This group was the “food base” team from the U.S. Geological Survey, led by Ted Kennedy and Jeff Muehlbauer. They had started their research trip at Lees Ferry, 87 miles upstream; they had already been on the river more than a week, and they looked it. Short-timers in the Grand Canyon, like me, wear quick-dry clothes and wide-brimmed hats only days or hours removed from an outfitter’s store in Flagstaff, Arizona. Long-termers like river guides and the USGS crew look like Bedouin nomads, with long-sleeved baggy clothes, bandannas, and a miscellany of cloths meant to protect every inch of skin from the sun — yet nevertheless with vivid sunburns, chapped and split lips, and a full-body coating of grime. Almost as soon as I got there, the ecologists wrapped up their work, packed their nets, buckets, tweezers, and other gear, and led me to their home: a flotilla of enormous motorized rubber rafts that held a mini-house of living essentials and a mini-laboratory of scientific essentials, all tightly packed and strapped to get through the rapids of the Grand Canyon.
Here’s a profile of Cindy Medina and her work with the Alamosa Riverkeeper via the Waterkeeper Alliance (Lesley Adams and Kate Hudson). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Inspired by the leadership of Alamosa Riverkeeper Cindy Medina, a community united to bring the Alamosa River back to life.
The San Luis Valley and the headwaters of the Alamosa River rest between the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado rest. Rising more than 14,000 feet above sea level, the “Blood of Christ” mountains are the southern tip of the Rockies and stretch over the New Mexico border to where the Kapota Ute Indians once lived.
Three centuries ago, Spanish settlers came north from what was then Mexico and settled in the San Luis Valley, where they took root amidst the cottonwood and aspen trees along the Alamosa River and became farmers and ranchers with an unflagging commitment to hard work and their Catholic faith. Cindy Medina, a present-day descendant of one of those families, became one of the first women to join the Waterkeeper movement.
The middle child of seven girls, Cindy was raised on a farm, helping with chores, playing in alfalfa fields, and splashing around in the irrigation ditch, called an acequia, that brought water to the farm. In her memoir, A Journey into the Heart of the Black Madonna, Cindy wrote lovingly of her family, whose pulsating force sustained her as a girl. Her memories of growing up in the San Luis Valley send aromas through the pages – of fresh tortillas and cinnamon rolls made by her mother, of the home-heating fires fueled by wood gathered in the mountains with her grandfather, of the potent herbal remedies wild-crafted by her grandmother. Her connections to family and the natural world around her were woven together. She wrote: “This lifeblood was no different than the acequia, the ditches lined with dirt that irrigated this arid land with water. . . The acequia was my ocean.”
Like many others in the rural West, Cindy left as a young adult to pursue a formal education. She earned a master’s degree in counseling from Arizona State University and relocated with her husband to Seattle. There she began a successful practice as a psychotherapist, gave birth to two daughters and, while on a trip to Zurich, Switzerland to attend a psychology seminar, came across an 8th century statue of the Black Madonna at a Benedictine Abbey and experienced a spiritual transformation that led her to environmental activism. The Black Madonna is considered by some to be the Queen of Nature,” Cindy explains, “and the archetypal energy that fuels change.” She is the mother who fertilizes all life and urgently demands a return to balance and wholeness, honoring the earth. In her memoir, Cindy describes her encounter with the Black Madonna as a spiritual awakening to the interconnectedness of all living things. In 1988, propelled by that journey of self-discovery, Cindy moved back home to southern Colorado, where she found that a pollution crisis threatened the heart of her community, the Alamosa River.
Gold, Greed and Cyanide
The mountains in southern Colorado are rich in minerals, gold and silver, which attracted extensive mining in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. And, in turn, like all boom-and-bust extraction, the mines left a toxic legacy. Acid mine drainage polluted and continues to pollute many Colorado waterways downstream. Mining in high-elevation areas like the San Juan Mountains petered out in the 1920s, and remained dormant for more than half a century, until a new, far more destructive method was developed to allow precious metals to be recovered from otherwise uneconomic ore.
