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GRAND CANYON ENVIRONMENT
This in-depth feature from the Arizona Republic reviews how dams and water management have thoroughly altered the environment in the Grand Canyon, and how some of those alterations could now be, paradoxically, protecting native fish.
The species — previously considered extinct — is thriving in Herman Gulch, off Interstate 70, after initial stocking attempts now appear to be successful
Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists first tried to reproduce and reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout into a stream, not far from Interstate 70 and the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel, in the summer of 2016.
When they returned the next summer, the results were grim. Researchers examining the ribbon of stream that winds down Herman Gulch found that none of the thousands of inch-long swimmers that were hauled up a steep trail by volunteers and placed in the waterway had survived.
But as history has shown, there’s never really an end to the story of the ancient, threatened greenback cutthroat trout.
A few months later, in September 2017, there was a good sign.
“Lo and behold, we found some of the fish that we stocked as young-of-year in September 2016,” said Boyd Wright, a native aquatic species biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northeast region. “We thought that it was a failed plant. We are seeing those fish, albeit in a very low percentage of what we stocked out.”
The news for greenbacks got better from there.
The creek has been stocked five times since 2016. Last year, CPW put in older fish, some of which were about 5 inches long.
“The real success story, I think, right now is with those fish we stocked last year as 1-year-olds,” Wright said. “We’ve seen on average about 35 percent survival on those. We’re really happy with that level of success. A year later, they’ve lived through a winter, they’ve lived through a runoff cycle. That’s significant.”
State wildlife officials chose the Herman Gulch stream, near a popular hiking trail, because a barrier where it spills into Clear Creek near I-70 prevents other types of trout — browns, brooks and rainbows — from sullying the genetics of the pure greenback population.
Before stocking the greenbacks, biologists remove other trout species from the creek.
CPW says the retention rate of the greenbacks in Herman Gulch is an encouraging sign for projects that the agency is working on to reintroduce the fish in other watersheds…
Greenbacks are being stocked in Dry Gulch, near Herman Gulch, and there are two more streams where CPW is building barriers — at a cost of about $250,000 — to stock the trout and keep other species out.
“Everything we know about this system tells us that it should support a population of native trout,” Wright said of Herman Gulch. “For us, we expect to have reproductively mature fish by 2019 and will best be able to detect if those fish reproduce successfully by 2020. If we see 1-year-old fish in the system in 2020, we know we had good, successful reproduction in 2019. I think 2020 is going to be a big year for this project.”
The hope is then to replicate that success elsewhere…
That passion for the greenbacks and for fishing was on display on a recent weekday morning. Several dozen volunteers from Trout Unlimited gathered with CPW officials waiting for a truck filled with thousands of tiny greenback cutthroats to arrive from Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery near Salida.
They huddled together in the chilly wind since the truck was more than an hour late. But they didn’t care about the delay.
“It’s pretty amazing to see not only the fish take hold, but the people it brings out in support of this,” Omasta said of the different people involved in hauling the trout up to Herman Gulch. “Just this past summer we had families, we had kids from middle school and a high school, walking alongside old fishermen.”
The volunteers fashioned an informal line as they waited for sloshing, 2-foot-tall, clear-plastic bags, each filled with 500 tiny greenbacks. They stuffed the bags into backpacks and headed uphill to free them into Herman Gulch.
As volunteer Brett Piché strolled up to the stream, several 5- or 6-inch greenbacks darted back and forth in the water. Piché placed his bag of fish in the water and, after a few minutes, carefully released its contents into the crystal-clear stream.
Immediately, a larger greenback swam up and gobbled a few of its smaller brethren and darted away.
The 1972 Clean Water Act has driven significant improvements in U.S. water quality, according to the first comprehensive study of water pollution over the past several decades, by researchers at UC Berkeley and Iowa State University.
The team analyzed data from 50 million water quality measurements collected at 240,000 monitoring sites throughout the U.S. between 1962 and 2001. Most of 25 water pollution measures showed improvement, including an increase in dissolved oxygen concentrations and a decrease in fecal coliform bacteria. The share of rivers safe for fishing increased by 12 percent between 1972 and 2001.
Despite clear improvements in water quality, almost all of 20 recent economic analyses estimate that the costs of the Clean Water Act consistently outweigh the benefits, the team found in work also coauthored with researchers from Cornell University. These numbers are at odds with other environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act, which show much higher benefits compared to costs.
“Water pollution has declined dramatically, and the Clean Water Act contributed substantially to these declines,” said Joseph Shapiro, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics in the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. “So we were shocked to find that the measured benefit numbers were so low compared to the costs.”
The researchers propose that these studies may be discounting certain benefits, including improvements to public health or a reduction in industrial chemicals not included in current water quality testing.
