Dam It: Why Beavers Matter

While away your quarantine by learning about nature’s most ingenious engineers with Ben Goldfarb, author of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.”

A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#Colorado throws wolves to the vote — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Ethan Linck) [March 1, 2020]:

The last wolf resident in Colorado in the 20th century died in 1945 at the edge of the San Juan Mountains, where a high green country falls into dark timber near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. It was caught by its leg in the ragged jaws of a steel trap, set by federal authorities following reports that it had killed 10 sheep.

If the wolf was mourned, it wasn’t mourned by many. Contemporary newspaper articles reflected widespread support for ridding the West of wolves. “Wolves are like people in that they must have their choice morsel of meat,” wrote Colorado’s The Steamboat Pilot in an April 1935 story on the retirement of William Caywood, a government contract hunter with over 2,000 wolf skulls to his credit. “(Some would eat) nothing but the choice parts of an animal unless they were very hungry. Wolves are killers from the time they are a year old.”

Seventy-five years later, public perception has changed, and otherwise clear-eyed Westerners regularly wax poetic over Canis lupus. “Colorado will not truly be wild until we can hear the call of the wolf,” opined one writer in a recent editorial for Colorado Politics. “That mournful sound rekindles primordial memories of our ancestors, and to most of us, brings a state of calmness that nothing else can approach.”

Wolves, it turns out, may be a part of the world we want to live in after all.

This about-face is more than conjecture. According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wolves in Colorado,” echoing similar polls over the past 25 years. Yet state wildlife officials have been reluctant to comply, wary of the toxic politics surrounding reintroduction in the Northern Rockies.

In response, activists seized an unprecedented strategy. A coalition of nonprofit groups in Colorado, led by the recently formed Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, spent 2019 tirelessly gathering support to pose the question to voters directly through a 2020 ballot initiative. They succeeded, delivering more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of State. Initiative 107 was officially ratified in January and will be voted on this November. (Meanwhile, neither politicians nor wolves have stayed still. In January, a state senator introduced a controversial bill to regain legislative control of the issue; in the same week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed that a pack of at least six wolves was now resident in northwest Colorado, though it’s far from clear they represent the start of a comeback. For the moment, the future of wolves here still likely rests on the initiative.)

A new transplant to Colorado from the Pacific Northwest, I learned about the campaign from a canvasser outside Whole Foods in north Boulder on a sunny June day last year. In a parking lot filled with Teslas and Subarus, the tattooed volunteer stood opposite a wall-sized advertisement for the store, featuring the smiling faces of ranchers and farmers on the Western Slope.

It was a scene that would have done little to assuage fears that urban liberal voters were forcing reintroduction on rural residents. The canvasser caught my eye as I left the store. “Can I talk to you about reintroducing wolves to Colorado?” he asked, waving a pamphlet. I demurred and walked back to my bike. But the initiative and its backers — happy to use scientific justifications for their cause, paired curiously with populist rhetoric about its overwhelming public support — lingered in my head.

Darlene Kobobel. Photo credit: Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

The initiative fascinated me, beyond its potential to transform the landscape of my adopted home. As an academic biologist, I tended to think science should be both privileged in debate and somehow above the fray. But my own environmental ethic operated on an independent track — drawing on the scientific literature when it supported my opinions, and claiming it was beside the point when it didn’t. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project reminded me uncomfortably of this contradiction.

If voters decide to reintroduce wolves to an increasingly crowded state from which they were effectively absent for over 70 years, Colorado’s ecosystems and rural communities may change rapidly, in unexpected ways. Yet unlike nearly all other major wildlife management decisions, the choice would rest not with a handful of experts, but with the public.

The case poses a thorny set of questions. What will happen if wolves return to Colorado? When, if ever, can science tell us what to do? And, in the face of empirical uncertainty, could direct democracy be the best solution?

I wondered: If I knew my own research could dramatically affect ecosystems and livelihoods, would I want it to play more of a role in public life — or less?

CONSERVATIONISTS OFTEN HESITATE to frame arguments in moral terms, leaning on the perceived authority of empiricism to buttress their positions. At the same time, many conservation debates are complicated by the collision of disparate worldviews, where evidence is almost beside the point. Large carnivores — intensively studied and politically controversial — fall squarely in the center of this push-and-pull between data and belief.