In 1984, Canadian-based Galactic Resources and its subsidiary, Summitville Consolidated Mining Company (named for the local ghost town) acquired 1,230 acres of the San Juan Mountains that loomed above the San Luis Valley, and convinced the state of Colorado to grant them a mining permit for a new “state of the art” mining technique known as “heap leaching” – large-scale open-pit mining that involved slicing off half the side of a mountain and putting the mined ore in a lined open pit (“heap-leach pad”) with sodium cyanide to leach out the copper, gold and silver. This “state of the art” technique was efficient for the mining company, but disastrous for those who lived downstream. The liner of this pit almost immediately sprung leaks, contaminating nearby creeks with heavy metals and acid, and creating a 17-mile dead zone and a massive fish kill in the 51-mile-long Alamosa River.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
Each year, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) prepares a report on the health of Colorado’s forests to inform Colorado’s General Assembly, citizens and other stakeholders. The report provides an overview of current forest conditions, the forces shaping them and some of the actions being taken to address related challenges. This year, the publication also o ers a special section describing ways in which the state is dealing with millions of standing dead trees, as well as how it is managing those forests at continued risk of insect mortality.
Native forest insects and diseases are important to the ecology of all of Colorado’s forests, often setting the stage for the replacement of older trees with younger, more vigorous ones. However, these same organisms can impact the benefits society derives from forests, including wildlife habitat, recreation, timber production and watershed protection. Regular monitoring for the damage caused by forest insects is a fundamental aspect of forest management, and in Colorado the primary source of this information is an annual aerial forest health survey conducted cooperatively by the CSFS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Rocky Mountain Region.
Based on the 2017 survey, spruce beetle was Colorado’s most widespread and damaging forest insect pest for the sixth consecutive year. A total of 206,000 acres with active infestations of this bark beetle were observed in high-elevation Engelmann spruce forests, with nearly a third of these acres not previously infested. Counties most significantly impacted by spruce beetle in 2017 included Gunnison, Fremont, Hinsdale, Saguache and Chaffee. Mature Douglas fir trees also continued to be attacked and closely related bark beetle – impacting a total of 14,000 acres in many of the same counties, and several others in the central and southern portions of the state.
Besides the impacts of these bark beetles, in 2017 western spruce budworm defoliated 252,000 acres of Douglas fir, white fir and spruce in Colorado, with the most heavily impacted areas including the Sawatch, Mosquito and Culebra ranges; Sangre de Cristo Mountains; and the Tarryall Mountains in Park County. White fir continued to be attacked and killed by fir engraver beetle in Ouray and Archuleta counties, though tree mortality occurred on fewer acres than in 2016. And damage caused by a complex involving western balsam bark beetle and several species of root-decaying fungi continued to be ubiquitous, causing tree mortality on 50,000 acres of high-elevation subalpine fir throughout the state. Emerging, or currently more
localized, insect and disease threats also exist in Colorado’s forests. The exotic pest emerald ash borer (EAB), first detected in Colorado in 2013, continues to spread in the urban and community forests of Boulder County, and in 2017 was detected for the first time within the City of Lafayette. A needle cast fungi a effecting lodgepole pine forests on Vail and Monarch passes caused localized areas of premature needle drop, and a rapidly increasing outbreak of roundheaded pine beetle in Dolores County continues to a effect more acres of ponderosa pine each year – with more than 10,000 cumulative acres impacted since 2012.
The Gunnison Basin has been dealing with the state’s most serious bark beetle outbreaks, in part due to prolonged drought conditions. Several programs and methods currently are being employed to deal with this growing concern, including the Western Bark Beetle Program, the use of pheromone treatments to repel attacks on susceptible trees, and use of the Good Neighbor Authority to allow state contracting procedures to be used for management efforts on federally owned lands.
Nearly 3.4 million acres of Colorado’s pine forests have been impacted by the mountain pine beetle since 1996, and another 1.78 million acres of Engelmann spruce have been affected by a similar forest insect, the spruce beetle. Together, these bark beetles have caused widespread tree mortality on roughly one-fifth of Colorado’s forestland over the past two decades. But the problem of dead and dying trees in the state’s forests also offers an opportunity: standing dead trees can hold value for years, and currently are being utilized by wood products businesses in efforts that support forest management efforts.
