Plans for 264-foot dam above #LittleSnakeRiver spur conflict — WyoFile #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The upper reaches of Haggarty Creek on the Medicine Bow National Forest. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Angus M. Thuermer):

Above the Colorado-Wyoming border, the Sierra Madre Mountain snowpack holds water that ranchers say flows downstream too fast. Some question whether a proposed 10,000-acre-foot reservoir is pork or progress.

As officials this week outline plans for a 264-foot-high concrete dam proposed for a wooded canyon in the Medicine Bow National Forest, irrigators and critics remain divided over the project’s benefits and impacts. The two sides disagree whether the estimated $80-million structure and accompanying 130-acre reservoir are pork or progress, boon or bane.

Federal officials begin receiving public comments on the proposed dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek in Carbon County as ranchers and environmentalists disagree over whether 450,000 cubic yards of concrete should plug a forested gorge and whether federal and state agencies are conducting environmental examinations appropriately. In what one official admitted is a complex process with parallel reviews, two federal agencies will make key findings to resolve the project’s fate.

The federal Natural Resource Conservation Service will examine dam construction and alternatives in an environmental impact statement. Meantime, the U.S. Forest Service will launch a separate “feasibility study” to decide whether it should take part in an estimated 6,282-acre land exchange facilitating construction of the dam. The study will determine whether trading the federal dam site to Wyomining “is in the best interest of the American public,” Medicine Bow spokesman Aaron Voos said.

Proponents want the dam and reservoir to yield 6,500 acre-feet of late-season irrigation for between 67-100 irrigators in Wyoming and Colorado. The 10,000 acre-foot impoundment would hold 1,500 acre-feet as a minimum bypass flow for fish and wildlife. The state would pay for most of the estimated $80 million cost, a figure calculated in 2017.

“We would like to have a project here because it’s good for our valley,” said Pat O’Toole, a former state representative who ranches along the Little Snake River. “The public interest is clearly that the storage project [aids] biodiversity” and boosts food production while creating “a really healthy landscape.”

[…]

The land exchange is an end-run around environmental reviews, he said, an assertion dam supporters and review agencies reject. [Gary] Wockner is worried that Medicine Bow officials won’t apply the same scrutiny to the land exchange that they would to the construction of a dam on National Forest property, he said. Building on federal land would require a more extensive review, he said, echoing dam backers’ own public statements.

Medicine Bow spokesman Voos rejected the assertion his agency is shirking its responsibilities. It is speculation to assert what level of review a proposal to build the dam on federal property would require, he said.

Wyoming agrees the process is sound. “It wouldn’t limit the environmental review at all,” Jason Crowder, deputy director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, told WyoFile.

In addition to its public-interest swap determination, the Medicine Bow is participating in a separate environmental impact review and statement — conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that will consider environmental and social impacts of dam and reservoir construction and operation. All that “satisfies the environmental review requirements for the land exchange,” Voos said.

Dwindling basin flows

At the upper reaches of the Colorado River Basin, where dwindling flows put seven Western states and Mexico at odds over historic and future use, the project comes at an uneasy time. It will test Wyoming’s willingness to impound and use what it believes river laws allow, despite an arid landscape of dwindling Colorado River flows, oversubscribed demands, climate change and growth.

Federal regulations state that a land exchange can take place only if the public interest “will be well served.”

One benefit to the Medicine Bow could be acquiring 640 acres of state-owned school-trust sections inside the national forest. “Quite a few of them are either in or adjacent to [a] wilderness area or roadless areas,” said Jonathan Bowler, watermaster for the Savery-Little Snake River Water Conservancy District.

Little Snake River agricultural lands along the Colorado-Wyoming border. Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

“The public could potentially see an expansion of roadless and wilderness in those areas,” he said.

The reservoir itself would flood land within about a half mile of the boundary of the Medicine Bow’s 31,057-acre Huston Park Wilderness Area, according to maps.

Bowler outlined other ways existing irrigation aids the environment; the dam would expand those benefits.

“You’ve got hundreds of ranchers pretty much doing the work of beavers to build riparian areas and habitat,” he said. Such irrigation-induced wetlands today cover more than 7,000 acres in the area, he said.

Birds and water at Bosque de Apache New Mexico November 9, 2022. Photo credit: Abby Burk

Irrigation aids amphibians and species like sandhill cranes that migrate to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, he said. “Our irrigation actually directly benefits that mating grounds down there that’s quite a tourist attraction.” Elk and other wildlife benefit from the open private land, he said.

Irrigation “basically fills up the soil … the largest reservoir that we have,” he said. When that moisture starts coming back out to the river, “that means that our rivers are higher [in] flow [in] late summer, early fall than historically they were.”

Wyoming calculates those returning flows — about 45% of what’s diverted onto fields — as water that can be used for irrigation again and counted as a benefit, according to a Water Development Office study.

“That late-season irrigation especially can help cool down river temperatures, which helps to provide for those big game populations as well as fish and other wildlife,” Bowler said.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

The dam also could benefit Colorado River cutthroat trout because it would be an upstream barrier to competitors, helping fisheries managers enlarge a sanctuary for the species in and above the reservoir.

Said O’Toole, “this is may be as conservation-minded a place I know of in the western United States.”

Environmental review

…Wyoming wants 1,700 acres of Forest Service land for the dam and would analyze the value of between 2,024 and 4,400 acres of Wyoming school-trust land inside the Medicine Bow for the trade. Public announcements differ over the state acreage to be considered for trade.

The valley in which the West Fork dam and reservoir would be constructed. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

State and federal officials agree a land swap would make approval of the 130-acre reservoir easier. Wyoming’s exchange request states that a land swap “would eliminate the need for a USFS special use permit.”

Federal land ownership of the dam site “adds millions of dollars to that [permitting] process,” Harry LaBonde, former director of the WWDO told lawmakers in 2018. “Dealing with the Forest Service … very much complicates the NEPA process,” he said, and an exchange “very much streamlines” potential development.

Dam proponents “were running into a bit of a roadblock with Forest Service on Forest-Service-managed land,” OSLI Deputy Director Crowder told the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners in 2021.

The Medicine Bow told Wyoming officials that building on federal, not state, land “would not be the best approach just due to all the regulations that would come along with a [required] special use permit,” Voos said in an interview. “And so I think that [land swap] has been our suggestion.”

The value of exchanged parcels can be balanced by adjusting the acreage or paying for a difference, according to Wyoming’s proposal.

Any increase in federal acreage — the state offered 4,400 acres for analysis and potential trade for 1,700 acres of Medicine Bow land — could run afoul of Carbon County’s Natural Resource Management Plan. That plan supports valuable exchanges but also calls for “no net loss of private or state lands in exchange for federal lands.”

Gov. Mark Gordon, too, “is not supportive of the federal government expanding their [sic] estate in Wyoming,” Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told WyoFile when the governor protested the 35,670-acre conservation purchase of the private Marton Ranch along the North Platte River last year.

Of the 1,700 acres of Medicine Bow property Wyoming would acquire, the state wants 1,336 acres for the dam and reservoir itself and another 426 acres covering parts of Haggarty Creek and the Belvidere Ditch, site of a water spatamong area irrigators.

Owning all the property would “provide for the efficient operation of the reservoir and surrounding lands,” the state said in its land-swap proposal.

The state would lease the newly acquired land to the Water Development Commission, which would eventually transfer ownership to Carbon County or some other entity, according to plans. That final owner would be responsible for compensating the school trust — whose land the state would trade away.

A mining company that owns land at the reservoir site also would be involved with the project. American Milling LP of Cahokia, Illinois owns about 124 acres inside the national forest at the proposed site of the reservoir. The Carbon County assessor lists the market value of the property, site of mineral claims, at $40,675. Wyoming would presumably have to acquire that property too, or somehow arrange for it to be flooded.

