What the #AnimasRiver can learn from the #ArkansasRiver — Trout Unlimited

Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

From Trout Unlimited (Kara Armano):

Let’s take a minute to daydream. Close your eyes and envision beautiful mountain scenery and cold, clean water drifting through the valley floor, bugs flitting through the clear, blue sky, and the possibility of sighting wildlife around every bend. Listen to the birds chirping and the sound of water running over the backs of logs and rocks. Now picture over 100 miles of this river stacked with browns and rainbows. This is not a dream. This is the Arkansas River in central Colorado.

At one point in history, not too long ago, this was not the Arkansas we now know. It was severely contaminated from hardrock mining to the degree of needing a Superfund designation to clean it up. But clean it up they did. After years of remediation work, the Arkansas has rebounded better than imagined, becoming the Gold Medal river we know today.

Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt said, “When I first began fishing the Arkansas in 1985, one could catch a lot of fish, but they were small and in poor condition due to water quality issues. With the successful effort to improve that, we began to see fish live much longer and healthier lives, and the diversity of our aquatic entomology really flourished. While a Superfund project is not a quick nor easy process, the payoff for the fishery, and for anglers, local businesses, residents, and visitors has been phenomenal.”

This is also the hope for the Animas River just a few hundred miles to the southwest. Named a Superfund cleanup site in 2016, the Animas headwaters have a similar storied past of hardrock mining. Since the mining boom of the 1880s, the Upper Animas has seen massive heavy metal loads flowing through a wilderness section and into the town of Durango. Luckily, the metals dissolve significantly to leave the lower reaches valuable for anglers with its four miles of Gold Medal designation through Durango. But just imagine what could happen with the remainder of the river after the Superfund cleanup is complete.

We’ve already seen glimpses of rehabilitation on the Animas River. During a brief period when a wastewater treatment plant was in place at the headwaters, trout numbers in the upper reaches were about 400 fish per mile. Once that treatment plant was removed in 2004, numbers dropped to 100 fish per mile in 2010 and a dismal 73 fish per mile last year. The same is true for macroinvertebrates. The celebrated pale morning dun was once a character of the river landscape, but since the closure of the plant, they have been nonexistent. Clearly, remediation of any level is beneficial to trout and trout food.

If the Animas River Valley, its citizens and businesses, anglers and recreationists can learn anything from the Arkansas River success story, it’s this: hope is not lost. It will take time, but the Animas River will return to a healthy habitat for our beloved trout.

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

“If we let this world die — if we let it be slaughtered by the shockingly small number of villains who have lied to us for decades — then we become complicit” — Emily Johnston #ActOnClimate

Rivers of meltwater and a mantle of soot, dust, and microbes darken the surface and speed melting. Surface melting has now surpassed the discharge of icebergs into the ocean as a major cause of ice loss. Photo credit Marco Tedesco/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Poignant call to arms to restore nature from Emily Johnston, “Loving a vanishing world.” Here’s an excerpt:

The truth is that the ocean that looks so beautiful and unchanging is well on its way to becoming a vast garbage dump full of plastic and of heavy metals, where little survives but jellyfish. It will not smell the same. Its colors will change. And most sea-birds, of course, will die with it.

So I want to ask you the same question I ask myself every time I’m entranced by the beauty of this world: what does it mean to love this place? What does it mean to love anyone or anything, in a world whose vanishing is accelerating, perhaps beyond our capacity to save the things that we love most?

Knowledge is responsibility, isn’t it? If we let this world die — if we let it be slaughtered by the shockingly small number of villains who have lied to us for decades — then we become complicit, because we are the only ones with the leverage to help it live again; those who come after us will have far less ability to do so, as we have far less ability than our parents would have (had they known the truth to the degree that we do). For better and for worse, we are the ones at the intersection of knowledge and agency. So how do we best use that leverage, and how do we find the heart to keep going when the realities of loss overwhelm us?

