are a lot of pre-made options available, as well as simple designs to build your own. No matter where you decide to plant your garden, you’ll want to add nutrient-rich compost or soil to improve the success of your garden.

Planting your seeds or flowers

When you’re using seeds, keep in mind that they will need time to germinate, so fall and late winter are ideal times to get started. In the fall, disperse seeds and cover with soil. In the late winter, scatter seeds over the snow. The sun will heat up the seeds and help anchor them into the snow. The melted snow provides moisture that will help the seeds germinate.

If you’re starting with small plants, make sure you follow frost guidance to avoid putting your plants in too early. Dig holes just big enough for the root system, then cover and reinforce the roots with soil or compost. Add mulch to reduce weed growth.

Wait, watch, water and weed

It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden. Make sure to weed and water your garden to keep it healthy. Keep in mind that it may take a couple seasons for milkweed to start producing flowers.

We wish you the best of luck with your pollinator garden. Thank you for making a difference for butterflies, bees and other pollinators!

Click for a larger view.

#Colorado #Water Congress Summer Conference Day 2: The Airborne Snow Observatory does not replace SNOTEL, in fact we need an expanded SNOTEL network — Taylor Winchell

Sunset August 24, 2022 Steamboat Springs.

Day 2 included a “Rapid Topics” session with moderator Kelly Romero-Heaney, CO Dept of Natural Resources:

RAZORBACK SUCKER The Maybell ditch is home to four endangered fish species [the Humpback chub (Gila cypha), Bonytail (Gila elegans), Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)] © Linda Whitham/TNC

Colorado and San Juan River Endangered Species Program: Julie Stahli, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This map shows the snowpack depth of Castle and Maroon valleys in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement Group: Taylor Winchell, Denver Water

Screenshot from the http://water22.org website.

Water ‘22: Jayla Poppleton, Water Education Colorado

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Eliminating Lead in School Drinking Water Facilities: Mike Beck, CO Water Quality Control Division

Winchell told the attendees that, “ASO is an extremely powerful #climate adaption tool.”

He’s right, stationarity is dead so Colorado needs to incorporate new strategies for measurement of snowpack and that is exactly what the ASO technology provides.

Paper: #Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic #ClimateChange scenarios — PNAS #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Cascading global climate failure. This is a causal loop diagram, in which a complete line represents a positive polarity (e.g., amplifying feedback; not necessarily positive in a normative sense) and a dotted line denotes a negative polarity (meaning a dampening feedback). See SI Appendix for further information.

Click the link to access the paper on the PNAS website (Luke Kemp, Chi Xu, Joanna Depledge, Kristie L. Ebi, Goodwin Gibbins, Timothy A. Kohler, Johan Rockström, Marten Scheffer, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, and Timothy M. Lenton). Here’s the abstract:

Prudent risk management requires consideration of bad-to-worst-case scenarios. Yet, for climate change, such potential futures are poorly understood. Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction? At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic. Yet there are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe. Analyzing the mechanisms for these extreme consequences could help galvanize action, improve resilience, and inform policy, including emergency responses. We outline current knowledge about the likelihood of extreme climate change, discuss why understanding bad-to-worst cases is vital, articulate reasons for concern about catastrophic outcomes, define key terms, and put forward a research agenda. The proposed agenda covers four main questions: 1) What is the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events? 2) What are the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity? 3) What are human societies’ vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades, such as from conflict, political instability, and systemic financial risk? 4) How can these multiple strands of evidence—together with other global dangers—be usefully synthesized into an “integrated catastrophe assessment”? It is time for the scientific community to grapple with the challenge of better understanding catastrophic climate change.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping up to 450 cfs August 12, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

SAN JUAN RIVER The San Juan River at the hwy 64 bridge in Shiprock, NM. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

In response to the forecast for low flows on the San Juan River, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for August 12th at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Releases from Stagecoach to #YampaRiver become more important as climate warms #Colorado: Water Trust has released more than 600 million gallons into the waterway since 2012 — Steamboat Pilot & Today #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Stagecoarch Reservoir outflow June 23, 2019. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Dylan Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

Near the end of July, flows into Stagecoach Reservoir from the Yampa River dropped below 40 cubic feet per second for a few days. That threshold is important because it helps, in part, determine how much water flows out of the reservoir and continues downstream to Steamboat Springs. If the flow coming in is more than 40 cfs, then at least 40 cfs is usually discharged at the bottom of Stagecoach Dam. If the inflow drops below 40 cfs, the outflow generally would as well, leaving less water for critical fish habitat below the dam and in the river in general.

But on July 21, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District released reservoir water to bolster the river’s outflow — part of a 10-year deal for water releases with the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust meant to protect the health of the river…

The long-term deal is one of the first in the state and was made possible by a 2020 state law allowing such agreements. Before, groups like the Water Trust and Upper Yampa district needed to rehash out a contract each year…

But this year has been different. While the snowpack wasn’t impressive, spring precipitation slowed melting, and there was still snow in the basin until June 23, according to the Natural Resources Conservation service. Monsoon rains have further buoyed the river, with Steamboat measuring more than 10 inches of rain from May to July. While not necessarily a good roll, this year doesn’t seem like a bad one.

“I think it is on the low side of average,” said Emily Lowell, the district engineer for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. “Runoff was pretty average, and I think monsoonal rains this summer have made it sustain that average.”

But even in a close-to-average year, releases from the reservoir are still needed, though not to the same extent. Since the first releases at the end of July, inflows and outflows have both stayed above 40 cfs and more of the trust’s water hasn’t been needed.

Navajo Dam operations update (July 28, 2022): Bumping releases down to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for today, July 28th, at 4:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 500 cfs July 27, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Humpback chub

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today, July 27th, at 4:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Reclamation celebrates 120th Anniversary with ribbon cutting event for the Lower #YellowstoneRiver Fish Bypass Channel

Photo of the Lower Yellowstone Fish Passage Project via USBR.

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Brittany Jones):

The Bureau of Reclamation will continue its celebration of its 120th Anniversary with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the completion of the Lower Yellowstone Intake Diversion Dam Fish Passage Project on July 26, 2022. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will co-host the ribbon cutting ceremony located on Joe’s Island near Glendive, Montana.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Northwestern Division Commander Colonel Geoff Van Epps and the Omaha District Commander Colonel Mark Himes will attend the ceremony to commemorate Reclamation’s 120th year of providing water to the West and to celebrate the success of this, three-year, $44 million fish bypass construction project. The success of the project is due, in part, to the joint efforts and contributions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to improve the fish passage structure for the endangered pallid sturgeon and other native species around the Lower Yellowstone Intake Diversion Dam.

Construction on the fish bypass channel began in April 2019 and was completed with the removal of the cofferdam on April 9, 2022. The 2.1-mile-long channel was constructed as part of the Lower Yellowstone Intake Diversion Dam Fish Passage Project that was designed to address fish passage concerns associated with the diversion dam.

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes a $200 million investment in the National Fish Passage Program over the next five years to conserve fish habitat and advance projects like this one.

“We are excited to celebrate the success of this interagency project and recognize Reclamation’s major contributions to reclaiming America’s 17 Western states over the last 120 years,” said Brent Esplin, Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Regional Director. “In addition to bolstering conservation efforts of the prehistoric pallid sturgeon, Reclamation is committed to continuing the effective operation of the Lower Yellowstone Project for local irrigators who help feed the nation.”