WyoFile did not receive a response to a certified letter sent to the company seeking comment on Wyoming’s plans to inundate the private land.

Equal values

The Forest Service must show that values and public objectives of the state parcels “equal or exceed” those that would be swapped, regulations state. Medicine Bow land that would become the dam site must “not substantially conflict with established management objectives on adjacent Federal lands,” the Forest Service said.

Medicine Bow officials last week couldn’t immediately outline those objectives.

A WWDO study, however, listed the benefits of a new dam, saying it would generate $73.7 million in public benefits. Reservoir releases would be coordinated with those from the High Savery Dam.

A fish barrier on Haggarty Creek provides an upstream sanctuary for Colorado River cutthroat trout. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Critics have questioned the accounting of benefits, including rosy projections for recreational revenue and the acreage that would benefit from irrigation.

The cost/benefit ratio allows the state to reduce the required contributions from irrigation districts from the typical 33% to 8% of construction costs.

Wyoming, however, has seen costs for dam construction increase dramatically in recent years, potentially upsetting the cost/benefit ratio. The environmental review will update those figures, Jason Mead, interim director of the WWDO, wrote in an email.

Construction would require an estimated 450,000 cubic yards of concrete, according to an application to appropriate water filed with the state engineer in 2014. The Forest Service public-interest determination and separate NRCS environmental impact statement seek to examine the construction plan through two separate reviews.

A 70-step process 

The parallel review process is complex, Voos said. The Medicine Bow is engaged with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a larger analysis of the dam’s environmental and social impact. Other state and federal agencies also are involved.

The separate Forest Service public-interest decision is entwined in that process, both to be explained at public meetings in the region on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The public-interest determination, “that’s kind of a parallel process to the land exchange,” Voos said. “We are piggybacking in essence, on those public meetings,” to get comments on the swap.

“We have a full, almost … 70-step process that we have to go through for the land exchange,” Voos said. Reservoir construction on National Forest System lands “is not commonplace,” the Medicine Bow said in a statement.

After determining the public-interest benefit, “we proceed or don’t proceed with the rest of the land exchange process,” Voos said. The Forest Service is “not for or against the project.”

[…]

Interested parties can read a legal notice published by the NRCS or weigh in online, by post or hand-delivery. The comments go to the NRCS, which will forward relevant land-swap ones to the Forest Service, Voos said. Meetingsoutlining the scope of the analysis and potential alternatives will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Craig, Colorado, and Baggs and Saratoga respectively.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Bipartisan bill aims to extend protections of endangered fish: Upper #ColoradoRiver and #SanJuanRiver Basins Recovery Act targets preservation of native species — The #Durango Herald #COriver #aridification

Endangered Razorback sucker. Photo credit: Reclamation

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Megan K. Olsen). Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Mitt Romney, along with Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, have teamed up to ensure the continuation of conservation programs aimed at protecting native and endangered fish species through the Upper Colorado and San Juan Basins Recovery Act. The recovery act has been included with the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Government Funding Bill that has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting approval from President Joe Biden…

The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Recovery Programs are set to expire on Sept. 30. The recovery act would extend any programs that currently study, monitor and stock four endangered fish species of the Upper Colorado and San Juan rivers through the end of 2024…

{Senator] Romney also showed interest in the impact of human activity and climate change on the Colorado River and its native species in 2021, when he went on a rafting trip with Sen. Michael Bennett and the Colorado River Commissioner and director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Becky Mitchell.

Navajo Dam operations update January 3, 2023: Bumping down to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation Susan Novak Behery:

In response to sufficient 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, January 3rd, 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.

Sambrito Wetlands restoration project beginning in January at Navajo State Park — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife #SanJuanRiver

The Sambrito Wetlands at Navajo State Park will undergo a project to restore 34 acres of the wetlands and streamside habitat beginning the first week of January. John Livingston/CPW

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (John Livingston):

A project to restore an additional 34 acres of wetland and streamside habitat is set to begin its final phase in January at the Sambrito Wetlands Complex at Navajo State Park. The area will be closed to the public during construction and will be well marked with closure signs.

This project, coordinated by the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited, will bring to life the vision of a myriad of partners who have participated in various planning efforts for the project during the last decade.

“We are happy to see this project come to fruition after multiple years of work and planning,” said CPW Deputy Southwest Region Manager Heath Kehm. “Through the work of key partners and funding through several grants, we are eager to see this area of Navajo State Park restored for the benefit of wildlife, wildlife viewing and waterfowl hunting here in southwest Colorado.”

The Sambrito Wetlands are on federal land owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and managed under agreement by CPW. Sambrito is part of a wetland complex in Colorado that was enhanced to benefit wildlife during construction of Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.

Since its construction, the water infrastructure and ditches have fallen into disrepair, resulting in diminished environmental and recreational benefits.

In 2012, CPW commissioned a management plan that identified several areas where infrastructure improvements could be made to restore wetland function and increase recreational opportunities. In 2013, CPW funded an initial phase of work which was completed in 2016.

This current project will continue and complete all work identified in the management plan published in 2013 to restore the Sambrito Wetlands to full functionality.

The Sambrito and adjacent Miller Mesa Wetlands Complex were intensively managed for wildlife between 1964 and 1993 through habitat improvements, food production units and wetland creation and enhancements. However, the complexes were not as actively managed in the intervening years and became dilapidated because of limited resources.

The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus) is native to the southern Rocky Mountains. It is 7 to 9 inches long including its tail, which is more than half of its length. The mouse is a jumper, making use of its inch-long back feet. It lives among dense, tall, herbaceous (non-woody) plants that are next to flowing streams and eats a variety of plant material, such as grass seeds and flowers. Photo credit: National Park Service

The current project will reinvigorate waterfowl habitat and improve recreational opportunities by renovating and repairing the existing water diversion and conveyance system, which will deliver water from West Sambrito Creek (Vallejo Arroyo) to five wetland impoundments. The project will also restore hydrologic functions to a section of West Sambrito Creek and potentially benefit the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

Strategies to avoid and minimize impacts to the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and its habitat guided development of the project, and Bureau Reclamation staff will be onsite to monitor construction activities occurring in critical habitat.

Ducks Unlimited designed and engineered the wetland improvements and will lead as the project manager. Geringer Construction, a contractor from the San Luis Valley experienced in wetland restoration, will work on the project from early winter through spring 2023.

“We are very excited to move forward with this project,” said John Denton, Colorado Manager of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. “The habitat improvement work in this unique and important wetland complex will highlight this great conservation partnership and will pay dividends for wildlife and the public for years to come.”

CPW will provide any ongoing management and maintenance for the wetlands.

Funding for this project has come through the Colorado Water Conservation Board Water Supply Reserve Fund grant, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant and the CPW Colorado Wetlands and Wildlife Program grant.

The Southwest Wetlands Focus Area Committee has also been a champion for the project through its continued leadership and support.

CPW’s ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Wetlands for Wildlife Program is a voluntary, collaborative and incentive-based program to restore, enhance and create wetlands and riparian areas in Colorado. Funds are allocated annually to the program, and projects are recommended for funding by a CPW committee with final approval by the Director.

For more about the CPW wetlands project funding, go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/WetlandsProjectFunding.aspx

Navajo State Park is a major recreational facility in southwest Colorado, drawing more than 300,000 visitors every year. The 2,100-acre park offers boating, fishing, trails, wildlife viewing, 138 camp sites and three cabins.

#Cop15: historic deal struck to halt biodiversity loss by 2030: Agreement on ’30 by 30’ target forced through by Chinese president, ignoring objections from African states — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

he Cop15 agreement in Montreal is the culmination of more than four years of negotiations. Photograph: Julian Haber/Courtesy of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Click the link to read the key points from COP15 from The Guardian website (Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston). Here’s an excerpt:

Main points of the historic agreement signed in Montreal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems

The Kunming-Montreal pact is a series of agreements that range from scientific cooperation to human-wildlife conflict. Here are the main points at a glance in the once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems.

