The lost river — The Guardian #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #Mexico

Morelos Dam. Photo credit American Rivers.

Here’s a update about Mexican efforts to restore the Colorado River Delta from Nina Lakhani that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

…the river is dammed [by Mexico’s Morelos Dam] at the US-Mexico border, and on the other side the river channel is empty. Locals are now battling to bring it back to life.

There are few more striking examples of what has come to be known as “environmental injustice” – the inequitable access to clean land, air and water, and disproportionate exposure to hazards and climate disasters. Water in particular has emerged as a flash point as global heating renders vast swaths of the planet ever drier…

Currently the river flow in Mexico is 0.5 cubic metres per second, a fraction of what it once was. Another pulse flow to help restore the river’s estuary and wetlands could happen in 2021/22…

Because the 1944 treaty did not allocate Mexico any water for the river itself, the channel is mostly dry. The loss of the river in Mexico has has been devastating…

At the Morelos dam, located between Los Algodones, Baja California and Yuma, Arizona, the river is diverted to a complex system of irrigation canals which nourish fields of cotton, wheat, alfalfa, asparagus, watermelons and date palms in the vast surrounding desert valley. This is good for farmers – and less so for ordinary Mexicans.

Following the dry riverbed south towards the Gulf of California evokes an eerie sadness. The sound of gunfire in one wide, dusty section led to a couple from San Diego hunting wild pigeons, and a bucketful of feathered corpses. A few miles west along dirt farm roads, dozens of herons, egrets and ducks were staking out a wonderfully lush wetland – though it is only an accidental byproduct created by agricultural runoff from surrounding wheat and alfalfa fields.

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

The latest “Fountain Creek Chronicles” is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The Future of Fountain Creek: Frost Ranch Owner Takes the Long View

Here in the Pikes Peak region, many of us play in the Fountain Creek Watershed, whether we’re aware of it or not. We might hike or ride our bikes along Fountain Creek and its tributaries. We might fish or paddle our kayak in the creeks or lakes. But most of us don’t work the land – and we rarely witness Fountain Creek’s tempestuous nature.

Jay Frost. Photo credit: Frost Ranch

But Jay Frost, third-generation owner of Frost Ranch south of Fountain, Colorado, has endured the creek’s unruly temperament for decades. “I’ve been watching the creek all my life,” he says. “We make a living here. We try to deal with its unpredictable nature.”

Frost Ranch has deep roots in local ranching and farming traditions. The Frost family raises grass-fed and grass-finished lamb and beef in its irrigated meadows. They grow non-certified organic vegetables and grass/alfalfa hay in the irrigated parts of the farm. The Frost family takes pride in growing healthy, sustainable food. The lamb and beef are free of hormones, antibiotics, and corn; fields are never sprayed; and vegetable planting, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting are all done using holistic and traditional methods.

Fountain Creek’s erosion and sedimentation issues are vexing. How does this impact Frost Ranch?

Photo credit: Frost Ranch

“The creek is flashy,” Jay says. “If there’s a little sniffle of rain in Colorado Springs, here comes the water! We can go from a base flow of 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 22,000 cfs. When the water calms down, all the sediment drops. The sediment load in Fountain Creek is crazy!”

Simultaneously, the ranch is literally losing property from erosion. “We have a big cut bank – we refer to it as the Great Wall,” Jay notes. “It’s 60 feet deep and at least a quarter of a mile long. It’s sloughing off soil all the time.”

Jay adds that floodwater can wash away fences and irrigation pipes, and sedimentation can damage irrigation infrastructure. The Frost family no longer grazes livestock near the creek due to the invasion of non-native plants. “Parts of the creek are choked with trees and exotic species like salt cedar [tamarisk] and Russian olive trees,” he says. “You can’t fence the dang thing. It’s just gnarly.”

That’s why, nearly three decades ago, Jay helped to form a coalition to begin focusing on the Fountain Creek Watershed – and begin addressing its many issues regarding flooding, erosion, and sedimentation.

This early initiative helped to pave the way for the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control & Greenway District. Soon after the District was formed, Frost Ranch collaborated with District engineers to address a serious erosion issue on the ranch. According to the Project Summary, the lack of vegetation along approximately 400 feet of the creek’s bank allowed soil to be readily removed during high-flow events, resulting in flood damage, bank erosion, and increased downstream sedimentation.

Unfortunately, the repair project didn’t hold – a flooding incident washed it away. But Jay isn’t completely surprised, due to the turbulent nature of the creek. “Fountain Creek is normally a dribble, but it’s prone to flooding,” he says. “It can be wilder than hell when it’s really rolling.”

A Comprehensive Solution is the Best Way Forward

Bank stabilization Fountain Creek. Photo credit: Frost Ranch

When it comes to Fountain Creek, Jay Frost takes the long view. “I believe we can find a comprehensive solution – a silver bullet – that will address the entire Fountain Creek Watershed,” he says. “A comprehensive solution – an absolutely engineered approach – is always better than just taking a stab at the issues, project by project.”

This is one of the benefits of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which is addressing the watershed comprehensively. In fact, since 2009, the District has planned and/or implemented more than a dozen construction projects to address critical erosion and sedimentation issues throughout the watershed. Various project aspects involve restoring the main channel, realigning the creek, stabilizing steep cut banks, revegetating, protecting wetlands, and restoring riparian habitat. At the end of the day, if Fountain Creek has less erosion, less sedimentation, better quality and accessible water, we all benefit.
I n the conversation with Jay, it was noted that ranchers and farmers are on the front lines of water issues, fighting the good fight. “Yeah,” Jay replies, “but it’s so worth it.”

Learn more about the Frost Ranch Stabilization Project: http://www.fountain-crk.org/completed-projects/frost-ranch-bank-stabilization-project/
Learn more about Frost Ranch farm dinners, hunting club, and wedding packages: http://www.Frost-Livestock.com
Brand image and photos courtesy of Frost Ranch.

Three Dogs Are Rebuilding Chilean Forests Once Devastated By Fire — Green Matters

Source: PEWOS – Martín Bernetti/Facebook/Green Matters

From Green Matters (Desirée Kaplan):

Last year, forest fires in central Chile wreaked havoc in the El Maule region with more than 100 different wildfires sweeping through the area and destroying over a million acres of forest land. It was the worst wildfire season in the country’s history, taking several lives and created an estimated $333 million of dollars worth of damages. The animals were forced to flee to safer areas.

The job to replant endless acres of forests seemed like a daunting endeavor. That is until three unusual workers took up the task. Six-year-old Das and her two daughters, Olivia and Summer are three Border Collies who have been trained to run through the damaged forests with special backpacks that release native plant seeds. Once they take root, these seeds will help regrow the destroyed area.