In 1995, federal biologists released eight gray wolves from Alberta, Canada, in Yellowstone National Park, seeding a population that eventually grew to as many 109 wolves in 11 packs. With the wolves came the unique opportunity to test the theory that their influence on elk numbers and behavior reduced grazing pressure on riparian vegetation, with consequences for the very structure of rivers themselves.

Preliminary data suggested that this process — known as a trophic cascade — was indeed in effect. Elk numbers were down, grazing patterns were different, tree growth was up, and at least some river channels appeared to recover. A tidy encapsulation of the idea that nature had balance, it had broad appeal: In a viral YouTube video from 2014, British environmentalist George Monbiot breathlessly described these changes over soaring New Age synthesizers and stock footage of an elysian-seeming Yellowstone, calling it “one of the most exciting scientific findings of the past half century.”

Yet ecology is rarely simple, and as the mythology surrounding the return of wolves grew, so, too, did skepticism in the literature. Over the past 15 years, a cascade of papers has called into question most of the findings taken for granted in the popular account of Yellowstone’s transformation. Elk browsing might not be reduced in areas with wolves; streams and riparian communities had not returned to their original state; maybe beavers were more fundamentally important to these processes than wolves were. In sum, a 2014 review paper suggested that there are no “simple, precise, or definitive answers” to the question of whether wolves caused a trophic cascade in the park; another evocatively concluded that “(the wolf) is neither saint nor sinner except to those who want to make it so.”

Yellowstone represented a single experiment — one possible outcome among many. In a different corner of the West with more people, or different habitats, or more or fewer elk — in Colorado, for example — would wolves have had the same effect? Last June, a paper in the journal Biological Conservation attempted to answer this question indirectly by aggregating data on species reintroductions and introductions around the world and asking whether their removal or addition caused a reversion to historic conditions. Unsurprisingly, the answer was “it depends”: Restoring predators has unpredictable, complex consequences.

That paper’s lead author, Jesse Alston, was a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Wyoming. I met him on a bright fall day in Laramie, at a coffee shop in a strip mall on the east side of town. Driving up from Boulder the same morning, I marveled at the abrupt transition in landscape at the border between Colorado and Wyoming: In the span of only a few miles north of Fort Collins, the sprawl of the Front Range fades away, and the High Plains begin rolling up into a sepia-colored saucer from the flatter, hotter agricultural land of eastern Larimer County.

Alston spoke quietly and slowly, in the cautious manner of someone who anticipated a long future working with wildlife and wildlife-related controversies. Though he thought the evidence favored trophic cascades in Yellowstone, he was circumspect about predicting whether wolf reintroduction in Colorado would have the same effect. “(It) really hinges on the idea of there not being adequate predation currently. And there are a lot of hunters in Colorado.” But hunters are a minority of trail users, he added, and recreation of all kinds can influence elk behavior much the way fear of wolves does.

Jesse Alston. Photo credit: jmalston.com

I asked him to elaborate on the role of science in justifying carnivore restoration and whether he thought it might backfire. He paused, thinking, then said: “I think the people who would be most turned off if you don’t see large-scale ecosystem effects are the people who are least inclined to listen to science anyway, so I don’t see that being that big of a deal. But I do think that — as scientists, particularly as good scientists — that we should be sure that our ideas are buttressed by empirical findings.”

Of course, there are empirical findings, and then there are the caveats that always accompany them — the reasons we can’t say for sure what will happen when wolves return. “I think really where the science-policy nexus is most problematic has been when there’s misunderstanding of uncertainty,” Alston continued. “I think it’s good to advocate for causes that we believe in, but we should be pretty straightforward about discussing the uncertainty that comes along with that.”

IF WOLVES ARE NOT an ecological magic bullet, it is not readily apparent in the literature of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which nonetheless aims to “disseminate science-based information” as part of its mission. On its website, a blog post suggests that since wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, “the ecosystem has balanced.” This isn’t wrong, necessarily. But it isn’t correct, either, and the simplification belied a willingness to use science as a political battering ram. I was on board with the group’s mission as a voter, a Coloradan. As a scientist, though, it made me uneasy.