The stakes are unnervingly clear if we look at the Earth’s five previous extinctions, particularly the end-Permian, in which as much as 90% of life on Earth was wiped out. In all of them, greenhouse gases from volcanic activity, and the ensuing temperature rise, were triggers of destabilization. All of them happened extremely suddenly in geologic terms — but with temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations that were rising hundreds or thousands of times more slowly than we’re causing them to now.

So it’s not just our grandkids; it’s not just low-lying or hot/dry places; it’s not just humans; it’s not just orcas or the Great Barrier Reef or monarch butterflies; it’s not even “just” the oceans (upon which so many species, and people, depend). What’s at risk now, as best we can tell, is life on Earth. Possibly all of it: scientists now know that runaway greenhouse gas scenarios can turn a pleasant, habitable, water-filled planet….into Venus.

The potential loss of all life is clarifying, because there is only one medicine for any of it — for any of us — and that is the restoration of a thriving natural world, beginning with the near-term end of fossil fuel use. If we’re making real progress towards those goals, we can almost certainly tip the balance for some individuals and species — at least for awhile. And that’s surely a good thing: to help some people live longer lives with some stability is much better than not to do so, even if it doesn’t last for millennia, and to save some species is far better than to save none. What could be a more meaningful way to spend our lives?

Montrose County shuts down mechanized streambed mining in the San Miguel River near Uravan

Manhattan Project 1944, Uravan. Photo credit: Uravan.com

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

t’s been about 35 years since the mill at Uravan closed and about 33 since the former West End town was designated a Superfund site, eventually to be bulldozed, burned and buried. But roughly 2 miles away is the Ballpark at Historic Uravan, Colorado, which was never contaminated by uranium and vanadium mining — and the one place people who grew up there still have to gather and remember.

The ballpark, with its primitive camping, has also attracted its share of hobbyist gold miners who access the San Miguel River from there. But when some began showing up with machinery, locals sounded the alarm and on Thursday, Montrose County passed an ordinance prohibiting unauthorized, mechanized mining along the river acreage it owns there. The ordinance can go into effect May 28…

A problem reared its head, though, when she discovered a video on the Facebook page of a hobbyist prospecting group. Thompson said the video showed compressors and a hose that was pumping the river — plus the site was promoting the location to other hobbyists, as was a prospecting book, which has since delisted the location.

“There was a big group that was going to come. They were all going to bring their machinery and have a big weekend there. We decided we probably better let the county know what was happening,” Thompson said.

Although it’s one thing to pan for gold in the river, or put up a small sluice box — that’s still allowed under the new ordinance — mechanized mining imperils the river and the habitat it provides.

“We contacted the group and told them … it belongs to the county. We lease it to the historical society. They have spent many countless hours down there and have turned that into a beautiful little park we encourage people to use. We don’t want it destroyed,” said Montrose County Commissioner Roger Rash, a former Uravan resident.

The county also put up a sign barring machinery in the river.

“But we needed to have some teeth,” Rash said. “We don’t want mechanized mining going on in our park.”

The new ordinance allows panning within the river channel, as long as it occurs at least 2 feet from the bank. Among other provisions, the ordinance prohibits motorized mining activities, including motorized suction dredging.

It also bars activity that undercuts or excavates banks and the ordinance further restricts access to the channel to existing roads and trails.

People cannot disturb more than 1 cubic yard of soil per day and anything that cannot be removed by hand must remain undisturbed.

All digging has to be filled in and the work area must be cleaned up before departure.

Violations are treated as a petty offense, which carry fines between $100 on first occurrence and up to $1,000 for repeat offenses.

If the county property, river or surrounding area sustains damages in excess of $100, violators can be charged with a class-2 misdemeanor punishable by stiffer fines and up to a year in county jail.