Border collies Olivia, Summer and Das in the woods on a non-working day. (Photo: Francisca Torres)/Mother Nature Network

It turns out that Border Collies are an ideal breed for this specific type of job. Bounding through miles of forest terrain requires not only speed, intelligence, and endurance, but also a willingness to stay focused and not get distracted by wildlife. Border Collies were bred to herd sheep, so they’re not as likely to run after or hurt other animals in the forest.

The sisters who own and train the dogs, Francisca and Constanza Torres, say the furry trio have a fun time jumping and bounding through nature. Francisca, told Mother Nature Network, “They reeeeeally love [it]!! It’s a country trip, where they can run as fast as they can and have a great time.”

This system is also more efficient than having people spread the seeds manually. These speedy canines can race through a forest and cover up to 18 miles a day. Humans, on the other hand, can only cover a few miles each day. These pups can scatter over 20 pounds of seeds, depending on the terrain. While robots or drones might be able to disperse seeds too, dogs aren’t as pricey to handle. Most importantly, they leave a lighter carbon footprint.

Francisca and Constanza put special backpacks on the dogs, fill them with native seeds and then it’s off to the races. Once the dogs have emptied out their bags, Francisca and Constanza give them plenty of treats, refill their bags, and release them again to dash around the destroyed forest, sprinkling more seeds in their wake. The end goal of all this, of course, is to restore the damaged ecosystem and have the wildlife return to the forests.

For Francisca, bringing trained dogs into the forest made sense. She runs a dog training facility and community called Pewos. While they receive some donations, she and Constanza pay for most of the seeds, supplies, and transportation themselves. Despite the hard work, their labor of love is already paying off.

According to Mother Nature Network, Francisca said, “We have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest!” While the dogs have already worked in 15 forests in the El Maule region, Francisca and Constanza plan to keep spreading seeds to bring back the forests with the canine trio.

Middle Colorado Watershed Council River Restoration and Cleanup, October 19, 2019

Click here to go to their website:

Join Alpine Bank, the Town of Silt, and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council at Silt Island Park for a River Restoration and Cleanup Saturday morning.

Registration at 9:30.

Restoration and cleanup starts at 10.

Meet back at the park at 1 p.m. for lunch and awards.

Minnie Lynch Mine and Akron Mine cleanup

From Trout Unlimited (Jason Willis) via The Chaffee County Times:

The exclamation I hear most often from the general public, industry or federal/state partner organizations is “I didn’t know Trout Unlimited did that.”

That refers to abandoned mine land clean-up projects. TU has had an AML program for over 10 years, I’ve been part of it for the last 7.

The scope, complexity and budget of our projects have grown a lot in the past 4-5 years.

A cleanup will commonly consist of targeting an abandoned hardrock mine, 23,000 of which exist in Colorado, that has acidic, heavy metal-laden water, waste-rock or tailings (processed ore) on site.

Our staff will then characterize a site through water or soil chemistry testing to attain baseline metal concentration levels. This data can then be used in a reclamation design/plan that best suits a certain location.

The characterization part of the work is important. There is no one-size-fits-all type solution at many of these sites due variations in contamination, elevation, aspect, water and historical properties.

My program in TU has taken on a larger cradle-to-grave project management role in the recent past since we have the expertise to do most of this characterization and design ourselves.

This helps cut down on costs that ultimately can go into the ground to accomplish more work at a site.

The work most commonly focuses on revegetating barren and discolored waste rock or tailings areas, as well as managing water around those areas to keep it clean. I’m simplifying these techniques quite a bit. The pictures tell the story best.

The first two photos were taken from a project TU completed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service near Bonanza. Previous activity in the Bonanza Mining District at the Minnie Lynch Mine left this drainage dead due to contaminated soils and water.

Our work focused on confining the flow of Minnie Lynch Gulch into a sustainable stream channel while also incorporating soil amendments into the barren floodplain to establish native vegetation.

The two photos were taken 1 year apart showing impressive results. The native vegetation has continued to thrive 3 years after implementation with local cattle even being observed enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Another local project TU completed in partnership with USFS was the Akron Mine cleanup, which is in the headwaters of Tomichi Creek near the town of Whitepine.

This nationally award-winning project moved over 120,000 cubic yards of mine wastes out of the floodplain and into two large on-site repositories.

The wastes exhibited high levels of lead and zinc, making ecological and human health a priority for clean-up actions. By moving the wastes, a 60-foot wide floodplain was established along an 1,100-foot section of Tomichi Creek. The entire 8-acre footprint was revegetated using native seed. A large culvert was also removed that was acting as a fish barrier to local brown and brook trout populations.

These are just two example projects of the “I didn’t know TU did that” category of work. Over the past 3-4 years, the TU Colorado AML program has spent $500,000 to $1.2 million annually on construction towards these types of projects that protect the state’s water quality.

That is no small task given the increased scrutiny from federal agencies, legal hurdles, lack of funding and varied site complexities.

Fortunately, federal agencies have been recently motivated to facilitate these types of clean-ups with existing Good Samaritan protections while also exploring legislative fixes that will help protect third party organizations like TU from potential legal ramifications.

With over 25 projects under the program’s belt over the last 7 years in Colorado, TU looks to continue to build capacity and chip away at our state’s water quality issues stemming from abandoned mines.

With increased climate variability, overallocation and increased population influx in Colorado, this type of work will become more significant when it comes to protecting our water resources.

Now that you know more of what TU does, I can end with the assurance that our membership and staff will continue to protect our Nation’s Coldwater Resources across Colorado and the U.S.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter our events and projects visit our website http://collegiatepeaksTU.org

Jason Willis is a former board director for the Collegiate Peaks Chapter and is currently abandoned Mine Program manager for NTU.

Thornton Big Dry Creek project update

Screen shot from the City of Thornton Big Dry Creek Recreation & Floodplain Restoration Master Plan (Click image to read the report)

From The Westminster Window (Scott Taylor):

An effort to convert a portion of the Big Dry Creek from a steep canal through Thornton’s open space into a meandering stream should wrap up this winter.

“The intent is to improve wildlife habitat and make it more of a sustainable creek during large runoff event,” said Paula Schulte, Thornton’s parks and open space project manager. “The water will be able to spread into the flood plain, versus going like a roller coaster down that chute.”

Work reshaping the creek’s path through Thornton’s open space between E-470 and 152nd Parkway and west of York Street should be completed before the year’s end, Schulte said. Landscaping and planting along the creek’s banks should wrap up in May…

The Big Dry Creek is a tributary that covers about 110 square-miles between Golden’s Coal Creek Canyon and Fort Lupton in Weld County, where it meets up with the South Platte River…

Water treatment plants in Westminster and Broomfield feed the stream, too.

“So, now there’s water in it all the time,” she said. “And when you get a storm event on top of everything, it just digs down.”