Though the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is itself young — founded at the end of 2018 — its roots go back nearly to the release of wolves in Yellowstone, through its Boulder-based predecessor, Sinapu. In 2008, Sinapu — whose name was taken from the Ute word for wolves — was folded into Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, which also sought to restore large carnivore populations to the Southern Rockies. On an October evening at a brewery in South Boulder, I asked Rob Edward — founder and president of the board of the wolf fund, longtime Sinapu employee and the public face of wolf reintroduction in Colorado for decades — why the group had chosen to emphasize what might be described as the spiritual resonance of the effects of carnivore reintroduction on ecosystems and landscapes.

Edward was eloquent but blunt, a middle-aged man who dressed in a way that suggested he was as comfortable in the rural parts of the state as in Boulder. His wife, Anne Edward, also a longtime wolf advocate, joined us; she was quieter, with gray hair and eyes that lit up whenever wolves were mentioned. They had chosen their language based on polling data, Rob Edward said. “They use that term — ‘restoring the balance of nature.’ Now, is it an oversimplification of a tremendously complicated system? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really.” At the same time, he said, the connection to research and its perceived authority was important. “The public as a whole places a tremendous amount of stock in scientists.”

While it was clear the couple would support reintroduction even if they were the only two people on earth in favor of it, they nonetheless viewed public opinion as validating. A ballot initiative was a necessary last resort, a way to force the state and its slow-moving wildlife officials to comply with the will of the people of Colorado. “We’re not excluding experts, we’re simply telling them, get it done!” Rob Edward said, pounding the table in a gesture that passed unnoticed against the backdrop of his general animation. “Figure it out! Don’t keep machinating about it for another five decades. Get it done!”

As I listened to him, I again found myself deeply conflicted at the prospect of the ballot initiative, and at putting major wildlife management decisions up to a simple vote. On the one hand, I appreciated that it was a creative solution to an intractable political problem, on behalf of a natural system divorced from the political ebb and flow of Denver. On the other, it seemed to set a dangerous precedent. As the history of our complicated relationship with wolves shows, popular opinion can be capricious. Was it really right to pose complex questions — questions at the limit of expert understanding — to a largely naive public?

Laws that translate science to policy can give a voice to a nonhuman world that cannot advocate for itself. Yet in our society, democracy is haunted by the question of whose voices matter. Edward was clear that polling showed clear majorities of Coloradans support wolf reintroduction across the state, including groups that you might expect to oppose it: Rural residents on the Western Slope, hunters and Republicans all support it by a substantial majority. But Colorado is changing, becoming less white, and he was unable to refer me to data broken down along racial and ethnic lines — particularly among historically disadvantaged groups that remain underrepresented at the ballot box.

Nor have the views of Indigenous people — who have the longest history of cultural connection to wolves, and whose lands in Colorado will likely be among the first impacted by a rebounding wolf population — been highlighted in the debate. I was unable to reach wildlife officials with the Southern Ute Tribe by press time, but they are clearly watching the issue closely. In a statement on the initiative, the tribe clarified that it does not have an official position on wolf reintroduction and is “simply evaluating whether (to) support, oppose, or remain neutral on the subject.”

Carbondale, Colorado-based muralist Valerie Rose works on one of four murals she’s done for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project since early 2018. This one is at Green Spaces in Denver. Photo credit: Cheney Gardner

SCIENCE IS VERY GOOD at addressing the how, but often fails when confronted with the should — the biggest questions, which veer into the realm of values. There is no experiment we can conduct to say whether we should proceed with wolf introduction, no data that can tell us if it is the right thing to do. It comes down to how evidence is filtered through our worldview: whether we think of humans as a part of nature or separate from it, and whether we think changes in grazing habits and water channels — and the presence of wolves themselves — add up to a fundamental good worth fighting for.

But, like conservationists, scientists often shy away from such moral judgments, and for valid reasons: the fear of being perceived as not impartial, thereby undercutting the authority of their research; a sense of obligation to the politically diverse taxpayers who fund their work; an acute awareness of the limitations of their data, statistics and the scientific method itself. In the public sphere, however, this feigned objectivity can have the negative consequence of suggesting there are scientific solutions to philosophical questions.