Agreement to conserve 30% of Earth by the end of the decade

Inspired by the Harvard biologist EO Wilson’s vision of protecting half the planet for the long-term survival of humanity, the most high-profile target at Cop15 has inspired and divided in equal measure. The final wording commits governments to conserving nearly a third of Earth for nature by 2030 while respecting indigenous and traditional territories in the expansion of new protected areas…

Indigenous rights at the heart of conservation

Indigenous peoples are mentioned 18 times in this decade’s targets to halt and reverse biodiversity, something to which activists are pointing as a historic victory. Several scientific studies have shown that Indigenous peoples are the best stewards of nature, representing 5% of humanity but protecting 80% of Earth’s biodiversity…

Reform of environmentally harmful subsidies

Definitely in the category of boring-but-important, the world spends at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on government subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a study earlier this year…

Nature disclosures for businesses

Although the language was watered down in the final text, target 15 of the deal requires governments to ensure that large and transnational companies disclose “their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity”…

A way forward on digital biopiracy

Ahead of Cop15, digital sequence information (DSI) was the controversial hot potato – and something few really understood. DSI refers to digitised genetic information that we get from nature, which is used frequently to produce new drugs, vaccines and food products. These digital forms of biodiversity come from rainforests, peatlands, coral reefs and other rich ecosystems, but they are hard to trace back to their origin country, with many in the developing world now expecting payment for the use of their resources.

Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments appear to have signed a once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems, but the agreement seems to have been forced through by the Chinese president, ignoring the objections of some African states…In an extraordinary plenary that began on Sunday evening and lasted for more than seven hours, countries wrangled over the final agreement. Finally, at about 3.30am local time on Monday, news broke that an agreement had been struck. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s negotiator appeared to block the final deal presented by China, telling the plenary that he could not support the agreement in its current form because it did not create a new fund for biodiversity, separate to the existing UN fund, the global environment facility (GEF). China, Brazil, Indonesia, India and Mexico are the largest recipients of GEF funding, and some African states wanted more money for conservation as part of the final deal. However, moments later, China’s environment minister and the Cop15 president, Huang Runqiu, signalled that the agreement was finished and agreed, and the plenary burst into applause…

Amid plummeting insect numbers, acidifying oceans filled with plastic waste, and the rampant overconsumption of the planet’s resources as humanity’s population grows wealthier and soars past 8 billion, the agreement, if implemented, could signal major changes to farming, business supply chains and the role of Indigenous communities in conservation. The deal was negotiated over two weeks and includes targets to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reform $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and restore 30% of the planet’s degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems. Governments also agreed urgent actions to halt human-caused extinctions of species known to be under threat and to promote their recovery. The deal follows scientific warnings that humans are causing the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, the largest loss of life since the time of the dinosaurs. Canada’s Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental campaigner turned minister, said the Kunming-Montreal pact was a “bold step forward to protect nature”.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, #NewMexico Interstate Stream Commission and The Nature Conservancy Enter Next Phase in Historic #Water Supply Agreement: Water expected to be released into the #SanJuanRiver in 2023 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Map credit: USBR

From email from the Nature Conservancy (Lindsay Schlageter and Maggie Fitzgerald):

Today [December 14, 2022] the Jicarilla Apache Nation (Nation), New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced the next phase in their Water Supply Agreement (agreement) that was reached earlier this year.  With final federal and state approvals secured, the NMISC has placed an order for all 20,000-acre feet of water and the Nation has approved and reserved the water to be released from Navajo Reservoir to the San Juan River in 2023. 

In January 2022, the partners signed a first-of-its-kind agreement that allows the NMISC to lease up to 20,000-acre feet of water per year (for 10 years) from the Nation to benefit threatened and endangered fish and increase water security for New Mexico. As the western US faces its driest period in 1,200 years, this agreement demonstrates how Tribal Nations and state governments can work on a sovereign-to-sovereign basis–with support from conservation organizations–to find collaborative solutions that benefit multiple interests and users of the San Juan and Colorado rivers.

“The Jicarilla Apache Nation looks forward to the implementation phase of this project and hopes that this transaction can serve as a model across the Basin for collaboration with conservation organizations, negotiation of arms-length sovereign-to-sovereign agreements, and development of creative solutions that serve multiple interests,” said Jicarilla Apache Nation President Edward Velarde.

The partners are exploring multiple options about when and how the water will be released in 2023. The decision on timing will be made by the lease agreement parties with input from scientists to determine the best outcome for endangered fish species. Scientists are working on a plan to monitor how the habitat for endangered fish reacts to the release and will use the information garnered to help make decisions for future releases. 

“The NMISC is pleased that we are able to support this important project through New Mexico’s Strategic Water Reserve,” said NMISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen. “We want to be sure we’ve carefully thought through the logistics of the first water release and seize the opportunity to measure benefits to the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow.”

This project will use the Nation’s water temporarily placed in the State of New Mexico’s Strategic Water Reserve for the two purposes of the Strategic Water Reserve:  1) to assist the State in complying with interstate stream compacts and court decrees, and 2) to assist the State and water users in water management efforts to benefit threatened or endangered species.

“The Colorado River is in an unprecedented crisis,” said Celene Hawkins, Colorado River tribal partnerships program director for The Nature Conservancy. “Communities must proactively work together, focusing on water conservation and management. This project is a step toward those goals, and we are thrilled to be a part of this great partnership.”

Lawsuit filed to protect #RioGrande silvery minnow from extinction — WildEarth Guardians

Click the link to read the release on the WildEarth Guardians website (Daniel Timmons):

WildEarth Guardians has filed a lawsuit seeking to hold federal agencies accountable for the continued decline of imperiled species in the Middle Rio Grande, including the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

The lawsuit filed today in the federal District of New Mexico, alleges that the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in violation of the Endangered Species Act and seeks a court order compelling the federal agencies to reassess the effects of water management activities on threatened and endangered species along the Rio Grande. If successful, Guardians’ lawsuit would require federal agencies to develop enforceable measures to ensure that dams and diversions in the Middle Rio Grande do not jeopardize the survival or recovery of imperiled species.

The Rio Grande is a critical artery of life through the desert of the American southwest. But a century of dams, diversions, and modifications have decimated this living river and driven numerous native species to extinction and others to the brink. Critical wildlife habitat in and along the Rio Grande has been impaired, threatening bird species such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo. And nearly 30 years after the silvery minnow was listed as endangered in 1994, this once-abundant fish remains perilously close to extinction. While federal, state, and local agencies have been working to protect and recover silvery minnow populations for decades, critically-low population levels show that new solutions are desperately needed.

“Fish need water. With the Rio Grande running dry through Albuquerque during the summer of 2022—for the first time in decades—it comes as little surprise that silvery minnow populations remain in crisis,” said Daniel Timmons, Wild Rivers Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It is time to move beyond band-aid solutions for the Middle Rio Grande and think holistically about how to save a living river and all the native species that call the river home.”

“With the climate crisis and aridification contributing to long-term changes in Rio Grande flows, federal water managers must recognize that the status quo is a recipe for extinction,” said Timmons. “Time is running out—not just for the silvery minnow, but for a living Rio Grande. If future generations of New Mexicans are to enjoy a living, flowing Rio Grande, a verdant bosque, and abundant fish and wildlife, we must come together and figure out new, sustainable solutions to meeting human needs for water for cities and farms, while protecting our environment.”