[…]

The project is costing about $1.5 million, paid for by grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and Adams County Open Space…

Over the next few months, crews from Mile High Flood District will be cutting the stream’s sides, creating tiers and steps down to the water. They shouldn’t change the path of the stream much, but some change will be inevitable.

“In order to spread the creek out, it will change things a little bit,” Schulte said. “The Army Corps of Engineers gave it a permit but that’s just because we needed to room to do it.”

Once the channel is set, crews will begin planting native plants along the area, removing plants like the Russian Olive Trees, a non-native plant that’s considered invasive.

“These are wetland, riparian trees and shrubs — and this according to the Army Corps of Engineer’s permit,” she said. “The goal is to make it all more gorgeous and healthy, with more habitat and much more plant material. Right now, it’s so steep not much can grow there.”

Both the flood district and the Army Corps of Engineers will monitor the area for five years.

Habitat improvement project at Jackson Lake State Wildlife Area will benefit waterfowl — @COParksWildlife

From Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay):

Ahead of the start of the waterfowl migration into Colorado, Colorado Parks and Wildlife technicians and officers are finishing up construction for a habitat improvement project at the Jackson Lake State Wildlife Area (SWA).

The habitat improvement project starts by being more efficient with its water.

Crews are installing 2,750 feet of piping – which is greater than the length of nine football fields – for the water delivery system into the managed wetlands. The addition of the infrastructure will be highly more efficient and hands off than the old ditch system that required nearly daily maintenance and clearing when the irrigation season is open.

“It is a big-scale project, but the idea is to make it simpler while saving time and money,” said Wildlife Technician Cory Bullen. “If we can get the water directly into the wetlands without all that loss we were having it saves the ditch company water and saves our water.”

Crews were able to secure a 2018 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Wetland Grant Award to the tune of $120,000 to pay for the vast majority of the $143,000 project bill. The remaining $23,000 was funded out of the local CPW area budget and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The Jackson Lake SWA, located just to the north of Jackson Lake State Park in Morgan County, is 394 acres that is open to dove, rabbit and waterfowl hunting. The waterfowl is the main attraction of hunters, and in the Central Flyway first season that runs Oct. 12 through Dec. 2, the SWA averages around 650 waterfowl hunters with another 200-plus participating in the second season, Dec. 19-Jan. 31.

The majority of the first season hunters used to be in the first three weeks of the season before the irrigated wetlands, which at Jackson Lake SWA there are six of them on eight huntable areas, would begin to skim, or freeze over, by mid-November.

With the infrastructure in place, there is the ability to put a lot more water into the shallow wetlands earlier, not lose as much, and still have water within our rights available to use later in the season. Previously all the water would go out at once.

“A project like this will benefit the habitat and gives us the potential for more options on when we can irrigate,” said Wildlife Officer Todd Cozad. “We should be able to make it better for the waterfowl by having the ability to provide more open water for them. Hunters will be able to benefit from this as well with enhanced opportunities.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the west head gate was turned on and water reached the furthest pond in just five minutes. In years past, that used to take 1-2 days to get there with the old ditch system.

Other species aside from waterfowl that will reap the benefits from the project include greater sandhill cranes and the northern leopard frog.

Additional state wildlife areas in Morgan County with quality waterfowl hunting include Andrick Ponds, Brush Prairie Ponds and Elliott.

Rancher, Ditch Company and Environmental Group Work Together to Restore and Improve Left Hand Creek in Boulder County Following 2013 Flood — #Colorado Ag Water Alliance

Left hand creek restoration. Photo credit: Colorado Ag Water Alliance

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (Marilyn Bay Drake):

Those of us who lived in Colorado in September 2013 likely remember the days of hard rain that are so uncharacteristic of Colorado, especially this time of year. We watched in horror as television footage showed rivers overflowing their banks and houses, barns and livestock being washed away. Aerial shots showed entire farms under water.

Rural communities came together to salvage what they could and make sure neighbors and livestock were safe. Six years later, another story is being told. The Colorado Agriculture Water Alliance is showcasing how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservancy districts, environmental groups and other entities came together to improve river health, irrigation efficiency and environmental and recreational use of Colorado’s limited water supplies.

The story of how different users united to restore Left Hand Creek after the 2013 flood shows how working together can make the creek better for all users, including improving the efficiency of irrigators.

“(The 2013 flood) was the third flood I’ve seen come through here, but it was by far the most destructive,” said cow-calf operator Ron Sutherland, Twin Lakes Ranch, Niwot, Colo. Sutherland’s ranch has been designated a Colorado Centennial Farm and has been operated by his family since 1881.

“There was 11-15 feet of water, canyon wall to canyon wall,” said Terry Plummer, Left Hand Ditch Company, which provides irrigation water for 30,000 acres of farmland as well as providing water to Left Hand Water District to make drinking water for towns and cities.

“The water jumped the banks and created four rivers coming down,” explained Plummer.
Farmers and ranchers along the creek had to deal with washouts that were 30 feet long and eight to ten feet deep. The flooding on Sutherland’s property washed out Left Hand Creek, eroding pastureland and making the creek difficult for his cattle to access for water.

According to Jessica Olson, Left Hand Watershed Center, Longmont, Colo., the the flood was the catalyst that brought together farmers, the ditch company and municipal and environmental groups to decide on a plan that would restore what the flood destroyed. The group worked with the state and federal governments to secure funding to help implement the plan.

The plan included stabilizing the creek bed to protect agriculture infrastructure and restoring creek banks for both aesthetic and practical reasons. It also included reconnecting floodplains and grading low flow channels in the creek bottom. On Sutherland’s ranch, ramps were created to allow cattle to access water at a designated location along the creek, while also protecting newly planted vegetation.

“The low flow channels sped up the water (in the creek), and when we get past the run-off and the river shrinks, the water is concentrated over several feet instead of ten to 15 feet, said Plummer. “This enables us to get the irrigation water where it needs to go faster and more efficiently.”

“That (his ranch land) has all been filled in and reseeded,” said Sutherland. “I’m glad to see them come in and restore it.”

Olson added that the project also incorporated bank stabilization, which reduces the amount of sediment flowing into the creek, which reduces the need for irrigation users to clean clogged creek beds and diversion areas.

“This work was a win-win,” said Olson. “We were able to return the river to a more natural and beautiful state, improve fish habitat and increase the efficiency and quality of water used by agriculture. Improving our watersheds requires understanding all users. Multi-benefit projects require collaboration; we really do need to work with each other.”