Pallid sturgeon

In 1990, the pallid sturgeon was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation worked in partnership to determine the effects of the Lower Yellowstone Project on the endangered species. Two primary issues were identified; fish entrainment into the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation District’s main irrigation canal and fish not being able to successfully pass over the Intake Diversion Dam to upstream spawning reaches. A new screened canal headworks structure was completed in 2012 that addressed the fish entrainment issue. The new weir in conjunction with the completed fish bypass channel will provide passage for the endangered fish and open approximately 165 river miles of potential spawning and larval drift habitat in the Yellowstone River.

While this portion of the project is complete, construction in the area is ongoing. The contractor, Ames Construction Inc., is still actively working on Joe’s Island to restore construction roads back to natural vegetation. The contractor will rehabilitate sections of Road 551, located off State Highway 16, and Canal Road, both on the north side of the Yellowstone River at Intake, Montana. Joe’s Island is expected to remain closed through the Fall of 2022 when all construction related activities will be complete.

“This is a momentous occasion more than ten years in the making,” said Col. Geoff Van Epps, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Northwestern Division. “The collaboration on this project presented unique challenges and opportunities to meet conservation and recovery responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act while continuing to serve the needs of stakeholders that use the river. The professionalism and mutual respect of all involved provided a healthy, dynamic work climate in which to operate to achieve common goals and objectives.”

The Lower Yellowstone Project is a 58,000-acre irrigation project located in eastern Montana and western North Dakota. The project is operated and maintained by the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation District Board of Control under contract with Reclamation. The project includes the intake diversion dam, a screened headworks structure, 71 miles of main canal, 225 miles of laterals and 118 miles of drains, three pumping plants on the main canal, four supplemental pumps on the Yellowstone River and one supplemental pump on the Missouri River.

Media representatives interested in attending the ceremony should RSVP to Brittany Jones at (406) 247-7611 or bjones@usbr.gov, no later than Friday, July 22. For media unable to attend, photos, videos and a news release will be available following the ceremony.

Map of the Yellowstone River watershed in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota in the north-central USA, that drains to the Missouri River. By Background layer attributed to DEMIS Mapserver, map created by Shannon1 – Background and river course data from http://www2.demis.nl/mapserver/mapper.asp, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9355543

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 600 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Since the late 1980’s, this waterfall formed from interactions among Lake Powell reservoir levels and sedimentation that redirected the San Juan River over a 20-foot high sandstone ledge. Until recently, little was known about its effect on two endangered fishes. Between 2015-2017, more than 1,000 razorback sucker and dozens of Colorado pikeminnow were detected downstream of the waterfall. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs for today, July 26th, at 4:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Reduced to a trickle, #RioGrandeRiver managers brace for more drying — The Associated Press

Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Susan Montoya Bryan). Here’s an excerpt:

Triple digit temperatures and a fickle monsoon season have combined with decades of persistent drought to put one of North America’s longest rivers in its most precarious situation yet. Islands of sand and gravel and patches of cracked mud are taking over where the Rio Grande once flowed. It’s a scene not unlike other hot, dry spots around the western U.S. where rivers and reservoirs have been shrinking due to climate change and continued demand.

Local and federal water managers on Thursday warned that more stretches of the beleaguered Rio Grande will be drying up in the coming days in the Albuquerque area, leaving endangered silvery minnows stranded in whatever puddles remain.

The threat of having the river dry this far north has been present the last few summers due to ongoing drought, officials with the Bureau of Reclamation and one of the largest irrigation districts on the river said. But, this could be the year that residents in New Mexico’s most populated region get to witness the effects of climate change on a grander scale. It’s not uncommon to have parts of the Rio Grande go dry in its more southern reaches, but not in Albuquerque. Like a monument, the river courses through the city, flanked by a forest of cottonwood and willow trees. It’s one of the few ribbons of green to cut through the arid state, providing water for crops and communities.

“This is almost the sole source of water in the central part of New Mexico and we’re not trying to save it just for the fish,” said Andy Dean, a federal biologist. “It’s our job as the Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent the extinction of this animal, but this water is also for everybody in the valley. We’re trying to save it for everybody and if the fish is that piece that helps us do that, then that’s what we have to use.”

The Bureau of Reclamation will be releasing what little supplemental water it has left in upstream reservoirs along the Rio Grande. Over the last 20 years, the agency has leased about 700,000 acre-feet — or 228 billion gallons — of water to supplement flows through the middle Rio Grande for endangered and threatened species.

The Colorado River District Acts to Address Spiking #ColoradoRiver Temperatures #COriver #aridification

Colorado trout. Photo credit: Colorado River district

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado River District website:

District calls on Front Range diverters to assist in prevention of further fish kills, economic impairment.

Low flows and high water temperatures are creating critical conditions on the Upper Colorado for the second consecutive year, triggering fishing closures amidst reports of struggling and dying fish. Anticipating these conditions, the Colorado River District chose to release water from an already-reduced Wolford Mountain Reservoir last weekend. This voluntary release generated approximately 200 acre-feet of water to protect the health of the river – and by extension, local economies and downstream water users. District staff, however, says further action is needed.

“Our constituents are seeing fish floating by belly-up and struggling to survive current hot temperatures,” said Brendon Langenhuizen, the River District’s Director of Technical Advocacy. “We’ve also received reports of dead fish along the riverbanks. Since the beginning of July, these new-normal conditions are having major impacts on the Upper Colorado River ecosystem. Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s fishing closures are symptomatic of a larger issue that needs the attention of all water users. Our District has and will continue to do our part with voluntary releases when water is available from our limited resources at Wolford Mountain Reservoir.”

Wolford Mountain Reserovir, and the Gore Range. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Recent monsoonal rains are bringing some relief, but soil moisture issues and hot, dry conditions forecasted for early next week have prompted a need for direct action. In response, the River District began releasing an additional 50 cubic feet-per-second (cfs) Friday morning, July 15, and will continue through Sunday, July 17, providing another 300 acre-feet of water for the river by Monday morning. Limited West Slope water supplies will inhibit the River District’s ability to fully address temperature and flow issues, however.

“We can’t fix this situation alone,” Langenhuizen stated. “Our constituents are asking for help to address the river’s unhealthy conditions causing fish kills. They’re wondering why large Front Range providers are not reducing their transmountain diversions to join the River District in aiding Colorado’s namesake river and the livelihoods it supports.”

The River District urges these water providers to act in partnership with West Slope water users to protect the health of the Upper Colorado River.

Colorado River just after crossing under highway 34. Photo credit: Colorado River District

The Evolution of Agriculture — @WaterEdCO

Photo courtesy of Ben Wolcott, Wolcott Ranches

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Sensa Wolcott):

My family has been raising cattle in the Southwest for almost 50 years, and last year we experienced a first – producers in our valley did not receive any supplemental irrigation water from the reservoir. Agricultural producers in the river valleys and winding canyons of the Southwest are feeling the impacts of climate change. Temperatures are rising, snowpack is decreasing, runoff is occurring earlier in the year, and it’s becoming drier. As climate change continues to impact the Southwest, understanding how these environmental changes impact us will help farmers and ranchers like myself adjust our land management practices to remain resilient to drought and climate change.

Ecosystems Adapt & So Can We!

