Interview: To Commemorate Powell’s Colorado River Expedition, Research Team Retraces His Steps — KUNC #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

John Wesley Powell’s recommendation for political boundaries in the west by watershed

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

One hundred and fifty years ago, a group of explorers led by Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell set out to document the canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers. It was the first trip of its kind. To commemorate the journey, a group of scientists, artists and graduate students from the University of Wyoming called the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition has been retracing his steps this summer.

Minckley’s group launched in late May in the same spot and on the same day John Wesley Powell and his crew of nine men launched in 1869. Along the way, more than 60 people — including fellow scientists, environmentalists, tribal leaders and water managers — joined Minckley’s crew.

“We’ve been rowing and most recently motoring down the same route he took looking at the conditions of the river, talking to people about the future of the West, water supplies, natural resources,” Minckley said, in between the sounds of passing motorboats on Lake Powell. “(We’re) trying to examine the system in a similar way that John Wesley Powell did through a systematic look at how it’s being used.”

In the time since Powell’s journey, vast infrastructure projects fundamentally changed how the Green and Colorado Rivers function, and what they look like. Unlike Powell, Minckley’s group had to portage around large dams, like Flaming Gorge in Utah and Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona. Part of Powell’s legacy, he says, is that he warned lawmakers in Washington D.C. not to overuse the river, and to plan for scarcity.

But, Minckley says, even as Powell remains as an oracle-like figure in the West’s mythology, much of what’s been built in the basin is well within his vision for the region…

On John Wesley Powell

“Powell was the first European to row down the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the Grand Canyon. He coined the term The Great Unknown as parts of that system were known from mountain man days, but there were parts that had never been seen by European eyes. He connected the upper river to what was known down in the area that is now Lake Mead… He was a Civil War hero who lost his arm in battle and he went on to become one of the United States’ great explorer heroes. One of the last great explorations of the lower 48 states was Powell’s trip down the Green and Colorado rivers. He was instrumental in developing the West and opening up the West to settlement and largely also envisioning some of the infrastructure we depend on for our water supplies and power supplies.”

Conservation easement enables former ranch manager to purchase former Pearce ranch on White River — @GreatOutdoorsCO

Lex Collins purchased the Pearce Ranch, now known as the E Lazy S Ranch, with the help of a conservation easement. The easement permanently protects the ranch’s unique habitat and wildlife. Courtesy photo via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

Anyone who has talked to Lex Collins knows how much the E Lazy S Ranch means to him. For years Collins stewarded its landscape with former landowners, Tom and Ruth Pearce, and their daughter Denise. The ranch’s productive hayfields combined with spectacular scenery and a mile of White River frontage make it easy to see why Collins cares so deeply about this landscape. As of July 25, 2019, with leadership from Collins and in partnership with Hal and Christine Pearce and multiple conservation organizations, the E Lazy S Ranch was permanently conserved, ensuring that it will remain undeveloped forever.

Sandwiched among three existing conserved ranches, the E Lazy S Ranch was one of the largest remaining unprotected properties along the White River in an area known as Agency Park. Conservation of the ranch conserved 562 additional acres and tied together a 4,492-acre block of conserved land in the heart of the valley. The landscape is highly visible from County Road 8, also known as the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and makes up a portion of the view shed for travelers on State Highway 13.

The ranch’s meadows and forests provide crucial habitat for local elk and mule deer herds for which northwest Colorado is renowned, as well as coyote, bald eagle, greater sandhill crane and numerous small mammals. The riparian areas along the property contain a box elder-narrowleaf cottonwood/red osier dogwood forest—a forest type unique to the Yampa and White River basins of northwest Colorado.

While the E Lazy S boasts spectacular conservation values, its story of ownership and generational transfer make it unique. Formerly known as the Pearce Ranch, the E Lazy S Ranch was owned by Tom and Ruth Pearce who purchased the ranch in 1961. Tom and Ruth ran a successful agricultural operation and were honored as the commercial breeders of the year by the Colorado Hereford Association in 1987. For many years, Lex Collins managed the ranch with Tom, Ruth and their daughter Denise. In 2014, after both Tom and Ruth had passed, the ranch was left to their three children: Denise, Hal, and Christine. Tragically, Denise passed away in 2015, but not before leaving her share of the ranch to Collins. It was the goal of Hal and Christine to honor the legacy of their family by keeping the ranch intact as an agricultural entity, and they were able to work together with Collins to develop a plan to allow him to become the sole owner of the ranch, using a conservation easement as the primary mechanism to generate revenue.