The CSFS and its partners are working with sawmills and forest products businesses statewide to seize this opportunity. Colorado has more than 100 sawmills, ranging in size from small mobile operations to large-scale permanent facilities, and an estimated one-third of these mills use beetle-killed trees as part of their wood supply. Several specific areas and programs related to meeting the challenges of dead trees are addressed in this year’s report. More than a decade after the mountain pine beetle epidemic moved through Grand County, dead trees from over 30,000 acres of private and state land have been sustainably harvested and processed into valuable wood products. And cooperative efforts between the CSFS and its partners are providing opportunities to derive value from Colorado’s standing dead trees, including research with Colorado State University to determine how long wood remains usable after being killed by beetles or fire. A primary focus of these efforts has been at the site of the 2013 Black Forest Fire.
In locations throughout Colorado, CSFS and USFS e orts also are providing access to capital to support the state’s sawmills. These efforts not only help enable forest management, but create jobs in places like the San Luis Valley, where a new mill now employs almost 50 full-time workers from the surrounding area. Besides the need to address dead trees on the landscape, the need to manage forests with a focus on healthy trees – especially those at higher risk for future insect and disease concerns – remains an ever-present priority. To better deal with ongoing forestry challenges, the CSFS is proactively realigning its organizational structure, with changes beginning in 2018. All CSFS field offices will remain open, and the agency restructure will provide enhanced opportunities to fulfill the CSFS Five-Year Strategic Plan to foster healthy and resilient forests.
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
The report examines the impacts of widespread infestations of bark beetles. The insects have killed roughly one-fifth of Colorado’s forests in the past 20 years. The trend continued in 2017.
More than 200,000 acres of Colorado’s high-elevation spruce forests were infested with spruce bark beetle last year. Another beetle that attacks Douglas firs impacted 14,000 acres in the southern part of the state.
Temperature and precipitation can affect forest insects. According to the Colorado Climate Center, the average temperature in the state has increased two degrees since the 1980s. Water temperatures are also warmer. The report says these factors contribute to insect and disease outbreaks.
The state forest service report also focuses on dealing with the dead trees. Colorado has more than 100 sawmills, but that’s not enough to harvest and process all the beetle-kill wood.
There are several programs in the state to minimize impacts of bark beetles, including using pheromone treatments to repel the insects.
More greenback cutthroats are headed to a creek near you, thanks to a $60k grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Bring Back the Natives” (BBN) program.
This project to restore native greenback cutthroat trout to 14 miles of stream in George and Cornelius Creeks in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Poudre River, reached a major funding milestone with the award of the $60k grant. The BBN grant will go toward the design and construction of a temporary barrier to upstream fish migration in Cornelius Creek, enabling systematic eradication of non-native brook trout, brown trout, and whirling disease from the watershed.
“George Creek holds great promise for recovering Greenback cutthroat trout, but our conservation success depends on broad support from many partners,” said Canyon Lakes District Ranger Katie Donahue. “Receiving a national funding award from NFWF is a great step along our path.”
The grant is the direct result of continued support for the project from Colorado Trout Unlimited. In addition to this grant “The Greenbacks,” a chapter of CTU, previously leveraged funds from a crowd sourced fundraising effort to secure a grant from Patagonia’s World Trout Initiative, resulting in the contribution of $17k toward a permanent barrier at the downstream end of the project. This barrier will exclude non-native trout from the watershed in perpetuity.
“We’re proud of how our volunteers have risen to meet the call,” said David Nickum, Executive Director for Colorado Trout Unlimited. “From backpacking fish into high-mountain restoration sites and releasing them back into their native range, to helping install fish barriers to protect native recovery areas, TU members have been hardworking, enthusiastic partners in recovery.”
This recent BBN grant brings the total amount of funding raised from grant sources and other public fundraising activities to $162k for the project.
About the George Creek Multi-phase greenback recovery project
The George Creek greenback restoration project has been in the works for three years and consists of three phases: (1) eradicate nonnative trout from upper George Creek [Summer 2018], (2) eradicate trout from upper Cornelius Creek, (3) eradicate non-native trout in lower reaches of George Creek down to a permanent barrier near the confluence with Sheep Creek. The BBN grant will help fund phase 2.
Native greenback cutthroat trout will be re-stocked into the streams when it has been confirmed that all non-native trout and whirling disease have been completely eradicated, in the year 2025 at the earliest.