To see a six-minute video of the Left Hand Creek restoration project, a fact sheet on this project and other resources, visit https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management

Grants to help fund stream management planning, such as those used by the Left Hand Creek project, are available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The deadline for the next round of funding is Nov. 1, 2019. For more information on stream management planning in your area or for resources available to assist agriculture with irrigation infrastructure visit http://coloradosmp.org., or contact Alyssa Clarida with the Colorado Department of Agriculture State Conservation Board at alyssa.clarida@state.co.us or Greg Peterson with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance at coagwater@gmail.com

Managing #stormwater and stream #restoration projects together — Phys.org

The City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (OSMP) has begun a major restoration project that will improve native fish habitat in Boulder Creek and restore natural areas surrounding the creek. This ecological project also will repair damage from the 2013 floods by returning Boulder Creek to its pre-flood channel, and will include the planting of more than 11,000 native trees and shrubs. These plantings will help improve the creek’s sustainability and resiliency, and help mitigate damage to private and public property during future floods. These efforts are occurring in two areas east of Boulder. Photo credit the City of Boulder.

Click here to read the report (paywall). Here’s the abstract:

Urbanization alters the delivery of water and sediment to receiving streams, often leading to channel erosion and enlargement, which increases loading of sediment and nutrients, degrades habitat, and harms sensitive biota. Stormwater control measures (SCMs) are constructed in an attempt to mitigate some of these effects. In addition, stream restoration practices such as bank stabilization are increasingly promoted as a means of improving water quality by reducing downstream sediment and pollutant loading. Each unique combination of SCMs and stream restoration practices results in a novel hydrologic regime and set of geomorphic characteristics that interact to determine stream condition, but in practice, implementation is rarely coordinated due to funding and other constraints. In this study, we examine links between watershed-scale implementation of SCMs and stream restoration in Big Dry Creek, a suburban watershed in the Front Range of northern Colorado. We combine continuous hydrologic model simulations of watershed-scale response to SCM design scenarios with channel evolution modeling to examine interactions between stormwater management and stream restoration strategies for reducing loading of sediment and adsorbed phosphorus from channel erosion. Modeling results indicate that integrated design of SCMs and stream restoration interventions can result in synergistic reductions in pollutant loading. Not only do piecemeal and disunited approaches to stormwater management and stream restoration miss these synergistic benefits, they make restoration projects more prone to failure, wasting valuable resources for pollutant reduction. We conclude with a set of recommendations for integrated planning of SCMs and stream restoration to simultaneously achieve water quality and channel protection goals.

From Phys.org (Susan V. Fisk):

Both stormwater control and stream restoration are proven ways to reduce erosion along water channels. Often, though, each method is managed by a different urban land-management department, measuring different success values. Efforts are rarely coordinated due to funding and other constraints.

Rod Lammers and his colleagues at the University of Georgia looked at some computerized models to see if coordinating these land management practices with common goals might have a greater positive impact on erosion. The good news? It does.

First, let’s take a look at why stormwater management systems are necessary. In nature, precipitation falls onto forests, prairies and other soil-based areas. The water is soaked into the soil, down into the water table, and out into water bodies. Eventually, through evaporation, that water gets back into the atmosphere—until the next precipitation event.

In cities, though, pavement, rooftops, and other structures break the water cycle. City managers and engineers develop stormwater management systems to collect and move water in long tunnels, under buildings, and out to waterways. The more impermeable structures and the larger the area, the more complex the system must be…

Because this stormwater hasn’t been able to take advantage of soils’ natural ability to clean water, the water can be filled with sediment, and undesirable nutrients. These can take a toll on the stream habitats and harm sensitive ecosystems downstream. In addition, the larger runoff volumes and higher and more frequent peak flows can lead to stream bank erosion. The UGA study only looked at sediments and nutrients coming from the soil eroded in the channels.

Lammers and his team looked at newer stormwater management approaches, called green infrastructure. These types of structures attempt to allow more water to soak into the soil like a natural system. “We are essentially trying to ‘restore’ the city to a more natural water cycle,” says Lammers.

Each combination of stormwater controls and restoration projects results in its own improvements. However, “piecemeal approaches to stormwater management and stream restoration miss synergistic benefits,” says Lammers. “They make restoration projects more prone to failure, wasting valuable resources for pollutant reduction.”

Stormwater management programs often focus on peak flow rates of large, less frequent storms. They also attempt to removed suspended solids, as well and nitrogen and phosphorus.

Lammers’ team developed computerized models to predict the effects of three different stream restoration scenarios and three different stormwater treatment scenarios. Thus, there were scenarios with a combination of restoration and treatment techniques. Such an “experiment” in the field would take a long time and involve a lot of expense.

“Computer modeling is a powerful tool. We can test the relative success of different management approaches, over years or even decades,” says Lammers. “These results can then be used by agencies to help with their planning. Of course, modeling has its limitations. Monitoring the actual performance of stormwater practices and stream restoration is essential. They also have to adapt management approaches based on observed successes and failures.”

“Our results suggest that watershed-scale implementation of stormwater controls that reduce runoff volume is essential,” says Lammers. “The controls need to address a spectrum of storm sizes. This is a more effective approach for reducing channel erosion than stream restoration. Aggressive, early implementation may have resulted in even less pollution by avoiding erosion early on. Much like investing early in life leads to greater financial returns, early implementation of stormwater controls and restoration can result in greater water quality and channel stability benefits.”

“Stream restoration can complement effective stormwater treatment to reduce erosion and pollutant loading,” says Lammers. “However, these approaches should be coordinated to achieve the best results. In addition, stormwater controls have a much greater potential to reduce stream erosion than channel restoration. Cities need to address the root cause of erosion—the altered urban water cycle. That is more effective than only treating the symptoms by stabilizing the channel itself.”

Since this study was done in Colorado, future research could be done to apply similar approaches in different climates. Different rainfall patterns might result in different effectiveness of stormwater controls. Also, looking at different restoration strategies, like floodplain reconnection to reduce the velocity and erosive power of floods, would be interesting. Similarly, it would be useful to compare different stormwater control strategies, to see which perform best in different scenarios.

@COParksWildlife, @DenverWater partnering to improve aquatic habitat on Kemp-Breeze section of Williams Fork

Williams Fork River

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Mike Porras):

Beginning Oct. 1, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Denver Water will begin collaborating on a month-long project to improve fish habitat within a popular stretch of the Williams Fork River near the town of Parshall. Located in CPW’s Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area, the section of river to be improved will not close during construction; however, the agencies advise anglers to consider fishing in alternative waters while the work is ongoing.

CPW and Denver Water officials say although they understand October is a prime fishing period along this stretch of the Williams Fork, work would not be possible until streamflow below the Williams Fork Dam slowed to approximately 75 cubic feet per second or less, expected to occur the first week of October.

“Unfortunately, this will affect some fishing trips to this area but anglers should know that the long-term improvements will be worth the temporary inconvenience,” said Jon Ewert, area aquatic biologist with CPW. “This project will turn a very good trout fishery into a great one, so we ask anglers for a little patience.”