Thompson said she and other Rimrockers didn’t understand why anyone would be mining the river with machinery to begin with. The park is open to the public — although it relies upon donations to sustain the picnic structures and fire pits former residents paid for — and has had only minor vandalism issues prior to the mechanized mining.

Finally, #California and Imperial Irrigation District reach agreement on #SaltonSea access and liability — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The New River, a contaminated waterway that flows north from Mexico, spills into the Salton Sea in southwestern California’s Imperial Valley. Transborder pollution is among Jayne Harkins’ priorities as U.S. IBWC Commissioner. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

The Imperial Irrigation District board of directors voted Tuesday to allow access across its lands for critically needed state wetlands projects at the Salton Sea, designed to tamp down dangerous dust storms and give threatened wildlife a boost. In exchange, California will shoulder the maintenance and operations of the projects, and the state’s taxpayers will cover the costs of any lawsuits or regulatory penalties if the work goes awry.

Tuesday’s vote clears a key hurdle to constructing 3,700 acres around the heavily polluted New River at the south end of the lake, implementing what’s known as the Species Conservation Habitat plan. It’s one of the larger pieces of a stalled ten year pilot Salton Sea Management Plan to address increasing public health concerns and massive wildlife losses at California’s largest inland water body.

“I feel a lot more optimistic now that we finally got this step done, which has been bedeviling us for some time,” said Bruce Wilcox, Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources overseeing Salton Sea efforts. “It feels good. Now we just need to move on to the next step.”

[…]

Tuesday’s agreement clears a particularly thorny issue that stopped the larger wetlands projects in their tracks: Who’s responsible if something goes wrong? Neither IID nor previous state officials were willing to budge, but new California water board chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel in March gave state natural resources staff and IID until May 1 to strike an agreement, and told them to report back to him by June…

The threat of lawsuits is not an idle one. Farmers along the edge of the 350 square mile sea — twice as large as Lake Tahoe — have sued before and say they could sue again if state work harms their crops, or, conversely, if nothing is done to stop increasing air quality problems.

“If the government doesn’t do anything about it and all the dust comes into our crops and kills them, well then, we have a pretty good case,” said Juan DeLara, risk manager for Federated Mutual Insurance, which leases 1,000 acres of farmland on the north end of the sea to a grower. DeLara is also head of the Salton Sea Action Committee and would-be developer of a 4,900 acre housing, commercial and recreational project at the sea’s north end.

It’s unclear on what specific legal grounds farmers could sue. Past runoff from their fields included pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer discharge into the shimmering blue water body, which began life as an agricultural sump. But it’s also agricultural runoff, mixed with naturally salty Colorado River irrigation water, that is keeping the sea afloat, so to speak. Without the runoff, it would dry even faster…

Martinez, IID’s general manager, said he was not familiar with case law on the issue, but said, “any time someone’s business suffers as a result of some action, they’re going to look for the biggest pockets out there to help meet their costs.”

He said that concern is part of what motivated IID to dig in its heels and formally nail down that the state would bear responsibility for Salton Sea restoration before allowing access. Another big factor, he said, was that California officials agreed to be responsible for restoring the sea in a 2003 multi-party agreement between them, federal officials, IID and other water districts…

The next steps for the plan include finalizing the easement documents and seeking bids.

Killing off animals and plants now threatens humanity itself, UN experts to warn in urgent call for action — The Independent

Bats provide important pest control by eating insects, and threats to their biodiversity imperil that ecosystem service. Photo credit: Paul Cryan, USGS.

Some folks think they can alter the water cycle without consequences.

From The Independent (Jane Dalton):

The future of humanity is under threat from the widespread destruction of the Earth’s plants and animals by people, leading scientists will warn in a dramatic report.

Loss of biodiversity threatens the human race just as much as climate change, the experts believe, with up to a million species facing extinction in the world’s sixth mass die-off.

The UN’s global assessment on the state of nature – published on Monday, and the most comprehensive of its kind – is expected to say that without urgent action, the wellbeing of current and future generations of people will be at risk as life-support systems providing food, pollination and clean water collapse.