Rio Grande. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

Saving the #RioGrande Cutthroat Trout: Beavers show the way — @AlmosaCitizen

Construction of Beaver Dam analogue Photo courtesy of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Owen Woods):


THE Rio Grande cutthroat trout is the Rio Grande National Forest’s only native trout. It needs help. Biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Rio Grande National Forest are trying to bring the cutthroat back to its full glory, but they need help, too. So who do the humans look to for help?

Easy answer: Beavers. 

Jason Remshardt, wildlife and fisheries program manager for the Rio Grande National Forest, recently gave a presentation on the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. He is the only fish biologist in the RGNF. He talked about the effort to create and conserve habitat for the cutthroat, and how the answer might just come from nature’s finest engineers. 

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout used to exist in just about every part of the Rio Grande basin, but due to a wide range of circumstances, these fish only occupy a fraction of the area they used to. Part of conservation and successful reintroduction is habitat restoration. Right now, the experts are looking at nature’s experts. These projects are imitating “what the beaver dams are doing,” said Remshardt. 

These “Beaver Dam Analogues” or “Temporary Wood Grade Structures,” or TWGS, (pronounced like twigs), are designed to help back up water and create a lively wetland habitat that encourages healthy biodiversity not just for the cutthroat, but the entire ecosystem. 

“Beaver Dam Analogues” or “Temporary Wood Grade Structures,” or TWGS, (pronounced like twigs), are designed to help back up water and create a lively wetland habitat that encourages healthy biodiversity not just for the cutthroat, but the entire ecosystem. They are being employed in what’s called “Process-Based Restoration.” These man-made structures are relatively easy and straightforward to make. They are built with natural resources such as wooden posts, willow branches, aspen branches, and rocks. Though they are simple to create, Remshardt said “we’re not as good at building them” as the beavers. Photo courtesy Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project

“It’s a technique that’s become increasingly popular across the western U.S. within the last few years,” said Connor Born, project manager for the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. 

The man-made structures can help to create a more complex habitat that encourages a healthier fish population. Born says that this can mean “deeper pools that serve as low-flow refuge and slower moving water for younger fish. The structures can also benefit surrounding vegetation, provide fire breaks, increase stream shading, and grazing forage.” 

Cutthroat trout populations often live in smaller streams that don’t have much water. According to Born, “The structures can help attenuate water in these smaller streams to provide more consistent flow and temperature during periods of drought.”

Cat Creek near La Jara Reservoir once had populations of the cutthroat and beavers. For unclear reasons, the beavers left that area. Their departure, Born says, “paired with prolonged drought conditions, caused flows to become much more intermittent, eventually leading to the suspected die-off” of the cutthroat trout population there. 

So far, the groups undertaking this project have implemented 10 of these structures in the Rio Grande National Forest. Remshardt noted that “if they last for a few years, that’s great. If the beavers take them over, that’s great. If they disappear, then you haven’t lost that much. You’ve just lost like half a day’s work.” 

According to Born, the first 10 structures are in the headwaters of Saguache Creek in Saguache Park. There are 12 more ready for construction in the coming year that will be built along Big Springs Creek, a cutthroat stream near Saguache.

Born said that the restoration structures can function without beavers, but the organizations are hoping to find places where the two can combine forces. 

Beavers in the national forest are alive and thriving. Remshardt says that the RGNF is happy with current populations, but there is room for expansion and improvement. With that, the benefits of beaver dams create healthy, expansive wetlands. Beaver dams and habitats also make great fire breaks

These animals, however, are considered a nuisance species to certain areas of the Valley. Beavers can be troublesome to infrastructure like irrigation canals and roads. 

“There’s this stark contrast of existing as a pest species on the Valley floor while being highly beneficial up in the headwaters. The logical solution,” Born said, “is an efficient, legal, and humane way to translocate them to areas where their engineering is more appreciated and doesn’t impact infrastructure.”

Relocating the beavers pairs well with the restoration efforts. Born said that the structures may encourage beavers to stay in areas that “have habitat that would otherwise be too degraded.”

Remshardt says there’s plenty of space to relocate any problematic, or displaced wood-chopping rodents. 

“We’re ready to take them and we have places all over the forest to take them. Plenty of places we can put them,” Remshardt said. 

Identifying where beavers are and where beavers aren’t is a part of the job that requires a lot of work from a lot of people. Software like iNaturalist allows anyone to report animal sightings and tracks to help in identification. These reports can help biologists like Remshardt identify populations and locations to help further studies and surveys. 

Helping the beavers help us really boils down to, Remshardt said, the fact that “beavers are the best at doing their own work.”

Photo courtesy of Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project

Surveys and History

The largest effort for studying these fish are surveys. Remshardt said they conduct surveys on every population of RGCT about every five years. These surveys cover at least 40 streams in the national forest and take a large number of people to conduct. The surveys gather the number of fish and their sizes, take genetic samples, and conduct health surveys. 

Most of the streams and lakes are easy to access, but the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout lives in the alpine, too. Remshardt said almost every drainage and lake in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range has cutthroat populations. So, in order to keep these high mountain lakes stocked and healthy, they conduct High Mountain Lake Airplane Stocking. A video from CPW shows just how these operations are done. 

Conservation of the cutthroat, Remshardt said, remains the most intensive and expensive project. Ongoing research for more cutthroat introductions to expand them into their historic ranges is an ongoing and expansive effort. Currently, an effort to successfully reintroduce the cutthroat to the Sand Creek drainages at the Great Sand Dunes National Park is taking place. The project first started in 2005. 

The Rio Grande cutthroat is the only trout native to the San Luis Valley. Evidence suggests it was a native fish to Lake Alamosa 700,000 years ago. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

blog post by Trout Unlimited’s Rio Grande Basin project manager Kevin Terry breaks down the history of this project. You can also read the USGS’s in-depth report on this effort here.

CPW estimates that the RGCT occupies just 12 percent of its native habitat. Biologists estimate that 127 “conservation populations” exist in Colorado and New Mexico. The cutthroats’ range has seen a dramatic decrease over the last 150 years. Some of the factors that have led to this decline are habitat changes, climate change, drought, water quality, hybridization with non-native Rainbow Trout and other cutthroat trout species, as well as aggressive competition from Brown and Brook trout. 

Evidence suggests that the cutthroat trout thrived in healthy populations in Lake Alamosa, a lake that existed for over three million years. 

The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, US Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited “are hoping to identify both at-risk RGCT populations and future locations for reintroduction and enhance the habitat using these restoration techniques,” Born said.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Navajo Dam operations update (November 23, 2022): Bumping releases to 350 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to falling flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 350 cfs for today, November 23rd, 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. 

A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Biden-Harris Administration announces $20 million for environmental projects in five states: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds #ColoradoRiver endangered species recovery projects — Reclamation #COriver #CRWUA2022

Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Mary Carlson):

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced $20 million in funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for endangered species recovery and conservation in the Colorado River Basin. Project funding will support the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program and Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program.

“Our mission is to protect and manage water in an environmentally sound manner,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “This funding will help each of these programs to advance or complete projects to help protect species that are also feeling the impacts of drought.”

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program work to recover endangered and threatened fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin while water development proceeds in accordance with Federal and state laws and interstate compacts. The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program was created to balance the use of the Colorado River water resources in Arizona, California and Nevada with the conservation of native species and their habitats.

The selected projects are:

  • Colorado: $6.4 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and partner Grand Valley Irrigation Company to install a fish screen to reduce or prevent entrainment of fish species into the canal system. Rehabilitation efforts will increase the survival of threatened and endangered fish species while providing more reliable deliveries for water users.
  • Utah: $2.8 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to address needed repairs that will improve performance and efficiency of fish hatcheries in order to enhance production of threatened and endangered fish for stocking purposes.
  • Utah, Colorado, New Mexico: $800,000 for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to improve and expand endangered fish monitoring capabilities.
  • New Mexico: $3 million for the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program to provide expansion and enrichment facilities at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry Ponds and the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources Recovery Center, which will allow the Program to meet stocking objectives for endangered fish.
  • Arizona, California: $6 million for the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program to provide for dredging activities and equipment rental within the Section 26 Conservation Area and the design work for a power line extension needed within the Beal Lake Conservation Area.  Funding will also provide for equipment needed for backwater and marsh construction at both.  