That wolf reintroduction advocates lean on science rather than those weightier themes is understandable. Yet arguing that having wolves in Colorado is an intrinsic good — because they represent what we want Colorado to become, not because they will have a net benefit on aspen growth or stream hydrology — would be more honest, and might win people over in unexpected ways.

Back at the brewery in suburban Boulder, Rob Edward vacillated between polished language justifying reintroduction in scientific terms and moments of raw emotion: “They have wolves on the Gaza Strip. They have wolves in Italy. They have wolves in Northern-freaking-California. Why can’t we have wolves here?”

IF THE BALLOT INITIATIVE passes this November, a three-year planning process begins, followed by what Anne Edward described as “paws on the ground” — the release of the first few wolves — in 2023, almost certainly in the San Juan Mountains. Advocates anticipate that this process will be difficult, and they are prepared for a fight.

A successful reintroduction would be a remarkable accomplishment, given the fraught history of wolves in Colorado, as well as a landmark event in the gradual return of large carnivores to the 21st century West. It would also be a remarkable reflection of the blurring lines between science, belief and politics in the 21st century. As political gridlock becomes a feature of daily life, and environmental degradation — the cancerous rot of the Anthropocene — metastasizes, the impulse to circumvent collapsing institutions in response to crises is likely to become more common. In these circumstances, what role should scientists and science play? How much should uncertainty prevent action, and how much should empiricism determine our value system?

There are no easy answers here. If the basic question of whether or not to reintroduce wolves to Colorado is largely beyond the purview of science, then perhaps putting it to a vote is the most responsible option. The messiness of democracy can be terrifying. Still, there may not be a better way. After all, the language of values has been a part of the modern conservation movement since its birth — the Endangered Species Act of 1973, for example, states that endangered species provide “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation.”

Toward the end of my conversation with the Edwards, thinking of their many years of advocacy and of the curious arc of history, I asked them what it was like to see an end in sight. “Do you allow yourselves to get a little carried with the fantasy of it?” I asked. “Things are in your favor — have you started imagining ‘paws on the ground’?”

Both were quiet for a moment, and the noise of the bar washed over us. “I’ve been working on this for 25 years,” Rob said, his voice breaking into a sob as Anne reached out and gripped his arm. “I certainly do.”

Ethan Linck has previously written about recreation and conservation for High Country News, and about science and nature for Los Angeles Review of Books, Undark and Slate. He is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico, where he studies evolution and genetics in birds. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

Study Finds Staggering Economic Benefit From Protecting Wetlands — The Revelator

Florida mangroves ecoregion — in the coastal swamps of Florida. Aerial photograph of Florida wetlands. Credits Image from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/wetlands-and-swamps-public-domain-images-pictures/mangrove-plants-swamp-in-florida.jpg.html

From The Revalator (Kimberly M. S. Cartier):

For example, in Florida, the loss of just 3% of wetland coverage resulted in $480 million in property damage during just one hurricane.

Mangrove forests, marshes, and seagrass beds protect inland areas from storm surges and strong winds. Over long periods, coastal wetlands like these build up sediment that mitigates sea level rise and local land subsidence.

A new analysis of property damage from Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal storms has shown that counties with larger wetlands suffered lower property damage costs than did counties with smaller wetlands.

“Starting in 1996, the U.S. government started to produce damage estimates for each tropical cyclone in a consistent manner,” explained coauthor Richard Carson, an economist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in La Jolla. Before that, the data were collected only for hurricanes, which hindered past attempts to put a price on the marginal value, or price per unit, of wetlands, he said.

With the complete data set, the researchers examined all 88 tropical cyclones and hurricanes that affected the United States starting in 1996. That time period includes Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

A Protective and Economic Boon

In addition to property damage data for tropical cyclones of all strengths, “our data set has considerably more spatial resolution,” Carson said, “which is a result of large amounts of information on storm tracks, property location, and wetland location all being digitized for use in a geographical information system basis.”

First author Fanglin Sun, formerly at UCSD and now an economist at Amazon.com, added that “areas subject to flood risk in a county are more accurately estimated, based on local elevation data and detailed information on individual storm trajectories” and wind speeds throughout affected areas.

The finer level of detail for the storm data let the researchers finally begin connecting wetland coverage and storm damage on a county-by-county basis, Carson said. “A storm track moving a couple of kilometers one direction or the other allows the amount of wetland protection to vary within the same county.”