“Habitat improvement is one of the most beneficial things we can do to help conserve our natural resources,” said Ben Gallowich, the Kemp-Breeze SWA technician for CPW. “The fish will benefit, the anglers will benefit and this state wildlife area will become an even more attractive place to spend the day outdoors catching trout.”

Ewert says the most significant, short-term impact caused by construction will be visible sediment in the water.

“Due to the type of habitat work that will occur, there will be periods of significant turbidity in this stretch and downstream beyond the confluence with Colorado River,” he said. “And of course there will be heavy equipment throughout the area so it won’t be aesthetically ideal. If anglers choose to fish here they are welcome to do so, but they should avoid machines and construction areas.”

The improvements will include reshaping the channel to enhance habitat diversity for all life-stages of trout. Currently, the river has an overabundance of long riffles. In addition, pools that provided excellent trout holding areas have filled-in with sediment. The habitat project will address these shortcomings.

Completed in 1959, Williams Fork Dam and its power plant sends water and electricity to the West Slope when Denver diverts water. The dam backs up a reservoir of nearly 97,000 acre-feet of water, creating the second-largest water body in Grand County.

For more information and details about the project, contact Denver Water at 303-628-6700.

Secretary Bernhardt Announces Over $100 Million in Public-Private Funding for Wetland Conservation Projects — @USFWS

Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Vanessa Kauffman):

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, chaired by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, approved $28 million in funding for various wetland conservation projects.

Marking its 30th anniversary since enactment, the 2019 North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants will be used to ensure waterfowl and other birds are protected throughout their life cycles. Of the funds issued, $23.9 million was allocated for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to conserve or restore more than 150,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds in 20 states throughout the United States. These grants will be matched by more than $72 million in partner funds.

“These public-private grants help uphold President Trump’s important promise to America’s sportsmen and women to preserve our nation’s wildlife and provide access to our public lands for future generations,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “Landmark legislation like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has made that possible for all Americans and these treasured natural resources during the past 30 years.”

Wetlands provide many ecological, economic and social benefits such as habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants. NAWCA grants conserve bird populations and wetland habitat while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, family farming and cattle ranching. This year’s projects include:

  • Missouri River Valley Wetlands – $1 million to acquire, restore and enhance 4,618 acres within major wetland and grassland complexes within the Missouri River Alluvial Plain in western Iowa and northwest Missouri, benefitting northern pintail, lesser scaup and many other species.
  • Upper Snake River – $1 million to protect and enhance 1,691 acres of migrating, breeding and wintering habitat in eastern Idaho. Species that will benefit include trumpeter swan, northern pintail and mallard.
  • Texas Bays, Wetlands and Prairies II – $1 million to enhance 2,885 acres of wetland types and other critical wetland habitats in mid-coast Texas. The project will benefit mottled ducks, black-bellied whistling ducks, fulvous whistling ducks and other species.
  • The commission also received a report on 31 NAWCA small grants, which were approved by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council in March. Small grants are awarded for smaller projects up to $100,000 to encourage new grantees and partners to carry out smaller-scale conservation work. The commission has authorized the council to approve these projects up to a $5 million. This year, $3 million in grants was matched by $11.1 million in partner funds.

    NAWCA is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. Since 1989, funding has advanced the conservation of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico while engaging more than 6,200 partners in nearly 3,000 projects. More information about the grant projects is available here.

    The commission also approved $4.2 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve 2,200 acres in Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. These funds were raised largely through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps.”

    “Buying Duck Stamps is one of the many ways hunters contribute to conservation.” said Bernhardt. “Expanding waterfowl habitat and hunter access through this Duck Stamp-funded acquisition is a great way to kick off hunting season.”

    “NAWCA is a cornerstone funding program for DU’s conservation work across the continent,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam. “Secretary Bernhardt’s announcement of the $28 million in approved funding for the program will ensure DU and our partners are able to continue habitat improvement projects across North America. These funds will be matched dollar for dollar and are often doubled, tripled or more in conjunction with project-specific partners. This allows organizations like DU and our partners to provide critical habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife. We appreciate the Secretary’s foresight and his commitment to conservation.”

    “CSF applauds the Department of the Interior for the issuance of $28 million in funding for grants that are made available through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, said President of Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation Jeff Crane. “Since inception, this highly successful program has completed more than 2,800 projects spanning across nearly 30 million acres in all 50 states, Canada and Mexico. NAWCA requires that for every federal dollar contributed to the program, a non-federal source must equally match the federal contribution. Sportsmen and women are often part of this non-federal match, making this a partnership that benefits habitat conservation and our great outdoors traditions.”

    “The habitat restoration work on the Klamath Marsh Refuge is particularly important for migrating waterfowl given the water shortage and long-term decline of wetlands in the nearby Klamath Basin,” stated Mark Hennelly, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the California Waterfowl Association. “Our Association appreciates the commission and the Department of Interior’s ongoing efforts to address waterfowl habitat needs in southern Oregon and northeastern California.”

    Funds raised from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps go toward the acquisition or lease of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Duck Stamps – while required for waterfowl hunters as an annual license – are also voluntarily purchased by birders, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of national wildlife refuges who understand the value of preserving some of the most diverse and important wildlife habitats in our nation.

    The Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge project will restore and conserve more than 2,200 acres on the upper Williamson River for migratory birds, including several species of waterfowl, such as northern pintail, mallard, American wigeon, Canada geese, white-fronted geese and snow geese. The restoration will improve the area for native fish species, especially redband and rainbow trout, providing for world-class fishing as well as expanding public use opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.

    Since 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp Program and Migratory Bird Conservation Fund have provided more than $1 billion for habitat conservation in the Refuge System.

    The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an unparalleled network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. Refuges offer world-class public recreation, from fishing, hunting and wildlife observation to photography and environmental education. More than 55 million people visit refuges every year, creating economic booms for local communities.

    The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission is chaired by the Secretary of the Interior. Its members include Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas; Reps. Robert J. Wittman of Virginia and Mike Thompson of California; Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture; and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The commission has helped in conserving much of this nation’s most important waterfowl habitat and in establishing or enhancing many of the country’s most popular destinations for waterfowl hunting.

    Additional information about North American wetlands and waterfowl conservation can be found at https://www.fws.gov/birds/, which offers waterfowl enthusiasts, biologists and agency managers with the most up-to-date waterfowl habitat and population information.

    Click here to view the list of approved projects. Included is a project in the San Luis Valley:

    Project Description​ The project will focus on the protection, restoration and enhancement of two major habitat types. First, it will largely use conservation easements to protect seasonally flooded wet meadows, which provide important wildlife habitat as well as hay for local ranching operations. This project will permanently protect 2,800 acres of these wet meadow habitats. Second, it will restore and enhance streams, riparian areas, and wetlands mostly on public lands with a focus on returning historic flood regimes to playa wetlands. This project restores and enhances over 2,400 acres of mostly playa wetlands. As a secondary goal, project activities will protect, restore and enhance well-developed cottonwood and willow riparian areas, which are important to wildlife but extremely rare in the upper San Luis Valley.