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over the next five years to repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. In August, Reclamation announced an $8.5 million investment for the Lake Mead State Fish Hatchery as part of Colorado River endangered species recovery efforts.

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

The #GreatSaltLake’s ecological collapse has begun — The #SaltLake Tribune #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Click the link to read the article on The Salt Lake Tribune website (Leia Larsen). Here’s an excerpt:

Scientists note changes to the food web they’ve never seen before, which could lead to endangered species listings and other disasters at Utah’s famous natural wonder

The lake is known for thick, black clusters of brine flies by the billions, which pupate in its salty water then gather in dense mats to reproduce on shore. The insectile masses occasionally gross out beachgoers, but the bugs are harmless to humans. Crucially, they provide a nutrient-rich feast for millions of migrating birds. This year, however, the fly swarms are gone. And something’s off about the few bugs that remain. Scientists say it’s a sign the lake’s ecological demise is here…

“We don’t have clouds of flies around our ankles anymore,” biology professor Bonnie Baxter, who helms Westminster College’s Great Salt Lake Institute, told a group of researchers and lake-based industry experts late last month. “The flies don’t look right. They’re small. They’re behaving funny.”

Brine flies and brine shrimp are saline lakes’ most unique and charismatic endemic critters. They draw more than 10 million migrating shorebirds and waterfowl to the Great Salt Lake every year, from phalaropes to ducks to gulls to avocets. Now, the fly food web is all but gone, and things aren’t looking good for the shrimp, either.

The largest saline lake in the western hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake dropped to a record low in 2022 as a result of a hot drought that increased evaporation and decreased water flows. USGS technician at the Great Salt Lake July 20, 2021. Photo credit: USGS

State of the Birds Report United States of America 2022 — North American Bird Conservation Initiative

State of the Birds Report United States of America 2022 cover — North American Bird Conservation Initiative

From the report:

The 2022 State of the Birds report presents data on changes in bird populations across habitats of the United States in the past five decades. These changes are shown for the groups of breeding species that are most dependent on each habitat and for which long-term monitoring data are available.

Population rebounds of waterfowl show that when investments in habitat conservation are made, we can bring birds back. At the same time, continuing declines in other habitats show the critical need to restore ecosystems under stress.

The Birds of Conservation Concern (BCC) list, mandated by law and updated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, identifies 269 migratory nongame bird species that, without additional conser- vation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In this report, scientists with the Road to Recovery initiative have identified 70 Tipping Point species from the BCC and/or state lists of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. These birds have lost half or more of their populations in 50 years and are on a trajectory to lose another half in the next 50 years—or they already have small remaining populations and face high threats, but lack sufficient monitoring data (see page 16).

The following pages highlight the plight of birds in each habitat, with the pronounced declines of Tipping Point species shown in red, for species with sufficient data.

In addition to summaries of trends, this report also highlights conservation opportunities and successes in each biome, as examples of how actions that benefit birds create healthier environments for people and all life that depends on these shared habitats.

Western public lands are habitat for aridland birds: This map shows the cumulative range for 30 aridland bird species in North America, with the vast majority of that range falling within the boundaries of federal and state public lands. Source: Aridland bird data from Bird Conservation Regions, Bird Studies Canada and NABCI. Public lands map from GISGeography.com.

Click the link to read “More Than Half of U.S. Birds Are in Decline, Warns New Report” on the Audubon website (Margo Rosenbaum):

The Rufous Hummingbird, Greater Sage-Grouse, Pinyon Jay, and 67 other birds in the United States are teetering on the edge of disaster, having lost at least half of their populations in the past 50 years. A report released today [October 12, 2022] by North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) calls these birds “Tipping Point” species, on track to lose another 50 percent of their populations in the same time frame if conservation efforts do not improve.

Since 2009, NABCI has published a report every few years to track the health of breeding birds in habitats across the nation over the past five decades. The State of the Birds 2022 report for the United States focuses on the wane of bird populations across every habitat except wetlands. Among the groups in the fastest decline are grassland birds, such as Bobolinks and Mountain Plovers, which have shown a total 34 percent loss. Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrels, and other shorebirds aren’t far behind with populations down by 33 percent. Despite the dire situation, the report also emphasizes the success of 40 years of concerted wetland conservation: Waterfowl and waterbirds have surged 34 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

While some duck, goose, and swan populations are exploding, more than half of all U.S. bird species are dwindling. Without further efforts to restore ecosystems under stress, the report paints a grim future for birds in a nation where climate-intensified natural disasters and human-caused habitat loss and degradation continue to worsen. The report’s authors call on decision-makers to learn from the accomplishments of wetland restoration to save birds and boost climate resilience in other ecosystems.

“Protecting wildlife and biodiversity is something that everybody should be concerned with,” says Peter Marra, a 2022 State of the Birds science committee member and director of the Earth Commons at Georgetown University Institute for Environment and Sustainability. “Once we save birds, we’re going to save a lot of other species that we share the earth with.”

This year, 33 organizations and agencies, including the National Audubon Society, contributed to the report using data from five sources: the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Christmas Bird Count, the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, International Shorebird Surveys, and the American Woodcock Singing-ground Survey.

Compiling data from these reports, the authors illustrate how birds act as indicators of the overall health of the environment, informing policymakers and the public of vital conservation needs. “We really can’t respond or meet the challenges we’re facing to protect a healthy environment for us and for other species unless we really know the state that it’s in,” says co-chair of the report’s science committee, Amanda Rodewald, also the director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The 2022 State of the Birds report is the first overall assessment of the nation’s birds since a 2019 Science study indicating the United States and Canada have lost more than 3 billion birds in the past 50 years. “We’re basically watching the process of the sixth mass extinction,” says Marra, who is a co-author of the 2019 paper.

Swift conservation action can bring at-risk birds back from the brink of extinction. The report emphasizes the necessity of these efforts for 90 “On Alert” bird species, which lack Endangered Species Act listings but have lost half or more of their breeding populations in the past 50 years. Within this group, the 70 Tipping Point species are further identified as potentially losing half or more of their populations in another five decades. While there’s a range of urgency within this group, many of these birds are the next likely candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, which Rodewald calls “the last-ditch effort” to save a species. “We don’t want to get to the point of having to list species.”

Identifying Tipping Point birds allow conservation efforts to begin before a listing is necessary. “Why should we wait for them to get closer to extinction?” Marra says. “We need to figure out the problem much sooner than that.”

Nicole Michel, National Audubon’s director of quantitative science, points to the report’s emphasis on the success of waterfowl and waterbirds in recent decades as proof that conservation efforts work. It “gives us hope that we can similarly take action to reverse declines of other species, including these Tipping Point species,” she says. 

Underscoring such achievements can create tangible motivators but should not drive complacency, says Mike Brasher, co-chair of the report’s science committee and senior waterfowl scientist for Ducks Unlimited Inc. The American Black Duck, for example, is rebounding after a long decline, but not all waterbirds and ducks have healthy populations—Mottled Duck, Black Scoter, and King Eider are listed as Tipping Point species.

King eiders (male and female) in natural habitat in Alaska wildlife refuge. By Bergman, B (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) – http://www.fws.gov/digitalmedia/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/natdiglib&CISOPTR=3177&CISOBOX=1&REC=3, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10275659

“Although waterfowl populations have fared better than other birds or other bird groups, they’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” Brasher says. “The threats, and potential threats, facing them are intensifying.”