Areas that receive low amounts of rainfall are especially susceptible to changes in the environment. The plants and animals that live in dry areas are specialized to this unique landscape, and as the world around them changes, they must adapt or face extinction. Fortunately, healthy ecosystems respond to change, and so can we. The key to responding is diversity. Biodiversity is what gives species the genetic advantage they need to adapt to changing environments. The environment is changing, and just as genetic diversity allows for change, farmers and ranchers can proactively use innovative, versatile strategies to respond and help their enterprises survive.

Healthy Livestock Make Happy, Profitable Ranchers

Ensuring livestock remain healthy is the top priority for those who raise animals. Managed grazing that supports healthy soils and robust forage is a must. Lack of water affects the nutritional content and digestibility of forage. This leads to animals – and ranchers – becoming stressed. Adjusting stocking rates and pasture rotation are a few strategies recommended by the USDA Southwest Climate Hub that can help support the health of your pastures, which in turn supports the health of your animals.

Increased temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable; livestock consume more water when it is hot, making stock water especially important when water is scarce. Warmer temperatures also directly impact the health of our livestock, which in turn reduces profits. Providing access to pastures with trees or shade structures where livestock can get out of the sun is just as important as providing access to water.

It’s No Surprise That Plants Need Water

Photo courtesy of Sensa Wolcott

When water is limited, our fields produce less hay, forage and produce, making it challenging to grow what we need to be successful. Changing temperature will affect which crops thrive in particular areas. The Colorado State University Extension office provides many helpful strategies for how we can tackle these challenges. Prepare to make adjustments to the specific plants that you cultivate. Try planting crop varieties that require less water to thrive and research how specific crops use water. Rotate crops in a way that better promotes growth and productivity during drought and incorporate strategies that slow down water and increase infiltration, such as installing contour swales in fields.

Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will impact the harvest timing of hay and produce and increase the likelihood of weeds popping up. Be prepared for changes in when you typically harvest and focus on increasing biodiversity by planting a mixture of different types of plants in a hayfield or pasture. Variety provides resilience as well as defense against invasive species, which are less likely to move into healthy, drought-resilient pastures and hayfields.

Healthy Watersheds Support Us All

Wetland. Photo courtesy of Sensa Wolcott

Water is critical to life in Colorado because it supports the biodiversity and health of the entire watershed, including the animals and plants so important to farmers and ranchers. Improving irrigation efficiency and upgrading diversion structures can help us adapt to rising temperatures that cause snow to melt and runoff earlier in the year. Early runoff means there is less water later in the season, when animals, plants, and irrigators all need water. Practicing irrigation strategies that encourage keeping rivers wet and implementing practices that increase groundwater storage support healthy waterways and support the needs of farmers and ranchers.

Riparian area management techniques like those mentioned in this article from Agri-Food Canada can benefit producers and the ecosystem. Try fencing livestock out of parts of the riparian corridor to support healthy riparian ecosystems. Livestock can cause erosion and water quality concerns – but well-planned access points that provide livestock with access to crucial drinking water can support both a healthy herd and a thriving waterway.

Farmers and ranchers want to see water in the river – the longer the better – which also supports the health and well-being of the aquatic ecosystem. Protecting our riparian areas is imperative; when our riparian corridors are healthy and thriving, so are we.

We Have a Choice

The future of agriculture is tied tightly to the future of our waters. Healthy ecosystems that have a variety of plants and animals are vital. Choosing innovative management strategies enables us to be good stewards of the natural world while also improving our farms and ranches so that we all can remain resilient in the face of drought and a changing climate.

Sensa Wolcottt.

Sensa Wolcott works as the Watershed Coordinator for the Mancos Conservation District. She is pursuing her Masters in Biology through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly, where her work focuses on community-based conservation and connecting people with the land through dialogue and collaboration. Sensa and her family live on their family owned and operated cattle ranch and enjoys hiking, camping, mountain biking, and photography.

Mancos and the Mesa Verde area from the La Plata Mountains.

Navajo Dam operations update (July 13, 2022): Bumping up to 700 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to low flows in the critical habitat reach and increased irrigation, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs for today, Wednesday, July 13th at 12:00 PM, and additional increase from 700 cfs to 800 cfs at 2:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Biologists’ fears confirmed on the lower #ColoradoRiver — The Associated Press #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River from Navajo Bridge below Lee’s Ferry and Glen Canyon Dam. The proposed Marble Canyon Dam would have been just downstream from here. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Brittany Petersen). Here’s an excerpt:

For National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Arnold, it was a moment he’d been dreading. Bare-legged in sandals, he was pulling in a net in a shallow backwater of the lower Colorado River last week, when he spotted three young fish that didn’t belong there. “Give me a call when you get this!” he messaged a colleague, snapping photos.

Minutes later, the park service confirmed their worst fear: smallmouth bass had in fact been found and were likely reproducing in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam.

The confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in the Grand Canyon, shown here in a September 2020 aerial photo from Ecoflight, represents an area where the humpback chub has rebounded in the last decade. That progress is now threatened by declining water levels in Lake Powell, which could lead to non-native smallmouth bass becoming established in the canyon. CREDIT: JANE PARGITER/ECOFLIGHT

They may be a beloved sport fish, but smallmouth bass feast on humpback chub, an ancient, threatened fish that’s native to the river, and that biologists like Arnold have been working hard to recover. The predators wreaked havoc in the upper river, but were held at bay in Lake Powell where Glen Canyon Dam has served as a barrier for years — until now. The reservoir’s recent sharp decline is enabling these introduced fish to get past the dam and closer to where the biggest groups of chub remain, farther downstream in the Grand Canyon.

Why Is the Little Colorado River So Blue? — #GrandCanyon Trust

The turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River. Photo credit: Lyle Balequah/From the Earth Studio

Click the link to read the article on the Grand Canyon Trust website (Amanda Podmore):

The Little Colorado River is best known for its milky blue waters that flow into the mainstem Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. These waters carry so much life-giving significance. For millennia, they have provided physical and spiritual sustenance for Indigenous peoples and supported plants, wildlife, communities, and more.

Grand Falls Little Colorado River, Spring of 2010.

But the Little Colorado River is not always blue. Sometimes it runs as thick and brown as chocolate milk. With a little knowledge of the river’s annual peaks and lows and an eye on the weather gauge, you can predict whether it will be brown or that remarkable turquoise blue.

So why and when is the Little Colorado River so blue?

Confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Climate change is affecting western streams by diminishing snowpack and accelerating evaporation. The Colorado River’s flows and reservoirs are being impacted by climate change, and environmental groups are concerned about the status of the native fish in the river. Photo credit: DMY at Hebrew Wikipedia [Public domain]

The source of its milky blue waters

The Little Colorado River gets its blue color from dissolved calcium carbonate in the water. This mineral is found in chalk, antacids, eggshells, dark green vegetables, rocks, and more. In the Little Colorado River, calcium carbonate forms a type of limestone called travertine that creates white, pillowy deposits along the riverbed. Most of the turquoise-blue water in the Little Colorado River comes from springs 10 to 13 miles upstream of the confluence. Thanks to these groundwater-fed springs, the last 13 miles of the Little Colorado River flow year-round at an average rate of 220 cubic feet per second (cfs) until joining the mighty Colorado River, which has an average flow between 8,000 and 25,000 cfs!