The George Creek restoration project will ultimately restore native greenbacks to 14 miles of quality trout stream habitat, more than tripling the number of stream miles currently occupied by greenbacks in their native range, the South Platte Basin.
“Our work has been benefitted greatly from our strong partnerships with Colorado Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service,” said Boyd Wright, Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It is gratifying to work together to ensure that future generations will enjoy Colorado’s greenback cutthroat trout for years to come.”
From Michigan State University (Layne Cameron , Jay Zarnetske):
Scientists at Michigan State University have shown that streams can be key health indicators of a region’s landscape, but the way they’re being monitored can be improved.
New research featured in Ecology Letters showcases how streams can be used as sensors to diagnose a watershed’s sensitivity or resiliency to changes in land use practices, including the long-term use of fertilizers. Using streams as sensors – specifically, near the headwaters – can allow scientists, land-use managers and farmers to diagnose which watersheds can be more sustainably developed for food production, said Jay Zarnetske, MSU earth and environmental scientist and co-author of the study.
“We were surprised to see that the streams were good sensors of long-term nutrient conditions,” he said. “Our methods show that we can learn much from a relatively small number of samples if they are collected more strategically than current watershed management practices dictate. This understanding is critical in protecting aquatic ecosystems and ensuring human water security.”
Human activity, especially agriculture, has polluted freshwater ecosystems across the planet, causing massive ecological and economic damage. Excess nutrients from fertilizer and fossil fuel can trigger toxic cyanobacteria blooms and expansive hypoxic dead zones, undermining the capacity of ecosystems to provide the food and water that sustains human societies, Zarnetske added.
For the study, Ben Abbott, formerly at MSU and now at Brigham Young University, led an international team in a culturally and historically important region of France. The area, which has seen nearly a millennium of agricultural activity, serves as a model as to how increasing use of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers are having lasting impacts on watersheds.
“The manipulation of phosphorous and nitrogen in the landscape is one of the greatest threats to the fate of humanity and the rest of life on this planet,” Zarnetske said. “Most people have no idea that the human manipulation of the phosphorous and nitrogen cycles is occurring, is affecting nearly every place on the planet and is one of, if not the greatest, current threat to the fate of humanity.”
There are dramatic aerial photos of algal blooms growing at the mouth of streams flowing into bodies of water, such as Lake Erie. However, most carbon and nutrients enter waterways upstream, at the headwaters. So rather than try to diagnose problems at the mouth, a more efficient way to address the issue would be to sample many areas closer to the headwaters.
“Basically, instead of standing in a large stream far from the headwaters and observing what flows past us through time,” Zarnetske said, “we illustrate that it can be much more informative to periodically travel around the region and grab samples from the smallest to the largest streams in the watershed.”
The team found that each small stream’s chemistry fluctuated widely due to changes in temperature, water flow and other factors. There was order to the variability, however, as there was synchrony in the behavior of each small stream and its role in the chemistry of the larger river system.
“That was unexpected,” Abbott said. “Somewhat surprisingly, we found that a single sampling of headwaters any time of year provides a lot of information about where nutrients are coming from and where to target restoration efforts.”
Future research will apply these methods globally, to different agricultural watersheds and forested landscapes experiencing changing precipitation patterns. For example, Zarnetske will study headwaters in the Pacific Northwest and the rapidly warming and thawing landscapes in the Arctic.
The new methods also can help direct efforts in selecting the most appropriate locations for sustainable agricultural land and development or identifying watershed responses to global warming, such as those in the Arctic.
Arctic landscapes, where soils are predominantly frozen, are rapidly thawing due to rapid climatic warming. As Arctic ice and permafrost melt, they release sediment and nutrients into rivers and seas. While the effects of these increasingly turbid waters and nutrients are unknown, their new approach can develop a baseline to begin monitoring their impact.
Additional researchers from Université de Rennes and University François-Rabelais Tours made keycontributions to this study.
2017 was a rough year for rivers and clean water, but thanks to all of you, American Rivers was able to make significant progress for the rivers that connect us all. Listen to our newest podcast “Reflections on 2017” to learn more about what we did to protect and defend rivers and clean water supplies in 2017.
In this episode of our We Are Rivers podcast, hear from Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers and other staff about challenges and successes for rivers in 2017, and our priorities for the coming year.