In habitats across the world, birds face challenges caused by climate change and human actions, such as expanding agriculture, unsustainable forest management, and introduced species. “Climate change is already impacting birds, and especially moving forward, it’s going to increasingly be a major, major threat to bird populations,” Michel says.

NABCI’s U.S. report comes on the heels of the equally distressing State of the World’s Birds published separately by Birdlife on September 29. This year’s report shows how close to half of the world’s bird species are decreasing and “the risk of species going extinct is escalating,” says Lucy Haskell, science officer for the world report. The United States is eighth globally for the greatest number of threatened species.

Despite the alarming findings of both reports, the authors remain hopeful. Advances in research and engagement of community scientists provide researchers with more information than ever before. Estimated at 45 million strong in the United States alone, a global “army of bird watchers” provides a steady stream of new data and insights, Haskell says.

Well-studied and found in nearly every habitat, birds are excellent biodiversity indicators—barometers for the planet’s well-being. Responsive to environmental changes and with population trends mirroring other wildlife, “birds also tell us about the solutions needed to prevent this biodiversity crisis,” Haskell says.

Given the widespread declines, both reports emphasize that proactive conservation across habitats and species will build a healthier environment for animals and people. “It’s not just about birds, right?” Rodewald says. “There are so many reasons to engage in conservation actions because they benefit all people.”

Navajo Dam operations update (November 1, 2022): Bumping releases down to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aerial view of Navajo Dam and Reservoir. Photo credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs for tomorrow, November 1st, 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.  

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

Navajo Lake

From email from Relamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 550 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for tomorrow, October 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).  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 lowers Lake Mohave water level to aid with annual razorback sucker harvest

Lake Mohave and Davis Dam seen from Spirit Mountain, Newberry Mountains, southern Nevada. By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5599033

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Doug Hendrix):

The Bureau of Reclamation is lowering water levels in Lake Mohave to aid in harvesting razorback suckers (Xyrauchen texanus) from lakeside rearing ponds. The fish is an endangered species native to the Colorado River, and the drawdown is part of annual river operations which are timed to coincide with conservation activities for the fish. Lake Mohave will steadily lower from its current elevation of 637 feet above mean sea level (msl) to an elevation of about 633 feet msl by the week of Oct. 24 and will remain at approximately the same elevation for about one week. The lake level will begin to rise at the end of October and is estimated to reach an elevation of 639 feet msl by the end of November. Boaters should use caution when navigating the lake, as areas, especially downstream of Hoover Dam, will be shallower than normal.

Endangered Razorback sucker. Photo credit: Reclamation

Each year, Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (LCR MSCP) gathers tens of thousands of newly hatched razorback sucker larvae from Lake Mohave and transfers the larvae to state and federal hatcheries throughout the Southwest. After an initial growth period in these hatcheries, many of the fish are placed in lakeside rearing ponds around Lake Mohave, where they continue to grow and learn how to forage for food. In the fall, these fish are harvested from the lakeside ponds, tagged with microchips, and released back into Lake Mohave.

The project is part of Reclamation’s continuing collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and other interested parties. The LCR MSCP is a multi-agency effort to accommodate water and power needs while conserving species and their habitats along the river. More information about conservation efforts for razorback suckers is available at https://www.lcrmscp.gov/fish/razorback_sucker.html.

Lake Mohave is located above Davis Dam on the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada. Updated information on water levels at Lake Mohave and other Lower Colorado River reservoirs is located at https://www.usbr.gov/lc/riverops.html under Current Conditions. For current recreational information, visit the National Park Service website at https://www.nps.gov/lake/learn/news/lakeconditions.html.

Bees face many challenges – and #ClimateChange is ratcheting up the pressure — The Conversation #ActOnClimate

Native solitary bee. Photo: The Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield

Click the link to read the article on The Convesation website (Jennie L. Durant):

The extreme weather that has battered much of the U.S. in 2022 doesn’t just affect humans. Heat waves, wildfires, droughts and storms also threaten many wild species – including some that already face other stresses.

I’ve been researching bee health for over 10 years, with a focus on honey bees. In 2021, I began hearing for the first time from beekeepers about how extreme drought and rainfall were affecting bee colony health.

Drought conditions in the western U.S. in 2021 dried up bee forage – the floral nectar and pollen that bees need to produce honey and stay healthy. And extreme rain in the Northeast limited the hours that bees could fly for forage.

In both cases, managed colonies – hives that humans keep for honey production or commercial pollination – were starving. Beekeepers had to feed their bees more supplements of sugar water and pollen than they usually would to keep their colonies alive. Some beekeepers who had been in business for decades shared that they lost 50% to 70% of their colonies over the winter of 2021-2022.

These weather conditions likely also affected wild and native bees. And unlike managed colonies, these important species did not receive supplements to buffer them through harsh conditions.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency host federal pollinator experts to share the latest scientific findings on bee and pollinator health, and assess the status of these important insects, birds, bats and other species. One clear takeaway from this year’s meeting was that climate change has become a new and formidable stressor for bees, potentially amplifying previously known issues in ways that scientists can’t yet predict but need to prepare for.

Millions of bees and countless hectares of habitat have been destroyed in Australia by recent unprecedented bushfires and drought. Australian honey may soon be imported and the vital pollinators will be in short supply for agriculture. A third of the world’s food relies on bee pollination.

The scourge of Varroa mites

Pollinators contribute an estimated US$235 billion to $577 billion yearly to global agriculture, based on the value of the crops they pollinate. Understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change on pollinators is key for supporting healthy ecosystems and sustainable agriculture.

Bee health first attracted widespread attention in 2006 with the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where the majority of adult worker bees in a colony disappeared, leaving their honey and pollen stores and some nurse bees behind to care for the queen and remaining immature bees. In the past five years, reported cases have declined substantially. Now, researchers are focusing on what beekeepers call the “four Ps”: parasites, pathogens, pesticides and poor nutrition, as well as habitat loss for wild and native bees.

One of the most severe threats to honey bees over the past several decades has been Varroa destructor, a crablike parasitic mite that feeds on honey bees’ fat body tissue. The fat body is a nutrient-dense organ that functions much like the liver in mammals. It helps bees maintain a strong immune system, metabolize pesticides and survive through the winter.

These are vital functions, so controlling mite infestations is essential for bee health. Varroa can also transmit deadly pathogens to honey bees, such as deformed wing virus.

Here you have a honey bee and two mites upon that honey bee. Both are varroa mites, one by the leg is feeding on the bee and the other is hitching a ride after leaving another bee. This drama was provided by Krisztina Christmon at the University of Maryland where she studies the life history of mites and bees. Photo credit: USGS

Controlling mite populations is challenging. It requires using an insecticide in an insect colony, or as beekeepers say, “trying to kill a bug on a bug.” It’s hard to find a formula strong enough to kill mites without harming the bees.

Monitoring Varroa takes significant skill and labor, and mites can build up resistance to treatments over time. Researchers and beekeepers are working hard to breed Varroa-resistant bees, but mites continue to plague the industry.

Pesticide microdoses

Pesticides also harm bees, particularly products that cause sublethal or chronic bee health issues. Sublethal pesticide exposures can make bees less able to gather foragegrow healthy larvae and fight off viruses and mites.

However, it can be hard to document and understand sublethal toxicity. Many factors affect how bees react to agrochemicals, including whether they are exposed as larvae or as adult bees, the mixture of chemicals bees are exposed to, the weather at the time of application and how healthy a bee colony is pre-exposure.

Researchers are also working to understand how soil pesticides affect ground-nesting wild bees, which represent over 70% of the U.S. native bee population.

A ground-nesting bee (Colletes inaqualis) emerging from its burrow. Rob Cruickshank/Flickr, Creative Commons

Junk food diets

Like many other species, bees are losing the habitat and food sources that they depend on. This is happening for many reasons.