In terms of property damage, Sun and Carson found that a square kilometer of wetlands saved an average of $1.8 million per year. Over the next 30 years, an average unit of wetlands could save $36 million in storm damage.

Some wetlands were valued at less than $800 per year per square kilometer and some at nearly $100 million. That marginal value depended on many factors, including a county’s property values, existing wetland coverage, coastline shape, elevation, building codes, and chance of actually experiencing damaging winds. And each of those variables fluctuated over the 20 years the team studied.

Overall, the highest-valued wetlands were in urban counties with large populations and the lowest-valued were in rural areas with small populations. However, wetlands provided a greater relative savings against weaker cyclones and in counties with less stringent building codes — areas that might not expect or plan for a tropical storm.

The team found no significant difference in the marginal value of saltwater versus freshwater wetlands or mangroves versus marshes. “Forested wetlands tend to be better at reducing wind speed and marshes tend to be better at absorbing water,” Carson said, “so the specific nature of the storm when it hits an area is likely to matter. [But] our results suggest that, on average, there is no difference.”

The team published these results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on March 3.

Wetlands at Risk

Most areas that have experienced storm-related property damage in the past 20 years have also lost wetland coverage, the researchers found. They calculated that Floridians would have been spared $480 million in property damage from Hurricane Irma alone had the state’s wetland coverage not shrunk by 2.8% in the decade prior.

Moreover, recent changes to the Clean Water Act have made the remaining coastal wetlands more vulnerable.

“The federal government, with respect to the U.S. Clean Water Act, took the position that the previous wetland studies were not reliable enough for use in assessing the benefits and cost of protecting wetlands,” Carson said.

“The value coastal wetlands provide for storm protection is substantial and should be taken into account as policy makers debate the Clean Water Act,” Sun said. “It’s also worth noting,” she added, “that storm protection for property is just one of many ecological services that wetlands provide. We hope our study will spur future research quantifying these other services as well.”

With tropical storms and hurricanes expected to happen more often because of climate change, the team wrote, wetlands will be more economically valuable than ever.

This story first appeared on Eos.

Western Water Webinars: Saline Lakes Series Part 1 – #SaltonSea, February 20, 2020 — @Audubon

Just above the horizon here, a haboob (dust storm) can be seen heading north.
This was shot at what remains of the Salton Sea Naval Test Station. Photo credit: slworking2/Flickr

Click here to register:

Audubon’s Western Water Initiative advocates for healthy rivers and lakes in the arid West, as well as the people and birds who depend on them.

Audubon’s priority saline lake ecosystems—Great Salt Lake, Lahontan Valley, Salton Sea, Owens Lake, Mono Lake, and Lake Abert—are at risk due to changes in water quality, quantity, and timing of water delivery. These changes are brought on by drought, diversions, and climate change.

This series of webinars will focus on efforts by Audubon and others to protect some of these unique systems. In this first webinar we will focus on a unique ecosystem that lies at the intersection of Western Water priority landscapes: The Salton Sea.

Two members of Audubon California’s Salton Sea team, Andrea Jones (Director of Bird Conservation) and Frank Ruiz (Salton Sea Program Director) will discuss the history and current status of the Salton Sea, its relationship to the Colorado River and Delta, the status of birds, policy initiatives, and community engagement and education programs. Learn how you can contribute to our efforts at the Salton Sea, both locally and remotely.

Time
Feb 20, 2020 04:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

Stoneflies and mayflies, canaries of our streams — @ColoradoStateU

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Boris Kondratieff):

Editor’s note: Boris Kondratieff, professor of entomology and curator of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity at Colorado State University, wrote this piece for The Conversation in January 2020. Colorado State is a contributing institution to The Conversation, an independent collaboration between editors and academics that provides informed news analysis and commentary to the general public. See the entire list of contributing faculty and their articles here.

The presence of mayflies and stone flies indicates clean water is nearby. Andrew/flickr, CC BY-NC via CSU.

Experienced anglers recognize that for a trout, the ultimate “steak dinner” is a stonefly or mayfly. That’s why fly fishing enthusiasts will go to extreme lengths to imitate these graceful, elegant and fragile insects.