The Little Colorado River’s year-round flows are important for the region’s largest population of humpback chub. The warm, cloudy waters make excellent habitat for this threatened fish species.

Little Colorado River. Photo credit: Sinjin Eberle via American Rivers

Other colors of the Little Colorado River

When the Little Colorado River begins its journey from its headwaters in the White Mountains, its waters are not yet blue. The clear mountain stream flows north into the desert lands below, picking up sediment, minerals, and debris along the way. But less than 20 miles from its source, the Little Colorado River dries up. And for the next 300 miles, the river relies on precipitation to send water downstream. Modern-day water use is a major culprit of this dry stretch of the Little Colorado River. Year-round flows return near Blue Spring, 13 miles upstream of the confluence.

During two high runoff periods each year — in the spring from snowmelt and in the late summer from monsoon rains — the Little Colorado River runs red. During these periods, from February to April and July to September, the Little Colorado River may spike to 18,000 cfs. At this runoff level, the water can be so thick and muddy that placing your hand just an inch below the surface of the water makes it invisible to the naked eye.

The cultural significance of the Little Colorado River’s blue waters

The Little Colorado River’s blue waters have been of deep cultural significance to Native peoples since time immemorial. At least 10 tribes have traditional connections to what Zuni people refer to as “the umbilical cord” of the world. For Hopi people, the Little Colorado River is the home of their emergence story, and its waters, springs, and salt remain important to this day. Adjacent Diné (Navajo) communities, whose land may be affected by proposed dam development, are considering a sacred site designation for the area to prevent development threats like the former Escalade tram proposal.

But to truly understand the importance of the Little Colorado River, I suggest you go directly to the source. Visit the Lifeways of the Little Colorado River collection to hear 11 Native voices share their personal and cultural ties to this life-sustaining river.

Ring the Alarm: Today’s #Water Crisis Isn’t a Fire Drill, Why Audubon’s work in the West is more important than ever #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Photo: Marti Phillips/Audubon Photography Awards

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Karyn Stockdale):

News headlines in mid-June captured what Audubon’s Western Water team knows well: the Colorado River Basin and Great Salt Lake are in trouble—both facing historically unprecedented risks. Both may be headed towards ecological disasters, years in the making, the result of a pernicious combination of climate change aridifying the region and water management that does not adequately prioritize the environment. In the Colorado River Basin and at Great Salt Lake, warming temperatures and declining river flows threaten people and nature. And, we know there’s significant quality wildlife and bird habitat still worthy of attention and investments.

Birds tell us that water-dependent habitats across the arid West are essential oases and they are in decline. The water issues created by a century of law and infrastructure development are magnified by today’s climate crisis. For over 100 years, we’ve operated under a legal framework in the West where water has been “developed” without consideration for the Indigenous communities that have been on the land since time immemorial, and at the expense of the environment, sometimes draining the last drops of water that supported habitats. Across the West, water stress is evident—and people and birds will feel its effects. Audubon is working on some solutions (make sure you keep up with our ongoing posts), but for now, let me paint a picture of how dire the situation is.

News headlines in mid-June captured what Audubon’s Western Water team knows well: the Colorado River Basin and Great Salt Lake are in trouble—both facing historically unprecedented risks. Both may be headed towards ecological disasters, years in the making, the result of a pernicious combination of climate change aridifying the region and water management that does not adequately prioritize the environment. In the Colorado River Basin and at Great Salt Lake, warming temperatures and declining river flows threaten people and nature. And, we know there’s significant quality wildlife and bird habitat still worthy of attention and investments.

Birds tell us that water-dependent habitats across the arid West are essential oases and they are in decline. The water issues created by a century of law and infrastructure development are magnified by today’s climate crisis. For over 100 years, we’ve operated under a legal framework in the West where water has been “developed” without consideration for the Indigenous communities that have been on the land since time immemorial, and at the expense of the environment, sometimes draining the last drops of water that supported habitats. Across the West, water stress is evident—and people and birds will feel its effects. Audubon is working on some solutions (make sure you keep up with our ongoing posts), but for now, let me paint a picture of how dire the situation is.

The big headlines include:

 

With Great Salt Lake reaching its lowest ever recorded water levels, ongoing drought and increasing development pressures diverting the water flowing down rivers to the lake, a drying Great Salt Lake threatens the health of Salt Lake City residents, the future of key Utah industries, and the survival of millions of migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, and other wildlife. We are currently in uncharted territory as we test thresholds of water levels and this could have cascading effects that would ripple throughout the ecosystem. Although Auduboners tend to focus on the birds and ecology (where else in the West does one find FIVE globally Important Bird Areas at one location?), Great Salt Lake generates enormous impact for Utah and the region with $1.56 billion annually in economic contributions through mineral, aquaculture, and ski industries, and other recreation activities. The potential economic cost of the drying Great Salt Lake could reach $25.4 billion to $32.6 billion over 20 years, according to a 2019 report from the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council. Much like the Salton Sea in California – another giant salt lake—which is already experiencing severe air quality issues from the exposed dry lakebed, the public health and quality of life for communities around Great Salt Lake are at risk from increased dust from larger areas of exposed lakebed. Increased dust on snow also has the potential to compound the timing of snowmelt and thus water availability.

Even more stunning is the realization that the Colorado River’s major reservoirs—water supply for some 40 million people—are on life support. The federal U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in March took the unprecedented step of claiming a human health and safety emergency to justify reducing the water it releases from one of those reservoirs. At a U.S. Senate hearing in mid-June, Reclamation Commissioner Touton stated that net Colorado River water uses must be reduced in the next year by 2-4 million acre-feet, a staggering volume that amounts to about 30 percent of average consumptive use.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

Our water supplies across the dry West are in severe crisis because of historic over-development, compounded today by climate change. Warming temperatures are creating “hot droughts” that deplete flows in rivers, the flows that people and nature depend on. Today there is no longer enough water to supply all of the demands. Colorado River flows in the first two decades of the 21st century are 20 percent lower than flows in the last century. In years when we see “average” snowpack levels in the mountains, river flows are low: last year in the Colorado River’s headwater mountains, a 91 percent snowpack yielded only a 55 percent flow. That discrepancy demonstrates an impact of climate change between the mountain tops and the valley bottoms. Snowmelt isn’t reaching the rivers in the same way; warmer temperatures drive evaporation, turning the soils into thirsty sponges.

At the recent Colorado River-focused Getches-Wilkinson Center’s Colorado Law Conference aptly named “Hard Conversations About Really Complicated Issues,” Reclamation’s Jim Prairie shared the numbers behind the problem. The volume of water flowing into the Colorado River’s largest reservoirs—Lakes Powell and Mead—has declined, while uses have not. Over the past 20 years, this imbalance has resulted in a 40 million acre-foot decline in Colorado River reservoir storage – a volume that exceeds by a factor of three the Colorado River’s annual average flow. With so little water remaining in the reservoirs, the risks – including infrastructure failure, inability to deliver water to major population centers, and even the risk of no water flowing in the Grand Canyon – are untenable. Moreover, while Reclamation’s call for additional water conservation in the coming year should prevent things from getting worse in 2023, it is not projected to address recovery of the reservoirs, and is not expected to solve the problem beyond 2023 unless those enormous volumes of water can be conserved year after year.