    From The Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:

    Two wetland conservation projects in Colorado were among several nationally to be awarded federal grants this week, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.

    The grants for Colorado projects are part of $28 million in funding for wetland conservation approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which is chaired by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

    The grants are awarded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and will affect 150,000 acres of wetland and upland waterfowl habitats on 20 states across the country, the department said this week.

    Additionally, the $28 million in federal grants will be matched by $72 million in funding from partner organizations.

    In Colorado, the North Park Wetland Conservation Partnership and the Arkansas River Wetlands Conservation Partnership each received a $1 million grant. Both projects have proposed match amounts of $2 million.

    The grants for both projects were awarded to Ducks Unlimited, a national waterfowl conservation organization.

    In the Arkansas River project, Ducks Unlimited and partner organizations will “conserve over 17,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent prairie in the Arkansas River Valley of Colorado through restoration activities and conservation easements,” a project description says.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy are among the partners with Ducks Unlimited.

    The North Park will “conserve 6,510 acres of high-quality wildlife habitat,” in conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, among other groups.

    Mike George, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation programs for Colorado, said the projects will also benefit clean water and recharge aquifers in the state.

    USFS, Lake County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are teaming up to improve aquatic habitat along Lake Fork Creek

    Lake Fork Creek below Sugarloaf dam near Leadville. Photo credit: Katie Walton Day/USGS

    From the US Forest Service via The Leadville Herald:

    A popular dispersed-camping area located west of Leadville on Lake Fork Creek downstream of Turquoise Lake and County Road 4 will benefit from a major restoration project developed by the USDA Forest Service, Lake County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The project, which was to start on Sept. 3 and finish in about eight weeks, will improve the overall aquatic habitat in Lake Fork Creek.

    The restoration work entails strategically placing large boulders, whole trees, and smaller rocks and logs in a manner that mimics natural features of a stream. Banks and areas where excessive erosion has occurred will be stabilized and planted with native willows, grasses, and sedges. When complete, the project should reduce erosion and sediment that clouds the water and create more deep pools where fish feed and overwinter.

    Moving the boulders and whole trees in this spot requires heavy machinery. For this reason, the area will be closed to all public use during implementation. Camping and entering the area will be prohibited from Sept. 3 through Nov. 1. Campers should consider using the eastern side of Forest Road 113 (closer to County Road 4) during this timeframe.

    “This project should have a direct and positive impact on the stream’s hydrology, fish habitat, and bank stabilization, and we expect it will restore a more natural-appearing setting for recreationists visiting the area,” said Erich Roeber, district ranger.

    Janelle Valladares, San Isabel National Forest fish biologist added, “By improving the habitat, we expect to see more and bigger fish in the stream in the next couple of years.”

    The full text of the closure order and a map can be found at the Leadville Ranger District Office, the Forest & Grassland Supervisor’s Office (Pueblo), and on their websites.

    Local communities work on river plans — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification @WaterCenterCMU

    The Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain Natonal Park and soon descends into the bucolic loveliness of Middle Park. Photo/Allen Best

    From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    In late August, I had the good fortune to float down the Colorado River from Silt to Rifle on a bright, sunny day, with cottonwoods just starting to think about turning their leaves to gold. Our guides had never floated this section of river before — there are no big thrills in these river miles. It was beautiful, though. We saw a lot of ospreys and herons, and the traffic on nearby I-70 was unseen and almost inaudible.

    Our boats were filled with experts on how the management of land and water affects the flows in the river, the vegetation on the banks, and the living environment for fish and the bugs they eat. One of my companions pointed out places where the cottonwoods were all mature, because the river hadn’t reached that part of the floodplain recently enough for new cottonwood seedlings to sprout. Others discussed a new fish passage around a diversion dam on a tributary stream that had opened up several miles of habitat for trout. We contemplated how algae levels on the river’s bed might be related to nutrients released from an upstream wastewater treatment plant, and observed places where logs placed in the bank had shifted erosion from one place to another, changing the course of the river.

    These features of the environment, along with many others, determine what kind of experience people can have on the river, whether they are fishing, boating, or just watching the water flow by. Other factors beyond immediate, local control also affect people’s ability to enjoy the river and its tributaries, both for recreation and the practical work of growing crops and bringing water to household faucets. These include cycles of drought and flood and a worrying long-term decline in streamflows brought about by warming temperatures.

    Policy decisions about how to continue to share a shrinking river between seven U.S. states and two countries also matter. If irrigators get paid to spread less water on their land, which is one conservation measure that state leaders are studying, the resulting reductions in seepage to groundwater could affect their neighbors’ wells and the amount of water that trickles back into streams in late summer and fall. And what will the cows eat if less hay is produced locally? But things could be worse if water users face legal requirements to cut back, which may happen if Colorado and the other upstream states fail to meet downstream obligations.

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which organized the Silt-to-Rifle float, is wrestling with all of these issues as they work in coordination with the Bookcliff, Mount Sopris and Southside Conservation Districts to develop an Integrated Water Management Plan. They are bringing together irrigators, local government officials, business people and scientists to learn more about connections and trade-offs between different local water uses, stream health and large-scale trends and policy decisions. The goal is to find opportunities to protect and enhance stream health and all the ways people enjoy water in communities from Glenwood Springs to DeBeque. Similar efforts, also known as Stream Management Plans, are underway in other parts of the state, including the Yampa Valley, the Eagle Valley, and the area around Gunnison and Crested Butte.

    This kind of work, daunting in its complexity, is important for helping communities chart their own water futures in challenging times. You can learn more about the Middle Colorado plan at https://www.midcowatershed.org/iwmp, and you can learn how other Colorado communities are approaching the challenge at https://coloradosmp.org/.

    Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. She is also on the steering committee for the Middle Colorado Integrated Water Management Plan. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

    Fremont County flood mitigation work completed

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Canon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

    The significant damage caused by the July 24, 2018 flooding in western Fremont County has been cleaned up and mitigation work has been done in case such an event ever happens again.

    The force of the water from Butter Creek and Dinkle Ditch/Cottonwood Creek met during the heavy rainstorm, blowing out a stream channel and forcing its way through structures. Debris, trees and rocks washed through the Gillespie family’s hayfield, cutting a gulley and leaving behind a huge mess.

    Crews this year cleaned the gulley and reshaped, lined and stabilized the channel.