For example, uncultivated lands are being converted to farmland or developed worldwide. Large-scale agriculture focuses on mass production of a few commodity crops, which reduces the amount of nesting habitat and forage available for bees.

And many farmers often remove pollinator-friendly plants and shrubs that grow around farm lands to reduce the risk of attracting animals such as deer and rodents, which could spread pathogens that cause foodborne illness. Research suggests that these efforts harm beneficial insects and don’t increase food safety.

As diverse and healthy bee forage disappears, beekeepers feed their bees more supplements, such as sugar water and pollen substitutes, which are not as nutritious as the nectar and pollen bees get from flowers.

Climate change is a force multiplier

Researchers don’t know exactly how climate change will affect bee health. But they suspect it will add to existing stresses.

For example, if pest pressures mount for farmers, bees will be exposed to more pesticides. Extreme rainfall can disrupt bees’ foraging patterns. Wildfires and floods may destroy bee habitat and food sources. Drought may also reduce available forage and discourage land managers from planting new areas for bees as water becomes less readily available.

Climate change could also increase the spread of Varroa and other pathogens. Warmer fall and winter temperatures extend the period when bees forageVarroa travel on foraging bees, so longer foraging provides a larger time window for mites and the viruses they carry to spread among colonies. Higher mite populations on bee colonies heading into winter will likely cripple colony health and increase winter losses.

Studies have already shown that climate change is disrupting seasonal connections between bees and flowers. As spring arrives earlier in the year, flowers bloom earlier or in different regions, but bees may not be present to feed on them. Even if flowers bloom at their usual times and locations, they may produce less-nutritious pollen and nectar under extreme weather conditions.

Research that analyzes the nutritional profiles of bee forage plants and how they change under different climate scenarios will help land managers plant climate-resilient plants for different regions.

Creating safe bee spaces

There are many ways to support bees and pollinators. Planting pollinator gardens with regional plants that bloom throughout the year can provide much-needed forage.

Ground-nesting native bees need patches of exposed and undisturbed soil, free of mulch or other ground covers. Gardeners can clear some ground in a sunny, well-drained area to create dedicated spaces for bees to dig nests.

Another important step is using integrated pest management, a land management approach that minimizes the use of chemical pesticides. And anyone who wants to help monitor native bees can join community science projects and use phone apps to submit data.

Most importantly, educating people and communities about bees and their importance to our food system can help create a more pollinator-friendly world.

Fish Protection in Hydropower — National Renewable Energy Laboratory

30 Ways Environmentalists Can Participate in Democracy: Voting on election day is job one, but the planet needs your civic commitment every other day of the year, too — The Revelator

Click the link to read the article on The Revalator website (John R. Platt):

Wolves and frogs can’t vote, a lake or river can’t call their elected representatives, and a polluted ravine can’t blow the whistle on a toxic coal plant.

But you can do all those things — and more.

The trouble is, not enough people who care about climate change, the extinction crisis or environmental justice make themselves known to the people who can make a systemic difference.

“The truth is the environmental movement needs more political power,” says Nathaniel Stinnett, executive director of the Environmental Voter Project. “We can’t rely on politicians doing the right thing. Instead, we need to get more political power so that they lead on our issues because it’s politically smart.”

So how do environmentalists get that power, especially in an age when so many feel powerless? One route starts by engaging in democracy — not just by voting in the midterms or general elections, but by participating in our civic systems year-round, at the federal and local levels, on an ongoing basis.

“Voting isn’t important just because you can elect the right people,” Stinnett says. “It’s also important because in between elections is when policy is made.”

Ocean Biology Processing Group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, public domain

It’s hard to influence policy, though, if people don’t participate in the political system. And if people don’t feel they have a voice, it can create a feedback loop that makes them even less likely to vote.

“In certain states, the number of unlikely voters who list climate and the environment as their top priority is twice as large as the number of likely voters,” Stinnett says. “You can see that data and get frustrated, or you can see it as an enormous opportunity.”

That opportunity comes from getting more people who care about the environment to vote and otherwise engage — something those who are already active on those fronts can encourage by being public about their environmental concerns and what they’re doing about them.

That will help build support for issues that, ironically, people already care about but don’t speak of in political contexts.

“Human beings are social animals,” Stinnett adds. “One of the most impactful things environmentalists can do in the civic sphere and the political sphere is to be loud and proud about being an environmental voter and a political activist. Your friends and colleagues look to you for cues as to what is good behavior, and it’s up to everyone who cares about the environment to model that voting is part of what makes a good environmentalist.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says the most important thing beyond voting itself is to speak proudly about your environmental commitments. “One of the ways in which we could increase the likelihood that we perceive that climate action itself is normative is for us to speak out more as individuals and find ways to represent our climate commitments as a form of almost personal witness.”

Our personal achievements and goals have another benefit: They work as an antidote to the feeling of helplessness that pervades society and erodes trust in our institutions.

“Your vote is an expression of your commitments to things, and that has an impact,” says Jamieson.

So let’s increase that impact. Here are 30 ways environmentalists can participate in democracy to better themselves, their communities and the planet throughout the year.

1. Vote. That’s job one, in every election, no matter how big or how small, and whether it’s national or local. Too many environmentalists don’t vote, and that means their voices get lost.

“The simple truth is that politicians don’t care about the priorities of non-voters,” says Stinnett. “Politicians don’t poll unlikely voters. They don’t poll the people who stay at home. So simply by voting, you become a first-class citizen. You make sure that your policy preferences and your policy priorities drive decision-making.”

2. Encourage others to vote. Are your friends, family members and neighbors registered? They can check their registration status at Vote.org, where they can also make a pledge to vote. Come to think of it, you can do that, too.

3. Help others vote. Sometimes just getting to the polls can be an overwhelming challenge. You can help by freeing up peoples’ time — for example, by offering free babysitting — or volunteering to drive someone who lacks access to transportation or has health issues that prevent them from driving. Your community may already have initiatives you can volunteer through, or you can find people in need through Carpool Vote. (Need a ride? You can also find one there.) And of course, carpooling is always a greener option than each person driving.

4. Demand a plan and an accounting. Insist that political candidates and elected officials publish their proposed and current climate policies — then take that idea much further and make it broader. “I want everybody to have a climate action plan for themselves and for every community and organization,” says Jamieson. Each climate action plan, she says, should be “real and accountable, with demonstrated benchmarks.”

And this isn’t just about government. Jamieson says we should expect the same from our employers, our kids’ schools, our places of worship, and the companies with which we do business.

5. Keep track. Once people and organizations make their climate plans known, hold them to it. “We know when people make public commitments, you increase the likelihood they act on those commitments,” says Jamieson. “They’re going to be accountable.”

6. Learn how to sort fact from fiction during election season. The News Literacy Project and the League of Women Voters will host three webinars about disinformation over the next few weeks.

7. Be a good boss. Got employees? Give them paid time off to vote. Maybe close your business to the public for half a day so you can all go together. (Got a boss? Ask for time off yourself.)

8. Sign up to be a poll worker. Anyone can volunteer to do this essential job, not just retired folx (and unfortunately the need has never been greater due to ongoing threats against election workers). The website Stacker has compiled details on how to become a poll worker and what to expect from the experience.

9. Support voting-rights organizations. Think voter suppression doesn’t affect you? Think again.

“The people who are most likely to care deeply about climate and other environmental issues are young, lower income and people of color — and they also happen to be the three groups that are always the objective of voter-suppression efforts,” says Stinnett. Volunteering or donating to groups like Fair Fight, the ACLUVoting Rights Lab or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund can help ensure everyone can always freely elect their representatives and shape environmental policy.

10. Support ranked-choice voting. As we discussed in a recent op-ed, this is a great way to weed out extremist candidates and balance bipartisanship.