Blowing Alkali Dust at Owens Lake, California. Photo credit: Eeekster (Richard Ellis) via Wikimedia

Stakes are high, and mitigation will be costly. We learned that lesson at Owens Lake in California, where the costs to remediate the lake’s historic drying after Los Angeles diverted 100 percent of its water continue to grow. In order to address extreme dust pollution and loss of migratory bird habitat, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power invested hundreds of millions of dollars to “rebuild” the ecosystem with pumping and piping of water, infrastructure and many dust control methods – resulting in annual maintenance costs estimated at $17 million. And the costs of restoring a small portion of flows and habitat in the once-vast Colorado River Delta underscore how much more expensive it is to try and fix rivers and lakes once they have been decimated.

This should be a wake-up call to everyone. This water crisis isn’t just impacting those of us who live in the West; it affects people who live in the East too. Not only did the Colorado River form beloved places like the Grand Canyon, it supports an enormous part of our American economy, and has outsized importance to wildlife and birds, with around 70 percent of all species in the region depending on the riparian corridor at some point in their life-cycle. On top of that, Great Salt Lake is essential to the world’s populations of Wilson’s Phalaropes, Eared Grebe, and American Avocet.

So what are some key takeaways that keep me up at night?

1) Today’s hydrologic cycle is vastly different than 50 years ago. Climate change is water change and climate continues to influence the hydrology in the West. And we have dry soils compounding the problem.

2) Solutions exist, but we need them to scale up. Quickly. Public funding—including the massive investments of last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—will help immensely. We must move swiftly to implement multi-benefit projects that protect our water resources. Ideas to improve the resilience of the West to declining water supplies abound. But will we respond fast enough? And don’t get me started about needed global climate change solutions to reduce carbon emissions…

3) In addition to scaling up solutions, representatives of Tribal and conservation interests need to be included in negotiations to define solutions. To leave out these voices would continue the systematic exclusion of Tribes and nature. Declining water supplies have amplified the problems created through inequitable access to water.

4) The immediacy of the situation. Although the environmental catastrophe looms large and needs immediate steps to reverse the trends—especially because nature impacts people—the risk of a catastrophic collapse of major Colorado River infrastructure is here. Soon. Federal leaders want the Colorado River Basin States to define plans in less than 60 days, noting that if the states cannot come to agreement on how to reduce water uses, the federal government will take unilateral action. Watch for Reclamation’s mid-August water forecast and announcements.

The buzz is around shared sacrifice. Politically, all sectors need to shoulder some of the burden of reducing water use. In all likelihood, despite having senior water rights, agricultural producers who rely on irrigation with Colorado River water will be required to take compensated cuts in their water use. As was pointed out at the Colorado River conference, we cannot conserve the 2-4 million acre-feet of water needed by evacuating the cities that rely on Colorado River water. Water conservation in the agricultural sector has implications for rural economies and the environment. It’s a terrible situation, and important that we are doing what we can to support rural economies and to increase investments in freshwater-dependent ecosystems.

San Luis Valley wetlands. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo via The Alamosa Citizen

Water management systems in the West are breaking. As decision-makers revise the rules that shape water management systems, we need to urge them to incorporate today’s 21st century values, including equitable treatment of vulnerable communities that lack access to water, and emphasis on supporting water needs in the natural world around us. With even less water, the hard conversations on water conservation efforts should include both using less water while also ensuring water supply to all households in the Colorado River region, as well as minimum water flows to protect hydrologic connections and quality habitats as crucial steps to preserving our future in this landscape. We can’t let the water crisis allow bad projects to get approvals—they would create both short-term and long-term issues for the landscape. We’ve already lost too many wetlands and riparian habitats across the West—and birds are suffering in response. And birds tell us, we have to act on climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Because as bad as this seems, it can still get worse.

We are at a fundamental inflection point for the Colorado River and for Great Salt Lake. While this is a dire update, we need to stay focused to protect our future in the West. These immense water challenges underscore how essential Audubon’s work is to save and allocate water to these critical habitats and ecosystems. There is more to come this summer, and hopefully, we can find some breathing room to create the medium and long-term plans we need to protect water in the West.

Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 400 cfs June, 29, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to continued forecast precipitation and sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for Wednesday, June 29th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Farming for pollinators — USDA/Xerces Society

Honeybees are important pollinators, an ecosystem service that is not always adequately accounted for in traditional markets. Image credit: Marisa Lubeck, USGS.

Click for a larger view.

Click for a larger view.

Click on the link to access “Native Understory Forbs and Grasses for Pollinator and Insect Utilization in Southeastern Longleaf Pine Ecosystems on the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.


Click on the link to access “Great Basin Pollinator Plants Native Milkweeds” on the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.

Where Colorado River no longer meets the sea, a pulse of water brings new life — The Los Angeles Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water flows in the Colorado River Delta. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

For decades, so much water has been diverted to supply farms and cities that the Colorado River has seldom met the sea and much of its delta in Mexico has been reduced to a dry riverbed, with only small remnants of its once-vast wetlands surviving. Over the last eight weeks, water has been flowing in parts of the delta once again, restoring a stretch of river in Mexico where previously there had been miles of desert sand. The water is being released from an irrigation canal to aid the delta’s parched environment as part of an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments and with support from environmental groups. Those who are involved in the effort say that even as severe drought and the warming climate sap the Colorado River, the initiative shows how small amounts of water can be used to benefit struggling ecosystems…

This site, a habitat restoration area called El Chausse, is located in the southern portion of the delta, downstream from long stretches of dry riverbed, and was chosen as a place where limited water releases would boost the ecosystem by nourishing vegetation and expanding habitat for wildlife. It’s one of a few sites in Mexico where conservationists have been restoring wetlands and forests along the path where the river once flowed. Six years ago, workers removed invasive tamarisk trees at the site and planted a forest of native cottonwoods, willows and mesquites. Those trees have grown rapidly and now drape the wetland in shade, attracting a variety of birds, such as yellow warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers and vermilion flycatchers…

This is the second straight year of water releases in Mexico. When the water flowed through part of the delta last year, plants released seeds that settled along the banks. [Eduardo] Blancas and his colleagues have seen vegetation flourish along the river channel. They’ve spotted about 120 species of birds in the area.

Watershed Summit 2022 recap #shed22 #ClimateChange #COriver #ColoradoRiver #aridification #ActOnClimate

Denver Botanic Gardens was live-Tweeting from the summit yesterday. Here’s their Twitter feed. (They did not use the hash tag #shed22.)

Here’s the link to the #shed22 Twitter stream. I am always blown away at the insight and awareness displayed by others around me at theses events.

Denver Botanic Gardens is a great venue for the summit. If you need to get up and walk around to clear your mind you can take in the sights of the gardens.

Low waters in Navajo Lake impact recreation, marina — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’a an excerpt:

According to the Lake Navajo Water Database, the lake was at 56.4 feet below full pool, an eleva- tion of 6,028.6 feet, on June 12 and at 55.78 percent by volume of full pool on that same date. Before this year, the lowest level that had been observed in Navajo Lake on June 12 in the last 10 years was in 2013, when the lake was at 6,029.17 feet of elevation. Last year, the water level on June 12 was 6,041.47 feet of elevation. The Navajo LakeWater Database also notes that the San Juan and Piedra rivers, which feed Navajo Lake, are at 11.92 percent of their combined aver- age and that inflows for water year 2022, which began on Oct. 1, 2021, and ends on Sept. 30, 2022, are at 89.6 percent of those for water year 2021.