2017 brought many challenges for rivers and clean water, but thanks to you, our supporters, American Rivers was able to make significant progress for the rivers that connect us all.
We mounted a strong defense, sounding the alarm about attacks on our clean drinking water, public lands, and the rivers that flow through our communities. American Rivers supporters sent more than 286,000 letters sent to decision makers, making their voices heard loud and clear.
We removed 11 dams, restored more than 400 miles of rivers, and our volunteers cleaned up 2.58 million pounds of trash from local streams.
In this new episode of our We Are Rivers podcast, hear more about the threats we’re continuing to fight, victories we achieved, and what we’re focused on in 2018.
From The Walton Family Foundation (Sheldon Alberts):
As director of Trout Unlimited’s western water and habitat program, Scott [Yates] builds partnerships with private landowners to find creative ways to reduce demand for water in the arid Colorado River basin.
The search for innovative ideas is driven by fears of future water shortages – and conflicts – in a region where a rapidly growing population, extended drought and changing weather are all combining to threaten supply. Declining snow pack and water supply also puts critical fish and wildlife habitat at risk.
Because the system, agricultural producers and fish all need water, there is significant incentive for cooperation among different stakeholders.
Some of the most promising water management solutions are being tested along the mountain-fed tributaries of the upper Green River, near the headwaters of the Colorado River system.
For more than a century, farmers and ranchers in Wyoming’s high desert rangeland have relied on irrigation water from these streams to raise crops and cattle, sustain their livelihoods and build the state’s agricultural economy.
Trout Unlimited has worked with landowners to construct fish passages to prevent trout from getting stuck in irrigation ditches and save water by improving the efficiency of aging canals, some of which were dug in the 1880s.
Over the past three years, the conservation organization has also focused on helping landowners enroll in the System Conservation Pilot Program, which compensates ranchers and farmers in the upper and lower Colorado basin for voluntarily reducing water consumption.
Started by the Bureau of Reclamation and large municipalities including Denver and Las Vegas, the program aims to help stabilize water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In Wyoming, landowners are paid to stop irrigating in early July when mountain runoff is lighter and trout benefit most from having more water in the stream.
“In higher elevation country like the upper Green River, ranchers have shown remarkable interest in marketing late-season water flows. It’s after haying season and their crop is already baled and harvested, so they have less need to irrigate,” Scott says. “That’s good news for fish because the water that flows in late July, August and September is of really high value to them – especially during drought years.”
If streams become too shallow, water temperatures rise and trout die off. Streams can dry up and become disconnected from the main stem of the Green River.
While many of the creeks in the upper Green River are small, Trout Unlimited has sought to enlist multiple landowners to participate in water markets. “When you do that, there is a significant amount of land and a significant amount of water. It adds up.”
The Walton Family Foundation supports Trout Unlimited as part of its strategy to address the supply/demand imbalance of water throughout the Colorado River basin, which includes pursuing a flexible market-based water management system in cooperation with the agricultural community, rewarding water efficiency and restoring targeted flows.
Whether conversations about water management in the West occur in major cities, ranch houses or small town bars or coffee shops, they have the potential to stir controversy.
“These rural communities depend on that resource for their livelihood. It’s a hot bed issue,” Scott says.
The key to getting buy-in from landowners on reducing water use, he says, is to design a solution that adds value to their operation.
“The goal is to create a market so if it makes economic sense for a landowner to take land out of production – temporarily, on a voluntary and compensated basis – they can choose to leave the water in the stream,” says Scott. “That improves the overall reliability of the Colorado River system and provides maximum benefits for both ranchers and fish.”
Trout Unlimited staff work in small agricultural communities throughout the West, so they can build personal relationships with landowners and listen to their concerns and ideas.
“You have to bring something to the table that works for the community,” Scott says.
“The potential with water markets is that water can be acquired temporarily. The water right stays attached to the land. That’s important for landowners.”
For Scott, the personal reward is seeing the tributaries feeding the upper Green River remain healthy and viable for fish.
“The small streams draining out of the Wyoming Range support some of last native habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout populations,” he says.
Many of these streams are no wider than a one-lane road but produce trout 16 inches long.
“That signifies that the fish have everything they need. The water is clean, and there’s enough of it, for the most part,” he says.
“You can’t get any closer to great fly fishing than right here. It is truly one of the last great places.”