The analyses appear in a pair of studies published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cleaning up our streams and rivers
Americans are worried about clean water. In Gallup polls, water pollution is consistently ranked as Americans’ top environmental concern – higher than air pollution and climate change.
Since its inception, the Clean Water Act has imposed environmental regulations on individuals and industries that dump waste into waterways, and has led to $650 billion in expenditure due to grants the federal government provided municipalities to build sewage treatment plants or improve upon existing facilities.
However, comprehensive analyses of water quality have been hindered by the sheer diversity of data sources, with many measurements coming from local agencies rather than national organizations.
To perform their analysis, Shapiro and David Keiser, an assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University, had to compile data from three national water quality data repositories. They also tracked down the date and location of each municipal grant, an undertaking that required three Freedom of Information Act requests.
“Air pollution and greenhouse gas measurements are typically automated and standard, while water pollution is more often a person going out in a boat and dipping something in the water.” Shapiro said. “It was an incredibly data and time-intensive project to get all of these water pollution measures together and then analyze them in a way that was comparable over time and space.”
In addition to the overall decrease in water pollution, the team found that water quality downstream of sewage treatment plants improved significantly after municipalities received grants to improve wastewater treatment. They also calculated that it costs approximately $1.5 million to make one mile of river fishable for one year.
Comparing costs and benefits
Adding up all the costs and benefits — both monetary and non-monetary — of a policy is one way to value its effectiveness. The costs of an environmental policy like the Clean Water Act can include direct expenditures, such as the $650 billion in spending due to grants to municipalities, and indirect investments, such as the costs to companies to improve wastewater treatment. Benefits can include increases in waterfront housing prices or decreases in the travel to find a good fishing or swimming spot.
The researchers conducted their own cost-benefit analysis of the Clean Water Act municipal grants, and combined it with 19 other recent analyses carried out by hydrologists and the EPA. They found that, on average, the measured economic benefits of the legislation were less than half of the total costs. However, these numbers might not paint the whole picture, Shapiro said.
“Many of these studies count little or no benefit of cleaning up rivers, lakes, and streams for human health because they assume that if we drink the water, it goes through a separate purification process, and no matter how dirty the water in the river is, it’s not going to affect people’s health,” Shapiro said. “The recent controversy in Flint, MI, recently seems contrary to that view.”
“Similarly, drinking water treatment plants test for a few hundred different chemicals and U.S. industry produces closer to 70,000, and so it is possible there are chemicals that existing studies don’t measure that have important consequences for well-being,” Shapiro said.
Even if the costs outweigh the benefits, Shapiro stresses that Americans should not have to compromise their passion for clean water — or give up on the Clean Water Act.
“There are many ways to improve water quality, and it is quite plausible that some of them are excellent investments, and some of them are not great investments,” Shapiro said. “So it is plausible both that it is important and valuable to improve water quality, and that some investments that the U.S. has made in recent years don’t pass a benefit-cost test.”
Catherine L. Kling, professor of agricultural and life sciences and environmental economics and Cornell University, is a co-author on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.
Research funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project IOW03909 and Award 2014-51130- 22494 and a National Science Foundation Award SES-1530494. Much of the research was completed while Shapiro was at Yale University.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Ernie Rheaume):
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment for the Animas Water Quality and Resilience Improvement Project. The proposed project would implement riparian and streambank restoration activities at three sites identified in the Lower Animas River Watershed Based Plan, including the Flora Vista River and Riparian Restoration; Ruins Road Riparian Pasture Improvement; and Road 3133 Riparian Revegetation.
The project would improve water quality and resilience of the river. The project includes: river bank restoration, removal of Russian olive, reestablishment of native riparian species, river bank re-sloping to decrease sedimentation and fencing to exclude livestock access.
The draft FONSI and EA is available by contacting Reclamation at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reclamation will consider all comments received by Monday, October 22, 2018. Submit comments by email to email@example.com or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, CO 81303.
Here’s the release from the Water Education Federation via Water Online:
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) proudly announces students from the University of British Columbia and University of Colorado as winners of the 2018 Student Design Competition. The 17th annual competition took place during WEFTEC 2018, WEF’s 91st annual technical exhibition and conference.
The University of British Colombia team’s project, “Ellis Creek Remediation,” won in the Environmental Design category, and the University of Colorado – Boulder team’s project, “Enhancing Nutrient Removal at Boulder’s 75th Street Wastewater Treatment Facility,” won in the Wastewater Design category. This was the third win for the University of British Columbia (British Columbia Water & Waste Association) and the fourth win for University of Colorado – Boulder (Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association).
As a program of WEF’s Students & Young Professionals Committee, the competition promotes real-world design experience for students interested in pursuing an education and/or career in water/wastewater engineering and sciences. It tasks individuals or teams of students within a WEF student chapter to prepare a design to help solve a local water quality issue. Teams evaluate alternatives, perform calculations, and recommend the most practical solution based on experience, economics, and feasibility.