In an interview with The SUN, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Manager for Navajo State Park Brian Sandy explained the impact the low water levels have had on the park. He commented that the low water levels have had a “really negative impact” on the park’s marina and the services it can provide, with the on-the-water fuel pump dock and the pump-out station for houseboats both inactive. He noted that no slips are available at the dock, with the few that remain usable reserved for patrol and rental boats. He added that the water level in the mooring cove is sufficiently low to render most of the mooring balls unusable. Sandy stated that the low water level has had a particularly severe impact on houseboats, many of which depend on the mooring cove and the pump-out station…

Sandy commented that water levels in the reservoir are likely to continue to drop over the season with water commitments for the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and municipal water for communities including Farmington, N.M., contributing to the decrease in lake levels, along with the drought and high winds.

Sandy added that releases of water from the reservoir also occur for the purposes of improving endangered fish species habitat downstream by raising water levels in rivers.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

#Drought’s Spillover Effect in the American West — Circle of Blue #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aerial photo of the California Aqueduct at the Interstate 205 crossing, just east of Interstate 580 junction. By Ikluft – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2734798

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton). Here’s an excerpt:

  • The American West has been plumbed into a series of “mega-watersheds.”
  • Because basins are connected by pipelines and canals, drought in one region affects distant watersheds.
  • A big Southern California water agency plans to draw more water from the Colorado River this year because of inadequate moisture in the Sierra Nevada.
  • On a map that might grace the walls of a high school classroom, the watersheds of the American West are distinct geographical features, hemmed in by foreboding plateaus and towering mountain ridges. Look closer and those natural boundaries are less rigid. A sprawling network of pipelines and canals pierce mountains and cross deserts, linking many of the mighty rivers and smaller streams of the West. These “mega-watersheds” have redrawn the map, helping cities and farms to grow large and productive, but also becoming political flashpoints with steep environmental costs…

    Upstream on the Colorado River, there are more links. Tributary streams in Colorado are diverted through the San Juan-Chama Project into New Mexico, where the water enters the Rio Grande system and supplies Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Central Utah Project pulls Colorado River water into the orbit of the fast-growing Wasatch Front, which is not in the basin.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    In the headwaters state of Colorado, 11 major interbasin transfers unite rivers on both sides of the Rockies. The Moffat and Adams tunnels cut through the Continental Divide, a feat of engineering that brings Colorado River water into the South Platte River basin, where it is gulped by Denver and other Front Range cities.

    For all the water supply flexibility they provide, these diversions are not risk-free. They have depleted water for native fish. Many of them — from the Owens River in California to the West Slope of Colorado — contend with legacies of acrimony and mistrust, feelings that arose decades ago due to the political imbalance between rural areas where water was extracted and urban areas that benefitted.

    Map credit: AGU

    Declining levels at #LakePowell increase risk to humpback chub downstream: As temperatures rise, so does risk of invasive fish — @AspenJournalism

    The confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in the Grand Canyon, shown here in a September 2020 aerial photo from Ecoflight, represents an area where the humpback chub has rebounded in the last decade. That progress is now threatened by declining water levels in Lake Powell, which could lead to non-native smallmouth bass becoming established in the canyon. CREDIT: JANE PARGITER/ECOFLIGHT

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    As climate change continues to shrink the nation’s second-largest reservoir, water managers are scrambling to prevent the release of an invasive fish into the Grand Canyon.

    Smallmouth bass, a voracious predator and popular game fish, have been introduced into reservoirs throughout the Colorado River basin, including Lake Powell. The looming problem now is that as lake levels drop to historically low levels, the invasive fish are likely to escape beyond Glen Canyon Dam, threatening endangered fish in the canyon, whose populations have rebounded in recent years.

    Detailed underwater photo of Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu. By Engbretson Eric, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/fauna-animals-public-domain-images-pictures/fishes-public-domain-images-pictures/bass-fishes-pictures/detailed-underwater-photo-of-smallmouth-bass-fish-micropterus-dolomieu.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24858275

    Smallmouth bass are a warm-water-loving species, hanging out in the top part of the water column, which is warmed by the sun. Until recently, the intakes for turbines at Glen Canyon Dam had been lower in the water column, where colder temperatures kept the fish away. But as the lake level falls, the warmer water band containing the smallmouth bass is sinking closer to the intakes, making it more likely that they will pass through the dam to the river below.

    Warmer water below the dam also means a more ideal environment for the bass, which thrive in temperatures above 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius).

    “With the levels we are expecting to get to this coming year, water temperatures are going to be warmer than they’ve been in 52 years in the Grand Canyon,” said Charles Yackulic, a research statistician with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center.

    The research center has been modeling the likelihood that smallmouth bass will become established below the dam under different scenarios and providing that information to decision-makers and water managers.

    Jack Schmidt, a Colorado River researcher at Utah State University and former director of the research center, co-wrote — along with Yackulic and others — a March 2021 paper that sounded the alarm that future warming is likely to disproportionately benefit nonnative fish species to the detriment of native species. The problem from which all others stem, including the changing fish communities, and the reason Powell is so low in the first place is the climate-change-driven supply-demand imbalance, Schmidt said.

    Annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, by world region

    “If we are going to continue to load the atmosphere with carbon such that the atmosphere warms and the runoff in the Colorado River keeps getting lower and if we are going to keep consuming water, … then you can only play this game of staving off the inevitable for so long before it’s game over,” he said.

    Navajo Dam operations update (June 11, 2022): Bumping releases to 500 cfs on June 13th #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Aerial image of entrenched meanders of the San Juan River within Goosenecks State Park. Located in San Juan County, southeastern Utah (U.S.). Credits Constructed from county topographic map DRG mosaic for San Juan County from USDA/NRCS – National Cartography & Geospatial Center using Global Mapper 12.0 and Adobe Illustrator. Latitude 33° 31′ 49.52″ N., Longitude 111° 37′ 48.02″ W. USDA/FSA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, and a declining flow forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for Monday, June 13th, at 4:00 AM.

    Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    #Palisade hatchery program releases 250 endangered fish into #ColoradoRiver — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver

    Screen shot from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program website August 28, 2021:

    Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Nathan Deal). Here’s an excerpt:

    Students in Palisade High School’s fish hatchery program released the fish at Riverbend Park on Wednesday, the culmination of a full school year of taking care of the fish until they were ready to live in the river.

    http://https://twitter.com/LaPolicy/status/1522264296239079425

    Some students, as well as Palisade teacher and fish hatchery coordinator Patrick Steele, even planted farewell kisses on some of the Razorback Suckers before releasing them into their permanent home…

    At the beginning of the school year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Culturist Mike Gross, also the information and education coordinator with Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, brings the razorback suckers to the school, where students care for the fish under Steele’s guidance…

    Because razorback suckers are on the Endangered Species List, by law, the Colorado River District and the Upper Colorado River District have to allow a certain amount of water to flow through the river in order to create enough space for these fish to live in a new habitat safely.

    “That helps water flow downriver, keeping it out of reservoirs and things like that, being able to then keep our canals full to irrigate and so forth,” Steele said. “It really is a great partnership between our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the fish recovery program they run, our irrigation district, our cultural groups and farmers. It’s pretty neat that all those entities need to get together to keep these endangered species rolling and fish flowing through our river.”