    “The water that overflows out of Little Cottonwood – if we do get a significant flow – it should come out, go right down this channel and safely make its way down to Big Cottonwood Creek,” said Greg Langer, the district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service…

    About $1.5 million was spent on restoration and mitigation between the two properties, Commissioner Dwayne McFall said.

    Natural Resources Conservation Service funded the design of the stream bank stabilization project, which was designed for a 10-year flood event.

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service Emergency Watershed Protection recovery project in the Big Cottonwood area in Coaldale officially started in early Spring and was completed in July. It required a number of agencies, property owners and experts working together to get the job done.

    The project was sponsored by Fremont County with matching funds in the amount of $453,850 from the Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management as a grant match.

    The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative and the Upper Arkansas River Conservancy District also garnered a grant for more than $250,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the cleanup effort. Additionally, Chelesy Nutter, the executive director of the Arkansas River Watershed Collaboration, partnered with the Colorado Workforce Center who provided labor to remove 120 cubic yards of debris and cut fallen trees.

    Luke Javernick of River Science did all of the hydrology work and brought Canon City High School students to do water quality testing. They will continue monitoring for three years, Nutter said. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Trout Unlimited also will be working to explore longterm recovery. Fremont County provided in-kind services with staff time…

    Fremont County Manager Sunny Bryant said the last time there was a flood, not only were the properties damaged, but U.S. 50 was threatened and County Road 39 nearly was washed out.

    @OmahaUSACE: Public meeting scheduled for flood risk management study in Longmont, Colorado, September 18, 2019

    Click to view the August 18, 2019 slides from the USACE.

    Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — Omaha District:

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with the City of Longmont, Colorado will hold a flood risk management study open house Sept. 18, from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road.

    There will be a brief, formal presentation at 4:30 p.m. on information contained in the recently released draft feasibility study report, followed by an open house.

    The draft report provides information on the need for the project, current conditions of the project area, identification of opportunities to reduce flood risk, development of various alternatives to reduce flood impacts to life safety and property along St. Vrain Creek, and selection of the proposed plan.

    The recommended plan includes a levee on the south side of the Izaak Walton Pond Nature Area, channel widening and benching to contain the 1% Annual Chance Exceedance (ACE) event, replacement of the Boston Avenue Bridge, and a grade control downstream of Sunset Street Bridge.

    The draft feasibility report may be downloaded at https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Planning/Planning-Projects/LongmontCO/.

    Email your comments on the report to cenwo-planning@usace.army.mil or mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, CENWO-PMA-A, ATTN: Tim Goode, 1616 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68102-4901. Comments must be postmarked or received by Oct. 4, 2019.

    This flood risk management study builds on Resilient St. Vrain, Longmont’s extensive, multi-year undertaking to fully restore the St. Vrain Greenway and increase resiliency of the St. Vrain Creek channel to reduce future flood risk to the community. The Resilient St. Vrain project was developed by the City of Longmont in response to the catastrophic flooding in September 2013.

    Contact
    USACE Omaha District Public Affairs
    402-995-2418
    omaha.usace-pa@usace.army.mil
    1616 Capitol Ave. Omaha, Neb. 68102

    Big Thompson Watershed Coalition fundraiser, September 22, 2019

    Big Thompson River near RMNP

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Coalition shifting focus to the future

    Since the 2013 floods, the Big Thompson Watershed coalition has been leveraging grant money to rebuild and improve the river corridor, making it healthier and more resilient.

    Now, the nonprofit is shifting its focus to resiliency for the future, to improvements that will prepare the community for future flood and fire impacts and to ensure long-term river health.

    As part of that effort, the coalition is reaching out into the community to make new connections, holding a fundraiser with a goal of $50,000 and has a community bio-blitz planned…

    Fundraiser

    The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition is a nonprofit that has been operating for five years on grant money and disaster-recovery funds available after the 2013 floods. Two full-time employees handle all the community outreach, grant searches and more behind the scenes for the grant-funded projects.

    To help keep a staff of two going into the future and to meet the organization’s operations needs, the coalition has a fundraiser planned for Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery.

    The event, which costs $60 per ticket, will feature dinner, a live cellist, fly-fishing demonstrators, tours of an adjacent watershed project, an art auction and time to soak up the river…

    The theme centers on “inspirations and aspirations” of the river, and the event gives people a first-hand look at one of the completed river projects. Speakers also will talk about watershed issues…

    Tickets are available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co…

    New connections

    A major project for the watershed forum in the coming year is to create a plan for the Big Thompson River for 15 miles through Loveland with a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The coalition will lead a team looking at river health as well as the community’s needs and wants surrounding both recreation as well as responsible development along Colo. 402.

    The coalition has launched an advisory committee that includes Loveland and Larimer County officials and likely will include ditch companies as well as members of the coalition board. They plan to reach out into the community for input on needs and desires and to consider a balance between those and river health.

    The goal is to create a clear understanding of the river corridor and its many demands and to end with a prioritized list of specific projects that are feasible, could be funded with grants and achieve that balance, Gutman explained…

    Community bio-blitz

    The coalition is looking for 10 to 30 community members to participate in a bio-blitz, which is where groups fan out over different sections of the river at the same time and collect data on water quality, plants and bugs. The idea is to have a “flash understanding” of the ecosystem that morning, Sept. 28.

    The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition will not be only agency participating. In fact, volunteers will be collecting data over three different watersheds in the region and then meet in Lyons to share ideas and to have a celebration.

    The hope is that those residents, once taught to collect data, would be willing to volunteer with another piece of the coalition’s long-term goal — monitoring the success of completed projects…

    Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co…

    Big Thompson Watershed Coalition

    Fundraiser: 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery, including music, art auction, tours of a project site, speakers, dinner and drinks. $60 per ticket, available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co

    Bio-blitz: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, different locations on the Big Thompson River. Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co

    Funding Available for Projects Addressing Forest Health, Wildfire Risk — Colorado State Forest Service

    Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

    Wildfires are both natural and inevitable – including in wildland-urban interface settings where millions of Coloradans live. These fires can be particularly destructive in areas where forests are unhealthy, unmanaged and unnaturally dense.

    The grant program is designed to reduce risk to people and property in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

    For those interested in taking action, but who have lacked the means, funding is now available to help address this risk.

    The Colorado State Forest Service announced today that it is accepting proposals from Colorado HOAs, community groups, local governments, utilities and nonprofit organizations seeking funding to restore forested areas, improve forest health, and reduce wildfire risk on non-federal land in the state.

    Approximately $1 million in total funding is available.

    The Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program helps fund projects that strategically reduce the potential wildfire risk to property, infrastructure and water supplies and that promote forest health through scientifically based forestry practices.

    Reduction of hazardous fuels

    The competitive grant program is designed to reduce risk to people and property in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and support long-term ecological restoration. Applications must not only promote forest health and address the reduction of hazardous fuels that could fuel a wildfire – such as trees and brush near homes – but also utilize wood products derived from forest management efforts.