Members of the University of British Columbia team included James Craxton, Johnson Li, Steven Rintoul, Luthfi Subagio, and their faculty adviser, Dr. Noboru Yonemitsu. Members of the University of Colorado – Boulder team included Katie McQuie, Mercedes Kindler, Debbie Cevallos, Feng Xiang, Dome Cevallos, Jackie Kingdom, and their faculty adviser, Dr. Christopher Corwin. Both teams received certificates and their respective member associations will receive a $2,500 award.
Greeley and Hansen, Black & Veatch, CDM Smith, and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation sponsored this year’s competition. Click here to learn more about the WEF Student Design Competition.
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of 35,000 individual members and 75 affiliated Member Associations representing water quality professionals around the world. Since 1928, WEF and its members have protected public health and the environment. As a global water sector leader, our mission is to connect water professionals; enrich the expertise of water professionals; increase the awareness of the impact and value of water and provide a platform for water sector innovation. For more information, visit http://www.wef.org.
The restoration of a unique wetland on Mt. Emmons is wrapping up this summer season. This special wetland—specifically called an iron fen—was designated in 1999 as a Natural Area by the state of Colorado because of the unusual chemical makeup of the water and soils that provide an ideal ecosystem for rare carnivorous plants and unusual dragonflies. The iron fen has likely been around for about 8,000 years, according to fen expert and senior research scientist and professor at Colorado State University Dr. David Cooper.
According to a report compiled for the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition by Dr. Cooper, “Where perennial ground water discharges to saturate wetlands all year, dead plant leaves, stems and roots only partially decompose and accumulate to form peat soils, and these ecosystems are fens.”
What makes the Mt. Emmons fen unique is that it contains a pyrite-rich bedrock and talus, characteristic of only a few fens in the region. When the pyrite oxidizes it produces sulfuric acid, “which, when dissolved in water, forms a strong acid that can leach ions from the rock, including iron,” Cooper states.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, “Mount Emmons and a few other iron fens in the southern Rocky Mountains … are rich in mineral ions (especially iron and sulfur) but have a very low pH, which results in an unusual flora,” including small orchids and one of only four populations of roundleaf sundew in Colorado. Roundleaf sundew is a carnivorous plant that lures insects into a sticky trap, then digests its meal with enzymes before unfurling its trap once again.
The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests District (GMUG), along with the Army Corps of Engineers and Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, are working to restore the iron fen to pre–wagon road days, which runs parallel with Kebler Pass. The iron fen is located to the north of Kebler Pass Road on Mt. Emmons, and spans 15.1 acres across a sloping hillside.
The dewatering of the fen is mostly being caused by water being diverted into a historic ditch away from the old wagon road. According to Ashley Hom, a hydrologist for the GMUG Forest Service, “Without that ditch the water would destabilize the hillside,” which poses a risk for Kebler Pass Road.
In 2015 a storm on Kebler Pass dumped rain on top of snow, causing “substantial surface flow” across the fen, down the hillside and onto the road, which prompted emergency action by the National Forest personnel to widen the ditch between Kebler Pass Road and the fen, according to the Mt. Emmons restoration and mitigation plan.
While the ditch helped stabilize the hillside by diverting water out of the ground, it also resulted in significant dewatering of the iron fen. This issue is what prompted the restoration project through the GMUG Ranger District, which began in fall 2016.
“The goal of this project is to restore the surface and groundwater hydrology, along with the native vegetation, on the portion of the Mt. Emmons iron fen that was impaired by the emergency action that extended portions of the historic ditch… and included construction of a rockery wall, spillway, culverts, and rip-rap on Kebler Pass Road to protect the road yet allow for natural surface and sub-surface water flow from the fen,” according to the restoration and mitigation plan.
There is still some work to be done, states Hom, including more ditch work, planting, feeding and monitoring in the area, which will resume this summer.
Eight monitoring wells have been placed in the fen, four above the ditch and four below the ditch, and hydrologists will monitor the ground water levels in the wells, and the restoration “will be considered successful if [the wells] below the ditch show the water table depth there to be decreasing or rising closer to the surface,” according to the restoration and mitigation plan.
The plan states that “restoring the presence of a shallow water table within the area should provide for fen-like hydrology,” which will, in turn, restore historic vegetation to the iron fen below the ditch.
“Overall the rehabilitation of the drainage ditch within the Mt. Emmons iron fen appears to be successful. Ground water levels have already risen to within 30 centimeters of the surface and water table levels below the ditch are within at least 15 centimeters of those above the ditch,” according to the GMUG watershed team.
There have been many agencies involved in the restoration of this unique swath of wetland, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project, and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition that allocated $45,000 for phases 1 and 2 of the restoration and mitigation project.
You can follow progress of the project and direct questions to Ashley Hom at the Gunnison Ranger District, (970) 642-4406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.