    Report: Insights Gained on Agricultural #Water #Conservation for Water Security in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin — Hutchins Water Center #COriver #aridification

    Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

    Click the link to read the report on the Hutchins Water Center website (Hannah Holm). Here’s the introduction:

    A series of hot, dry years in the Upper Colorado River Basin has led to increasing concern about the security of water supplies at region-wide and local scales for the following purposes and sectors:

    • Maintaining compact compliance and preventing Lake Powell’s water level from dropping too low to generate power.
    • Maintaining agricultural production and the vitality of rural communities.
    • Maintaining municipal and industrial water security.
    • Maintaining river ecosystems.

    Without a strategic, collaborative approach to addressing these issues, there is a risk that individual entities will act independently to secure their water supplies against climate and legal uncertainties. This could lead to more permanent transfers from agriculture, with detrimental impacts on rural communities and unpredictable impacts on river ecosystems.

    Over the past several years, there have been numerous explorations into new approaches to meeting community and environmental needs in the Upper Basin, including deliberate, temporary, and compensated reductions in water use in order to help balance supply and demand in the Colorado River system, share water supplies between agriculture and cities, and aid troubled streams.

    This report distills insights from these explorations that can help illuminate how such deliberate, temporary reductions in water use could play a role in:

    • Enhancing long-term water security for farms, municipalities, industries and rivers in the Upper Basin (upstream objectives).
    • Compact compliance and protection of power generation capacity in Lake Powell (downstream objectives).

    In this report, the term “strategic conservation” will be used to describe these deliberate reductions in water use to meet specific goals.

    The insights covered in this report focus on the following topics:

    • Water user interest
    • Agronomic impacts of reducing water use
    • Monitoring and verification of saved water
    • Shepherding and conveyance of conserved water
    • Pricing considerations
    • Environmental considerations
    • Additional considerations

    For each topic, key insights and remaining uncertainties are highlighted and illustrative research, experiences and resources are described. Links to documentation are provided wherever possible.

    Reclamation releases blueprint for implementation of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2022

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Robert Manning):

    The Bureau of Reclamation today submitted its initial spend plan for fiscal year 2022 funding allocations authorized in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the U.S. Congress. This spend plan represents a blueprint for how Reclamation will invest in communities to address drought across the West as well as greater water infrastructure throughout the country. Reclamation will be provided $1.66 billion annually to support a range of infrastructure improvements for fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

    “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “Reclamation’s funding allocation for 2022 is focused on developing lasting solutions to help communities tackle the climate crisis while advancing environmental justice.”

    “The Bureau of Reclamation serves as the water and power infrastructure backbone for the American West. The law represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our infrastructure while promoting job creation,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “The funding identified in this spend plan is the first-step in implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and will bolster climate resilience and protect communities through a robust investment in infrastructure.”

    The FY 2022 spend plan allocations include:

  • $420 million for rural water projects that benefit various Tribal and non-Tribal underserved communities by increasing access to potable water.
  • $245 million for WaterSMART Title XVI that supports the planning, design, and construction of water recycling and reuse projects.
  • $210 million for construction of water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance project infrastructure.
  • $160 million for WaterSMART Grants to support Reclamation efforts to work cooperatively with states, Tribes, and local entities to implement infrastructure investments to increase water supply.
  • $100 million for aging infrastructure for major repairs and rehabilitation of facilities.
  • $100 million for safety of dams to implement safety modifications of critical infrastructure.
  • $50 million for the implementation of Colorado River Basin drought contingency plans to support the goal of reducing the risk of Lake Mead and Lake Powell reaching critically low water levels.
  • $18 million for WaterSMART’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program for watershed planning and restoration projects for watershed groups.
  • $15 million for Research and Development’s Desalination and Water Purification Program for construction efforts to address ocean or brackish water desalination.
  • $8.5 million for Colorado River Basin Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation Programs.
  • Detailed information on the programs and funding provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the FY 2022 BIL Spend Plan and materials from recent stakeholder listening sessions are available at http://www.usbr.gov/bil.

    Federal Funding Provides Some Wins for #Water #Conservation and Birds in the West — The Audubon Society

    American Dipper, Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo: Troy Gruetzmacher/Audubon Photography Awards

    Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Caitlin Wall):

    In March, Congress passed and President Biden signed a federal spending bill that will fund the government through September 30, 2022. Overall, the funding is a win for conservation and provides helpful increases for programs that address climate change, build community resilience, and protect birds and wildlife. Compared with four years of drastic funding cuts implemented from 2016-2020, this bill sets the stage for a positive trend in federal funding for the environment.

    One bright spot is the (at least) $1.25 million included for Saline Lakes science, a key Audubon priority. In addition to this startup funding, Audubon is hopeful that Congress works to pass the bipartisan Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act and additional appropriations for this critical assessment and monitoring program.

    For the Colorado River, the spending bill is a bit of a mixed bag. The Cooperative Watershed Management Program received only $5 million, which is a slight increase over the $4.25 million it received last year, but far below our request of $20 million. However, this program received a huge boost in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—$200 million over five years. And the relatively new Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program received only $100,000 in Fiscal Year (FY)22, but will benefit from $250 million over five years in IIJA funding. These programs fund multi-benefit projects that support rivers, wetlands, communities, and water users and we are hopeful they continue to receive additional funding in future years. Audubon urges Congress to continue boosting annual funding for programs like these. Coupled with the historic amounts of funding in the IIJA, the river is receiving an influx of funding over the next few years to address the ongoing drought and water challenges.

    Yuma desalting plant. Photo credit: USBR

    We were also pleased to see that funding for the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant was prohibited by the omnibus bill. Audubon remains opposed to the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant, and encourages Congress to continue prohibiting appropriations for this purpose, as it would decimate irreplaceable bird habitat in the Colorado River Delta, particularly in the Ciénega de Santa Clara. And, the Lower Colorado River Basin received $25 million to implement the Drought Contingency Plans (DCP); this critical funding is in addition to $250 million in the IIJA, pointing to ongoing interest in ensuring these plans are implemented effectively.

    For the Department of Agriculture, several important conservation programs were fully funded (meaning they received no cuts)—these include the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). RCPP promotes innovative regional approaches to improve the health of working landscapes and rivers with partner-driven, multi-benefit projects. EQIP promotes the voluntary application of land use practices to maintain or improve the condition of natural resources, including grassland health, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Both of these helps support overall watershed health and build the resilience of these ecosystems.

    The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

    Finally, the FY22 spending bill included Congressionally Directed Spending projects (previously known as earmarks) for the first time in many years. Audubon supported numerous project requests, and was pleased to see $2.546 million for a Salton Sea Research Project, secured by Representative Vargas. And, Representative Stanton secured $1.841 million for the Tres Rios project in Arizona, which Audubon also supported.

    Audubon looks forward to the implementation of this funding for on-the-ground conservation activities, habitat restoration projects, and community resilience efforts. Federal dollars are critical to addressing climate change and the ongoing Western drought and aridification. Protecting watersheds protects people and birds, particularly in the West.

    Looking ahead, President Biden released his FY23 budget on March 28, which initiated the appropriations process for the rest of this fiscal year. While the budget is only a statement of priorities and Congress will decide the actual spending amounts, Audubon was pleased to see investments for clean energy research, a civilian conservation corps, and equity initiatives to help historically marginalized communities.