I share their passion, but for different reasons. As a an entomologist who has studied stoneflies and mayflies for over 40 years, I’ve discovered these insects have value far beyond luring trout – they are indicators of water quality in streams and are a crucial piece of the larger food web. And they are in trouble.

Collecting bugs

I have served as director of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity since 1986. The greatest thrill of my career has been collecting and adding mayflies and stoneflies to our collection.

Boris Kondratieff collecting aquatic insects in Oregon with former student Chris Verdone via CSU.

To find specimens, I have traveled to pristine streams in every U.S. state, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Ecuador, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. My collecting trips have yielded more than 100 new species of mayflies and stoneflies.

One of my favorites literally fell into my lap as I was beating lush foliage along a pristine stream in southern Oregon during May 2014. The beating sheet is an efficient means of sampling dense, streamside vegetation, where adult insects hide. The sheet itself is made of sturdy canvas stretched over two wooden cross members. A stick is used to knock the insects from the vegetation onto the canvas, where they are collected.

When I saw a large yellow and black insect drop onto my sheet, I knew immediately it was a new stonefly species, previously unknown to science. I was ecstatic. My colleagues and I subsequently described it as Kathroperla siskiyou, after the Siskiyou mountains of southern Oregon.

Mayflies and stoneflies thrive in unpolluted water – a fact my colleagues and I have witnessed firsthand on our numerous expeditions. Not only do we see greater overall abundance of these insects in clean streams, but more diversity of species, as well. In polluted areas, we observe the exact opposite. Without a doubt, the presence or absence of mayflies and stoneflies in a stream is a reliable indicator of the quality of its water.

The role of mayflies and stoneflies in the food chain is fundamental, as well. Immature mayflies and stoneflies consume algae, living plants, dead leaves, wood and each other. In this nymph phase, when they have gills and live exclusively underwater, they are an important food source for many animals further up the food chain, including fish and wading birds. When the mayflies and stoneflies emerge from the water as adults, they are essential food for spiders, other insects such as dragonflies and damselflies, and many kinds of birds and bats.

Mayflies are on the menu for this hungry fledgling. Keith Williams/flickr, CC BY-NC

Currently, scientists estimate that 33% of all aquatic insects are threatened with extinction worldwide. Many of these species are mayflies and stoneflies. The mayfly species Ephemera compar has already gone extinct in Colorado, and several other species of aquatic insects are threatened in my home state.

Life drains into a stream

Less than 1% of Earth’s water is potable and available for human use. Maintaining water quality has become an ever increasing challenge because of the large number of chemicals people use in everyday life and in commerce. Common contaminants such as sediment, organic enrichment including fertilizers and animal waste and heavy metals are constantly making their way into the waters, as well. Declining water quality is like a police siren alerting humanity to current, ongoing and emerging pollution problems.

Native plantings along a waterway can reduce storm water runoff. Sheryl Watson/Shutterstock.com

One of my great passions is to enlighten others on how to protect the most valuable natural resource of the planet: streams and rivers. Individually, citizens can make a difference. Storm water is the number one water quality problem nationally. Enhancing and planting riparian buffers – that is, planted areas near streams – can help to prevent precipitation and sprinkler runoff. People can also prioritize using only native plants; decreasing mowing areas; recycling or composting yard waste; using less or no fertilizer; avoiding the use of pesticides; and bagging pet waste. Insisting that environmental laws be enforced and strengthened will also help reduce water pollution.

Without clean water, life on Earth will become difficult or impossible for mayflies and stoneflies, not to mention people.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Del Norte Riverfront Project update

Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.

From the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (Emma Reesor) via The Alamosa News:

The reach of the Rio Grande running through North Park has seen a lot of change in the last two months. Workers and machinery from Robins Construction have braved the elements as part of a plan to improve access to one of Del Norte’s most valuable natural resources.

North Park is one of the few public parks in Del Norte, situated on the Rio Grande just west of Highway 112. While featuring a fishing dock and riverside trail, the community thought more could be done to better connect residents to the river.