A notable victory took place this year in Australia, where ranked-choice voting helped push coal-supporting politicians out of power — even with the country’s media dominated by notoriously climate-denying publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. “I really love that it made a difference in Australia,” says Jamieson. “They basically managed to defeat the Murdoch anti-climate agenda with ranked-choice voting.”

11. Support environmental groups. Whether you donate or volunteer, they’ll amplify the collective voices of people advocating for better environmental laws and policies.

Coastal redwood trees in Humboldt, California. (Photo by trevorklatko, CC BY-NC 2.0)

12. Advocate for or against specific regulations, either by yourself or as part of a broader grassroots environmental effort. Rules and opportunities vary by state, so check with the groups and experts in your area.

13. Run for office (or encourage a friend to run). You don’t need to run for president to make a difference. Local offices like city councils, parks commissions, utilities and school boards — a particular target of extremist takeover attempts — can have tremendous impact on a region’s environmental policies.

14. Volunteer for local positions. Nonelected government and community positions need climate expertise. Is there a role for you and your environmental perspective on your local planning commission, library board, arts council, parks and recreation committee, PTA, homeowners’ association, Rotary Club or other institution?

15. Write to elected officials. Your opinions matter year-round, so drop your senator, mayor, governor or other representative a line to discuss what matters to you or how they’re doing. (You can do this on social media or through their official phone and email channels, which tend to have more impact.)

16. Sign petitions. Amplify your voice through collective impact. Whenever possible, focus on petitions organized by groups that actively collect and deliver your signatures.

17. Submit public comments on proposed regulations and projects. You may be surprised how few people do this, and you don’t want anti-environmental advocates to have the only say. You can find open calls for comment on the federal level at Regulations.gov, or do a web search for your state or county for more local opportunities (which you may find listed under multiple agencies).

18. Join lawful protests. The bigger, the better. The media notices, and so do politicians.

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

19. Read banned and challenged books — and share what you learn from them with friends, colleagues and elected officials. Nothing scares authoritarians and corporatists more than independent thinking and dangerous ideas — well, dangerous to them, anyway.

20. Take a civics class. It’s probably been a few years; we could all use a refresher. You can find some great, free, self-paced online classes on U.S. government and civics from Khan AcademyHarvard Law School, the Bill of Rights Institute and the Center for Civic Education.

21. Support a free press. Read, share, subscribe, give gift subscriptions, buy ads, donate — especially local news publications, which have really suffered in recent years, and in too many cases stopped publishing. This has given rise to dangerous news deserts — regions without an effective Fourth Estate — an important issue for democracy. Studies show that informed civic participation goes down as news deserts emerge. And when civic participation goes down, corporate malfeasance goes up and government accountability declines.

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

22. Send local story tips to the media or share ideas for environmental coverage with the bigger outlets. Journalists depend on an active populace, and you should never underestimate the power of a good whistleblower. (Hint: We like tips.)

23. Have discussions. Not everyone fully understands the threats of climate change or biodiversity loss or comprehends the systemic causes of environmental injustice. Sometimes that means breaking through their sources of disinformation (Skeptical Science can help with that). Other times it requires some back and forth. The First Amendment Museum offers tips on having a civil conversation that will change someone’s mind, while Psyche magazine offers advice on how to have better arguments.

24. Avoid the cult of personality. Talk about issues and the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of specific environmental legislation rather than individual candidates. (And if your preferred candidate doesn’t win, don’t take it personally or get dissuaded.)

25. Show up and speak at town halls, planning board meetings, school board meetings — anywhere the public can help shape policy. The Earth can’t speak for itself, so someone needs to — especially since proponents of development or other destructive projects will certainly show up.

26. Propose ballot initiatives or their local equivalents. The process and nature of these types of initiatives, which allow citizens to vote directly on major issues, vary by state and municipality, so check with your local experts to see what you can do.

27. Self-advertise. Those ubiquitous “I voted” stickers on election day serve multiple purposes: They display our pride and remind others to get to the polls. But why limit that to one day a year? Buttons, bumper stickers, social-media icons and even memes can remind people year-round of the need to vote or otherwise participate — and hold you up as an example of someone who does.

Photo: Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

28. Support libraries, museums, community centers and local organizations that themselves support an engaged, educated community. Encourage them to set up displays on environmental topics, organize speakers, conduct outreach efforts, or whatever best fits their mission.

29. Spread the news about the ways democracy is in peril. Attacks on voting, the right to protest, the media, LGBTQ+ rights and other freedoms are symptoms of the worldwide rise in authoritarian forces. And as authoritarian governments rise, environmental protections fall. (Nazi Germany and modern-day Russia are notable examples.) Keep track of these threats, especially the home-grown kind, and spread the word about the dangers they pose. (There’s no single source devoted to tracking this, so it may require keeping your eyes open. A good starting place, though, is these newsletters from Democracy Docket.)

30. Have (and share) a contingency plan. In our age of ever-increasing climate disasters, far too many people every year find themselves displaced by fire, smoke, flood or other kinds of crisis. Don’t let that interfere with your ability to vote and otherwise participate. Do your research early so you know how to contact your representatives or election officials in case something forces you to flee your community. And share what you learned with your neighbors so others aren’t disenfranchised.

And finally, keep going. You can find many more ideas for encouraging systemic change in our 30-day climate action plan.

Navajo Dam operations update (October 13, 2022): Bumping up to 600 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Dam spillway via Reclamation.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to dry weather and decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 450 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs for tomorrow, October 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).  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. 

#GrandCanyon beach restoration program at risk because of #drought — KNAU #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A rare sight: Water shoots out of Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlets or “jet tubes” during a high-flow experimental release in 2013. Typically all of the dam’s outflows go through penstocks to turn the turbines on the hydroelectric plant. The outlets are only used during these experiments, meant to redistribute sediment downstream, and when lake levels get too high. Spillways are used as a last, last resort. The river outlets may be used again in the not so distant future: Once Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, water can no longer be run through the turbines and can only be sent to the river below via the outlets. This is cause for concern because the river outlets were not built for long-term use. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the KNAU website (Melissa Sevigny). Here’s an excerpt:

In the autumn of 2012, a flood swept through the Grand Canyon. Not one provided by nature, but by the engineers who cranked open the bypass tubes at the base of Glen Canyon Dam. It was the start of a program heralded by many as a triumph. Fall floods happened again in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018.

“And then,” says hydrologist Paul Grams, “we hit these drought conditions.”

The program is in trouble. Lake Powell is three quarters empty and just 40 feet above the level where hydropower production stops. It’s risky now to release floods.

“So we have a condition now, where it’s been four years since the last high flow and the sandbars have eroded a lot,” Grams explains…

Chapman says the beaches are vital: they create backwaters for native fish and habitat for plants and animals. And for more than 20,000 river runners in the Grand Canyon every year, Chapman says, “The sandbars themselves are the only durable, nonfragile environment that everyone can camp on; you don’t have to go bushwacking to find a place to camp.” Some scientists want to save the program by switching floods to spring, when snowmelt bolsters Lake Powell’s level. That could help balance the need for floods with the demand for hydropower.

Navajo Dam operations update (October 8, 2022): Bumping releases down to 450 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 550 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for tomorrow, October 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.

The San Juan Generating Station in mid-June of 2022 The two middle units (#2 and #3) were shut down in 2017 to help the plant comply with air pollution limits. Unit #1 shut down mid-June 2022 and #4 was shut down on September 30, 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

The Native Three — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife #ColoradoRiver

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic research scientists have embarked on multiple projects to protect the three fish species native to the Upper Colorado River Basin (Flannelmouth Sucker, Bluehead Sucker and Roundtail Chub). This video, ‘The Native Three’ helps tell that story.

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 Magazine #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.