    The budget appropriates $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the West’s major waterways. This funding would include $2.254 million for the Cooperative Watershed Management Program and $500,000 for the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program. Audubon urges Congress to fully fund these programs at $20 million and $15 million, respectively. Audubon also supports a full $5 million for the Saline Lakes science program at USGS, to build upon the initial investment made last year. We will be working with our partners to support other conservation programs and projects for FY23, and help continue this positive trend in funding.

    Audubon urges the Administration and Congress to continue increasing funding amounts for programs that restore habitat, build community resilience, combat climate change and its devastating effects, and protect the places that people and birds need.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 300 cfs April 5, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamationk (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs for Tuesday, April 5th, at 4:00 AM.

    Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    Desert hydrology: Science Moab highlights talks with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

    Click the link to read the article on the Moab Sun News website (Science Moab). Here’s an excerpt:

    In the desert, few issues are as crucial as water. As a historic megadrought continues in the West, water usage is at the top of mind for many scientists. Hydrologists can help us understand how and when to enact new water policies. In this week’s column, Science Moab highlights important messages from conversations with hydrologists, speaking with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist.

    Science Moab: Are we bound by water usage policies enacted years ago? If nature can’t sustain those, what then?

    Eric Kuhn: One hundred years ago, we had some flexibility because the river was not very well-used. Today, not a drop of the Colorado River reaches the Gulf of California, so we don’t have that luxury. The way I look at it is: we legally allocated water based on an assumption that this river system had about 20 million acre-feet. Today, we think it’s more like 13, and it might be less in the future with climate change. Predictions and models show that increasing temperatures are going to reduce flows to the Colorado River. The drama is not how much water we’re going to have in the future — we know it’s going to be less. The drama is how we’re going to decide who gets less water, and when…

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Science Moab: At the start of 2021, Lake Powell was at 41% of its capacity. Why should we be so concerned that Lake Powell levels continue to fall to all-time lows?

    Brian Richter: Lake Powell serves three really important benefits. One is that it generates hydropower from the Glen Canyon Dam, which provides electricity throughout the southwestern United States. Two, Lake Powell is important for tourism, which is impacted by falling water levels. But by far the biggest concern is that if Lake Powell drops by another 85 feet — and for reference, the lake level dropped by more than 30 feet in 2020 — then the lake will drop below the hydropower outlets, so all the electricity production out of Glen Canyon Dam will stop. But even worse is that it will become physically impossible to move enough water into the Lower Basin states to provide for their water needs.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    #Nebraska canal project targets #Colorado clears key hurdle — DenverChannel.com #SouthPlatteRiver

    Ovid, entering from the east on U.S. Route 138. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56445787

    Click the link to read the article on TheDenverChannel.com website (Via the Associated press: Grant Schulte). Here’s an excerpt:

    State lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill that would allow Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources to lay the groundwork for the estimated $500 million canal…The measure advanced, 36-3, through the first of three required votes in the Legislature despite skepticism from some lawmakers about whether the canal is necessary.

    Canal, lake bills get committee approval in #Nebraska Legislature — The Omaha World-Herald #SouthPlatteRiver

    Whooping crane adult and chick. Credit: USGS (public domain)

    Click the link to read the article on The Omaha World-Herald (Sara Gentzler):

    A canal to bring in water from Colorado and a large lake between Omaha and Lincoln both inched one step closer to reality Friday, but both proposals remain awash in questions.

    Gov. Pete Ricketts has backed the water-related initiatives. Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee voted to advance bills laying the groundwork for each of them on Friday, and the Appropriations Committee approved a fraction of the $500 million the governor requested to fund the canal project.

    Legislative Bill 1015 would give the Department of Natural Resources the authority to build and maintain a canal and reservoir system to divert water from the South Platte River in Colorado for use in Nebraska. Under a compact that’s nearly a century old, the canal would allow the state to claim up to 500 cubic feet per second of water for irrigation between Oct. 15 and April 1.

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Navajo Dam operations update (February 26, 2022): Bumping releases from Navajo Dam to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for tomorrow, Saturday, February 26th, at 4:00 AM.

    Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html

    As #Warming and #Drought Increase, A New Case for Ending Big Dams: “Climate change is, first of all, a story about water” — Yale Environment 360 #ActOnClimate

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Click on the link to read the article on Yale Environment 360 (Jacques Leslie):

    The argument against major hydropower projects — ravaged ecosystems and large-scale displacement of people — is well known. But dam critics now say that climate change, bringing dried-up reservoirs and increased methane releases, should spell the end of big hydropower.

    As the hydroelectric dam industry tries to reposition itself as a climate change solution, more and more evidence shows that climate change actually undermines the case for hydro dams.

    Gone are the days when hydropower was considered the predominant engine of the world economy, leading a tenfold increase⁠ in global energy production over the twentieth century. Now its advocates portray it as a complement to wind and solar energy, a necessary source of steady output to balance wind and solar’s intermittent generation — and therefore a key component in the battle to limit climate change.

    Hydroelectric Dam

    One reason for the industry’s shift in strategy is that newly installed global capacity in hydropower lags far behind new wind and solar capacity, and declined each year from 2013 to 2019⁠, with only a slight uptick in 2020. Another reason is that if hydropower is accepted as a tool for combating climate change, hydro developers would have a better chance of qualifying for financial support from governments and international institutions — all possessing funds they need for their pricey projects. With the ongoing United Nations conference on climate change in Glasgow in mind, Eddie Rich, chief executive officer of the International Hydropower Association (IHA), said recently that because of hydropower’s purported climate change-fighting attributes, his group seeks “appropriate support in the form of tax relief or concessional loans to ensure projects are bankable, as well as streamlining the approval process.”

    Since the late 1980’s, this waterfall formed from interactions among Lake Powell reservoir levels and sedimentation that redirected the San Juan River over a 20-foot high sandstone ledge. Until recently, little was known about its effect on two endangered fishes. Between 2015-2017, more than 1,000 razorback sucker and dozens of Colorado pikeminnow were detected downstream of the waterfall. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    But the IHA faces an uphill battle in overcoming dams’ well-established liabilities — including ravaging the ecosystems of at least two-thirds of the world’s major rivers and upending the lives of hundreds of millions of people living both upstream and downstream from dams. Climate change further weakens the case for hydroelectric dams by intensifying droughts that increasingly hamper electricity production and by boosting evaporation from reservoirs as temperatures rise. In the pre-climate change era, plentiful methane emissions from some reservoirs might have been considered inconsequential, but now they are a major source of concern.

    The just-completed 2021 World Hydropower Congress — whose theme was “Renewables Working Together” ⁠— ended with the announcement of the “San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower,” a document that affirms the industry’s commitment to best practices, including careful consultation with communities threatened by dam construction, responsible management of biodiversity impacts, and a long-overdue ban on projects in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The document has been endorsed by at least 40 governments and such luminaries as Tony Blair, former British prime minister, and Malcolm Turnbull, former Australian prime minister.

    But there is ample evidence that the IHA’s efforts amount chiefly to greenwashing, portraying the industry as socially and environmentally sensitive while carrying out business as usual. For all its gaudy rhetoric, the San José Declaration contains vague and untested enforcement mechanisms⁠, and it remains unlikely that IHA member companies would be disciplined for violating its provisions.