“I’m trying to carry on what Denise Pearce invested her life in: the Pearce Ranch. The conservation easement is the only way that is possible. I thank everyone involved for enabling this ranch to continue forward with its true heritage,” Collins said when asked about the conservation project. Now that the E Lazy S ranch is conserved, he plans to continue to raise cattle and hay on the property, and eventually his daughter, Macy, plans to take over the agricultural operation.

“GOCO is proud to partner in this project, helping to conserve forever a ranch that contributes to a large block of conserved ranchland in the area, which is important wildlife habitat, and which also protects amazing, wide open views for those traveling along the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and State Highway 13,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Our sincere thanks to all who made it possible, especially Lex Collins and the Pearce family.”

Conservation of the ranch was also supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). “Conserving working agricultural lands is one of the NRCS’s highest priorities,” said Clint Evans, NRCS Colorado State Conservationist. “The Agency’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides the much needed opportunities to forge and maintain valuable partnerships between organizations and landowners that make it easier for NRCS to help people help the land.” The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited were also important partners for the project, providing funding to help offset the transaction costs.

“Few people have the opportunity to leave a perpetual legacy,” said CCALT’s Molly Fales, “but that is what Mr. Collins has done here. By conserving the E Lazy S Ranch, he has ensured that the Pearce family’s ranching legacy will remain, and he has cemented his own conservation legacy in the valley.”

Hal Pearce echoed these sentiments saying: “It may no longer have the Pearce name attached to it, but it’s still home. In the end it’s about the land and is really bigger than any of us.”

More GOCO news:

Pearce Ranch Conservation Legacy, $420,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust

GOCO will help CCALT acquire a conservation easement on the two parcels making up the Pearce Ranch, totaling 620 acres. Proceeds from the easement will enable the ranch’s long-time manager to purchase the property. Conserving the property will continue its ranching legacy, in addition to protecting wildlife habitat and water rights benefiting all of the properties in the Highland Ditch system.

#Runoff news: #YampaRiver streamflow close to average

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

On Monday afternoon, the river was flowing at about 200 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at Fifth Street, falling over the course of the past week from just under 300 cfs on Monday, July 22. Saturday’s rainfall boosted flows back up to 300 cfs on Sunday, though the river fell back to 200 cfs by Monday.

The river typically levels out after its peak, but city water resources manager Kelly Romero-Heaney said that level varies year to year.

“We see the hydrograph tail off after the peak snowmelt, and then it hovers above 100 cfs typically for the majority of the summer, but it can depend on what’s happening with releases out of Stagecoach Reservoir and irrigation diversions upstream from town and the weather,” Romero-Heaney said…

So far this July, the area received 1.06 inches of precipitation at a National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Network weather station, below the long-term average of 1.52 inches at the same location.

#YampaRiver: The more things change the more they stay the same

From email from Scott Hummer:

Please note the attached newspaper article from, the “Yampa Leader”, May 18, 1923…

Kind of ironic…Given the fact, we’re still attempting to deal with the same issues in 2019 as they were on the ground in the Yampa Valley in 1923, and before…

#Runoff news: “Farmers are happy. Farmers and ranchers seem to be a lot happier this year” — Brian Romig

Hay fields in the upper Yampa River valley, northwest Colorado. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Craig Daily Press (Clay Thorp):

fter several weeks of rising water on the Yampa River, homes near the waterway might see drier river banks soon as river level continues to fall.

“We had a big snow year,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the Colorado River District. “Then we had a cool, wet spring even into summer as you saw in Steamboat with their snowfall.”

Officials say much of the snow in Steamboat Springs and other highland areas of the Yampa Valley hasn’t melted yet. So, unless there’s a series of exceptionally hot days, the Yampa River should stay steady…

That standing water has caused some mosquito issues in Moffat County. At least one mosquito tested positive for West Nile Virus near the South Beach boat ramp in Craig. No official human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported anywhere in Colorado yet, but officials want residents to be proactive in protecting themselves during the peak mosquito feeding times of dawn and dusk…

Though it breeds mosquitoes, much of that water has made things green up at ranches across the Yampa Valley as cows and other livestock are having their fill of the foliage.

“It’s been a great year, especially compared to last year,” [Brian Romig] said. “Farmers are happy. Farmers and ranchers seem to be a lot happier this year.”

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Nearly 5 inches of June precipitation and 2 inches of June snow have contributed to keeping the Yampa River flowing near peak levels since the beginning of the month.

Since the river rose to 2,300 cubic feet per second at the Fifth Street gauge in downtown Steamboat Springs on June 5, the river hasn’t fallen below that level, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“It’s a good year, and that’s no surprise to anybody at this point,” Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District General Manager Kevin McBride said. “It’s a good thing that it comes off and stays at that level for a long time, because the last thing we want to see is one big peak because that means flooding.”