The 1,800-page report will lay out a series of future scenarios based on decisions by governments and other policymakers, and recommend a rescue plan.

It is expected to highlight how man-made activity has destroyed nature, such as forests, wetlands and other wild landscapes, damaging Earth’s capacity to renew breathable air, productive soil and drinkable water.

“The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human wellbeing,” said Sir Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in a paper previewing the report.

“Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. Policies, efforts and actions – at every level – will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence. This is what the IPBES Global Assessment provides.”

The report is believed to warn the destruction of nature threatens humanity at least as much as human-induced climate change.

St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District seeking balance in river basin — The Longmont Times-Call

CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

The St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District, whose mission is to protect water rights and improve management practices in the river basin, is in the first phase of developing a stream management plan for the 300,000-acre watershed. Its goal is to align strategies for maintaining the reliable delivery of water to agricultural users while also satisfying ecological and recreational goals, some of which could require higher flows in the main stretches of streams that feed the St. Vrain, such as Left Hand Creek, as well as the St. Vrain itself, which is a key South Platte River tributary.

“Whether you’re a domestic or agricultural water user, you have an opportunity to really be part of a strategic, balanced approach to meeting competing demands,” said Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

But Colorado water law is focused on the use of the state’s most valuable resource, and not on conservation, notes a September survey prepared by a firm hired by the conservancy district for the stream management plan.

“This causes water owners to shy away from change of use, dam modifications or other river improvements, fearing legal or financial challenges and a burden on their time — and farmers do not have time to give away,” the survey states, adding it also will be a challenge to have rights owners “‘open up’ about their decrees or the way they manage, use or store water, and there are sometimes long histories of relationships between agencies or people in how they work together with their water. Overcoming some of these social and political legacies, or positively using these relationships, will be a challenge to the process.”

Seeking balance at what cost?

Diverting water from stream beds through ditch delivery networks has long quenched otherwise dry agricultural lands on the Front Range, but the expansion of the practice over time has led to impacts some are now interested in mitigating.

Boosting the ability for fish and recreational users such as kayakers to pass diversions by altering or replacing infrastructural barriers has consistently been expressed as a priority.

So have improved ability to control timing and quantity of both ditch and stream bed flows, enhancing flood resiliency in the watershed and preventing impacts from municipal development.

“For the most part, this basin wants to work toward finding that balance,” Cronin said. “I won’t say we’re all in agreement of what the balance is, where that pivotal point is to make the balance, and I don’t think we’ll ever get there and that’s fine, as long as folks want to continue sitting at the table.”

While some Longmont-area ditch companies have already designed and implemented more passable diversions or are in talks with local officials about doing so in the near future, a move toward automating the opening and closing of ditch gates that are now moved manually to accommodate water share holders’ calls for supply also could emerge as a consideration for those relying on the watershed.

Being able to remotely open and close gates could help prevent flow heading into ditches when it isn’t needed, possibly allowing higher flows in main stream beds through areas where such water levels could benefit recreation and environmental health.

But doing so could come at a major cost. Terry Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for Left Hand Ditch Co., said the company, for reasons unrelated to stream management, next week will install an automated ditch gate that can be operated remotely in one location on its network at a cost of about $30,000.

If an effort to automate water delivery equipment were applied across the broader watershed, though, it would be needed in dozens of locations, and could require the construction of entirely new diversion structures in some areas, which can run cost hundreds of thousands for just one spot, Plummer said.

“We have no intentions of automating at this point in time,” Plummer said. “It’s just too expensive. The assessments (charged to share holders for ditch maintenance) are so high now because of the 2013 flood (damage) that we would have to raise assessments dramatically, and the farming can’t support that.”

He said grant funding would have to become available, with the right terms, to pursue widespread automation.