From this need arose the Del Norte Riverfront Project a community-led effort to improve access, create recreation infrastructure, and enhance wildlife habitat on the Rio Grande adjacent to North Park. Project partners, including the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project,

Town of Del Norte, Del Norte Trails Organization, Riverbend Engineering and Trout Unlimited have worked with the public over the past five years to plan and fundraise for the DNRFP.

Phase 1 of the DNRFP was completed during the winter of 2018 and included a new boat ramp and parking area located on the north side of the river.

In March of 2019, the DNRFP was selected to receive funding from Great Outdoors Colorado’s Local Parks and Outdoor Recreation grant program.

It was one of 22 projects chosen to receive funding in a highly competitive pool of projects.

This grant, along with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Gates Family Foundation, SLV Conservation and Connection Initiative, Del Norte Bank, Rio Grande County, and community donors, helped realize Phase 2 of the project, which includes the in-stream construction of a boating Play Wave, fish habitat improvements and passage, and river access points.

Work on these structures began in November 2019 and will be complete in early 2020.

Still yet to come this spring is an ADA accessible picnic area, as well as other park amenities. All these improvements will help promote a deeper connection to the river for residents and visitors alike.

Emma Reesor, Executive Director of the RGHRP, has been integral in the planning and fundraising for the project, and is excited to see construction in full swing. “It’s been a joy to work with the community of Del Norte to make this vision a reality” Reesor said, “Improving connectivity between people and rivers will have a positive effect on the community as a whole”.

Marty Asplin with the Del Norte Trails Organization has been a part of the DNRFP from the very beginning and worked hard to bring partners together to benefit Del Norte. “The addition of access to the Rio Grande was part of the Del Norte Trails Master Plan which was adopted by the Town of Del Norte and Rio Grande County in 2007,” said Marty Asplin, “accomplishing this is a large piece of the plan.”

If you’d like to check out the progress of the project, the fishing dock is a great place to view the construction.

To learn more about the DNRFP, contact Reesor at info@riograndeheadwaters.org or visit http://www.riograndeheadwaters.org.

Report courtesy of Emma Reesor, Executive Director, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

As the #SaltonSea shrinks, it leaves behind a toxic reminder of the cost of making a desert bloom — Food & Environment Reporting Network

Aerial view of the Salton Sea from the north-northeast (from over Joshua Tree National Park), looking into the early afternoon sun. Photo credit: Dicklyon via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s an in-depth report from Lindsay Fendt that’s running on the Food & Environment Reporting Network website. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Now the Salton Sea has another problem: Climate change is making this dry region even drier. And a growing demand for water in the booming cities and suburbs of Southern California has reduced the amount of Colorado River water diverted to nearby farms. In the coming years these two factors are expected to dramatically increase the pace at which the lake shrinks, exposing more lake bed and the agricultural toxins trapped in the mud.

The desert winds lift dust from the lakebed, and scientists fear that eventually the toxic residue of more than a century of agricultural runoff will be blown into the air — and into the lungs of residents. The area surrounding the Salton Sea already has some of the worst air quality in the country, caused by particulate matter swept up from farms and the desert. Local residents have some of the highest rates of asthma and other respiratory problems in the state, and public health officials say the heavy metals and chemicals in the lake bed pose an even greater threat…

It seems unnatural, the shimmering water surrounded by chalky sand and cactus. But water has found its way into this desert basin repeatedly throughout history. Before dams and other diversion structures fixed the Colorado River on its current path, the river used to periodically migrate across the floodplain, changing course to circumvent sediment that had built up in previous seasons. Sometimes it emptied here in the Salton Sink. During one such period, the river sustained an even larger lake, Lake Cahuilla, that stretched from the Coachella Valley, up by Palm Springs, all the way to northern Mexico.

We fly near the Chocolate Mountains that rise up south of the Salton Sea, and Ruiz points to a discolored line high on one of the ridges where a thousand years ago lake water once reached.

“If you talk to anyone from the Cahuilla tribe, the people who have been in this basin forever, they say water has always been here,” Ruiz said. “So this isn’t just about saving some artificial lake.”

Lake Cahuilla dried up sometime in the 16th century after the river again shifted course, this time to the Gulf of California. Dams have tamed the river’s meandering, and it’s unlikely the Colorado will ever find its way into the Salton Sink again. Yet the river’s water is still coming, diverted into the desert via the 80-mile-long All-American Canal.