[…]

Scott Hummer, Colorado Division of Water Resources water commissioner serving water users in South Routt, said the ranchers he works with say it’s peaked, but he’s still waiting to see.

“Some of my water users have told me they think the river’s peaked,” Hummer said. “I’m not particularly sold that it’s peaked. I think that everything is still totally temperature dependent. We may see a very sustained, higher-flow rate.”

Hummer added that water users in the southernmost end of the district have seen high water — with the Yampa spilling out of its banks and pooling up in fields — that hasn’t been seen for a lifetime.

“We are light years ahead of where we were last year at this particular point in time,” Hummer said. “Last Saturday (June 22), we saw record all-time inflows into Stagecoach (Reservoir). On Sunday, we saw Stagecoach spill at an all-time record amount, so it’s a much different season than last season, simply based on the snowpack.”

On Thursday, about 200 cfs of water was flowing into Stagecoach Reservoir. The mean for this date — the average of the 31-year record — is 90 cfs…

These higher flows are a boon for river runners who are still catching big waves on the Yampa and to ecosystems that rely on fluctuating flows. While ranchers are glad to have enough water to irrigate hay, the moisture and low temperatures have likely pushed back the growing season, meaning they’ll cut hay later in the season, Romero-Heaney said.

For those who hope to hit the river, it might be a better bet to rent a raft instead of a tube for awhile yet. Commercial outfitters typically start renting out tubes when the river falls below 700 cfs. The Yampa is still flowing at four times that rate.

Romero-Heaney guessed — based on data from 2011, a similar runoff year — that the river might fall to a tube-able level in mid- to late-July.

And while the water is high now, McBride cautions that it doesn’t remedy years of low flow in the greater Colorado River Basin, which the Yampa is a part of.

“As they say, don’t get too comfortable with just one year of good runoff in the Colorado Basin as a whole, but for users in the Yampa, it looks like a banner year,” he said.

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

Community Agriculture Alliance: Rivers rise as rain and snow hammer #YampaRiver basin — Steamboat Pilot & Today #runoff

Here’s a guest column from Kent Vertrees that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

For all snow, water and river junkies out there, last weekend’s weather was one of the most intense and bizarre we have seen in some time. Twenty or more inches of snow in the high country, inches of rain, massive lightning, cold temps, snow in downtown Steamboat Springs marked the official beginning of summer in the Yampa Valley.

Since 1983, the year of all water years in the Colorado Basin, 2011 was the next wettest on record. This year is now very comparable.

This is a reality of ours. Living on the spine of the continent, high up in elevation, this offers extreme variability in our climate as is. We have always experienced broad shifts in annual snowpack, rain, temperature and river flow, and the perfect scenario like last weekend is never out of our reality. We already had a deep snowpack remaining from winter and spring. Then, throw in a low front with adequate moisture and low temperature and residents woke up to snow on first day of summer.

The trick with last week’s storm is that is wasn’t all snow. We typically see river levels drop when we get cold fronts, because they shut down the snowmelt with colder temperatures. But in this case, it poured rain leading up to the snowfall which spiked our rivers, creeks and streams to their seasonal peak flows.

River flows in the Yampa Basin are notorious for having large fluctuations in their seasonal flow. With limited storage reservoirs in the basin, there isn’t the capacity for water managers to store the runoff. When the conditions are right, and Mother Nature sends us her wrath, it’s not out of the ordinary to see river levels spike.

In early June at the Yampa Basin Rendezvous that was held in Steamboat Springs, we learned all about snow, water, rivers, climate modeling and the resiliency of communities to handle shifting climate aridity. We learned from scientists that the future we can expect in the Yampa and greater Colorado River basins in general, will only continue to be more variable, extreme and a bit wilder than what we are all used to.

Years of hotter and dryer climate, drought and low river flow, followed by periods of extreme snow and rainfall along with heavier flooding seems probable in our future, and it is what many of the modeling trends are indicating. What we saw last weekend is just a glimpse into our extreme weather reality and is something that we will all have to get used to.

Kent Vertrees is the board president of the Friends of the Yampa.

@USGS: Photo Galleries from the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition

Looking down on camp at Big Pine, Red Canyon.
The photo shows the SCREE Powell 150 expdition camp at Big Pine Campground in Red Canyon of the Green River, Utah. The large green tarp was set up to keep the kitchen area and campers dry. Two very large ponderosa pines are in the center of camp, and surely were witness to the 1869 Powell expedition. Photo credit SCREE via the USGS.

Click here to view the photo galleries from the folks that are paddling down the Green and Colorado rivers to commemorate John Wesley Powell’s first expedition.