A method that helped maintain higher wintertime flows in the St. Vrain is likely no longer an option — for about 20 years until 2013, Longmont released water from its Ralph Price Reservoir storage at a rate of 3 cubic feet per second to maintain a winter flow of 5 cfs along the entirety of the river, according to city Water Resources Manager Ken Huson.

But state officials nixed that practice after changing how they account for water.

“It’s not something Longmont can just do on its own anymore like we used to,” Huson said.

Flow not only way to go

Other opportunities for bettering stream management in the St. Vrain watershed might not address flow, however, and still offer environmental and social benefits.

“What we’re going to come up with are management activities,” Cronin said. “Those could address flow, but it could be that an opportunity area doesn’t necessarily have a flow challenge, but a riparian floodplain connectivity challenge.”

Allowing streams to more easily access the floodplain by preventing their banks from becoming overly incised or congested can help avoid rushing waters during flood events via letting the excess flow spread out over flatland, instead of accumulating in steep, deep channels.

Removing the invasive crack willow tree, which has problematically proliferated across dozens of states, from local stream banks could help achieve that, and has already been worked on in some areas of the St. Vrain basin by the Left Hand Watershed Oversight Group.

“That’s really the issue with the current conditions and why there are disconnected floodplains, because we’ve had this encroachment of this invasive tree that has created a super stable bank, and has allowed incision to happen,” said Jessie Olson, the oversight group’s executive director. “We’ve got a number of places like that throughout the watershed that could use some additional connectivity basically by removing the invasive tree and laying back slopes.”

@USBR/@USGS/@GrandCanyonNPS: Macroinvertebrate Production Flow this summer at Glen Canyon Dam #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

The Department of the Interior will conduct a second Macroinvertebrate Production Flow this summer at Glen Canyon Dam under its Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan. This experiment, also known as a Bug Flow, aims to improve egg-laying conditions for aquatic insects that are the primary food source for fish in the Colorado River. The experiment will begin on May 1 and continue through August 31, 2019.

“Last year’s experiment was a big success, so we’re excited that a second year of testing will occur,” said Scott VanderKooi, Chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, which monitors Colorado River ecosystem response to all Glen Canyon Dam flow experiments. “By directly experimenting with flows, we were able to learn a lot about the aquatic ecosystem in Grand Canyon. More importantly, preliminary results show that many different resources may have benefitted from last year’s experimental flows.”

This year’s Bug Flows will slightly modify release schedules and flow rates from Lake Powell through Glen Canyon Dam, but will not affect total annual, monthly or weekly release volumes. Flows during the experiment will include relatively low, steady weekend water releases while maintaining routine hydropower production flows on weekdays. Weekday flows will be higher than normal, but hourly changes in release rates will remain unchanged. Steady weekend flows are expected to provide favorable conditions for aquatic insects to lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation and other materials near the river’s edge at a low enough level that the eggs will not dry out as flows fluctuate during the week. Casual recreational river users are unlikely to notice the changes in water levels.

Preliminary findings show that caddisflies, an aquatic insect that has been extremely rare in the Grand Canyon over the past several decades, increased nearly four-fold during last year’s Bug Flow experiment. Non-biting midges, another type of aquatic insect that is a key food source for fish and other wildlife, were up to 800% more abundant on weekends when flows were steady compared to weekdays when flows fluctuated for hydropower production. Data collected by the Arizona Game and Fish Department showed that fishing also improved, with the average angler catching around 18% more rainbow trout at Lees Ferry during weekend steady flows compared to weekdays when flows fluctuated.

The decision to conduct this experiment was based on input from a collaborative team, including the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration; the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Upper Colorado River Commission and all seven of the Colorado River Basin States. Experiments are designed to optimize benefits to the Colorado River ecosystem through the Grand Canyon while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

Insects expected to benefit from this experiment are an important food source for many species of fish, birds, and bats in the canyon. Beyond expected resource benefits, this experiment will also provide scientific information that will be used in future decision making.