    Long-term ecological restoration and the protection of water supplies are among the goals of the grant program. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

    The state can fund up to half the cost of each awarded project; grant recipients are required to match at least 50 percent of the total project cost through cash or in-kind contributions. Projects can be located on private, state, county or municipal forestlands.

    Program funds also are allowable to fund the purchase of equipment that directly supports and expands on-the-ground opportunities to reduce hazardous fuels.

    Applicants must coordinate proposed projects with relevant county officials to ensure consistency with county-level wildfire risk reduction planning. Follow-up monitoring also is a necessary component of this grant program, to help demonstrate the relative efficacy of various treatments and the utility of grant resources.

    The CSFS will work with successful project applicants to conduct project monitoring and conduct site visits to assess effectiveness and completion of projects.

    Additional emphasis will be given to projects that:

  • Are identified through a community-based collaborative process, such as a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP)
  • Are implemented strategically across land ownership boundaries; are conducted within a priority area identified in the Colorado State Forest Action Plan
  • Utilize the labor of an accredited Colorado Youth or Veterans Corps organization
  • Include forest treatments that result in the protection of water supplies
  • Applications must be submitted electronically to local CSFS Field Offices by 5 p.m. MST on Oct. 23, 2019. A technical advisory panel convened by the CSFS will review project applications and make funding recommendations. The CSFS will then notify successful applicants next spring.

    Applications and additional information about the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program are available at CSFS Field Offices and online on the CSFS Grants & Funding Assistance webpage.

    A rancher-led group is boosting the health of the #ColoradoRiver near its headwaters — @WaterEdFdn #COriver

    From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

    Western Water Spotlight: a Colorado partnership is engaged in a river restoration effort to aid farms and fish habitat that could serve as a model across the west

    Strategic placement of rocks promotes a more natural streamflow that benefits ranchers and fish. (Source: Paul Bruchez)

    “What used to be a very large river that inundated the land has really become a trickle,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We estimate that 70 percent of the flow on an annual average goes across the Continental Divide and never comes back.”

    Ranchers on the river who once relied on floodwater from the Colorado River to irrigate their hayfields now must pump from the river to irrigate. The river is shallow, sandy and warm in spots. Irrigation ditches have sloughed. The stretch of the river near Kremmling has not been working well for ranchers or the environment.

    Now, a partnership of state, local and conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, is engaged in a restoration effort that could serve as a template for similar regions across the West. Centered around the high plateau near Kremmling, a town of about 1,400 people in northern Colorado about 100 miles west of Denver, the partnership aims to make the river function better for people and the environment.

    Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez (Source: Russell Schnitzer, used with permission)

    Paul Bruchez, a fifth-generation rancher of 6,000 acres near Kremmling who also runs fly fishing expeditions for tourists, sees the river’s challenges from both perspectives.

    “Some of us involved with fly fishing care deeply about the environmental conditions within the river corridor,” said Bruchez. “Other landowners are more focused on the agricultural sustainability. But the one thing we agreed about is that things were collapsing.”

    Restoring a Healthier River

    The partnership, known as the Irrigators of the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK), obtained grant funding in 2015 to start the process of assessing the river’s conditions and identifying possible pilot projects, such as stabilizing riverbanks and reviving irrigation channels across a meandering 12-mile stretch of the Colorado River. As projects are identified, ILVK members attempt to prioritize them and apply for grants with the project costs evenly divided between grantors and landowners, Bruchez said.

    River improvements often have immediate benefits for irrigation infrastructure.

    “Many of our irrigation laterals had washed into the river system and there was no large-scale look at the system as a whole and how it connects,” Bruchez said. “A lot of these simple bank stabilization projects not only create habitat but are literally safeguarding some of our irrigation laterals that we all rely on to deliver the water to our crops.”

    The key, he said, is realizing that less can be more in re-establishing a proper flow regime. “You set the stage for the river then you let the river do the work itself instead of getting in there and manipulating everything,” he said.

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    Trout Unlimited is a full partner in the project. It applied for all the funding and is the fiscal agent and manager of the grants. Whiting and Bruchez consult on project management, retention of consultants and scope of work.

    “It’s a complete win for everybody. It’s just a question of money,” Whiting said. “It’s been so successful and such a good story and so far, we have been able to draw quite a bit of funding and turn that into impressive improvements for the river and the ranchers.”

    The partnership has obtained $2.6 million in grants from funders such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($500,000), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service ($2 million) and the Gates Family Foundation ($120,000).

    Four miles downstream from Bruchez, the Colorado River becomes a smaller river with warmer temperatures that have spurred algae growth. “The minimum stream level of the Colorado River at Kremmling is 150 cubic feet per second,” said rancher Bill Thompson. “That’s not much.”

    Thompson, who ranches about 400 acres, moved to Kremmling in 1959. He said he’s spent about $200,000 to match grant funding for two grade-control projects that have raised the river channel 18 inches near his property. While helping him get the water he needs, the structures also help create fish habitat.

    “I speed the water up, I’ve got them [fish] more oxygen and I’ve cooled [the water] down,” he said. “It’s a healthier river now because of it.”

    River projects are undertaken to be cost-effective. “We are trying to do this in a capacity where it is more affordable,” Bruchez said. “These are not people that live on limitless budgets that are doing this for building Disneyland fish habitat. These are multigeneration ag producers that just want to be able to irrigate.”

    Overcoming Skeptical Landowners

    Moving water great distances helps meet Colorado’s water supply demand. The Continental Divide spans the length of the state, with watersheds on the west side flowing toward the Pacific Ocean and those on the east feeding the Atlantic Ocean. The more rural Western Slope of the Rockies gets most of Colorado’s precipitation, about 80 percent, and a vast network of storage and conveyance infrastructure moves water to major cities like Denver, Boulder and Aurora.

    That diversion has come at the expense of the Colorado River in the area near Kremmling. “Where you had a very large river there is now a very small river,” Whiting with Trout Unlimited said. “It doesn’t have enough water; it is overly wide and shallow, and it gets really hot.”

    Prior to the diversions, the Colorado River’s floodwaters washed over the land and helped prepare it for planting.

    “You didn’t even need a water right,” said Thompson, the longtime rancher. “All you had to do was take your rake out there and scrape off the logs and the willows and start haying.”

    Getting to a place where landowners agreed to commit themselves to projects took time. “It’s fair to say most landowners were pretty skeptical,” Bruchez said. “These are people that like private lives. They don’t like public dollars; they don’t like meetings and they don’t like talking about stuff. They like doing their thing.”

    Eventually a cost-sharing structure emerged that focused on improving the condition of the river, with grant funding helping to cover the gap beyond out-of-pocket expenses for traditional repairs. River fixes run the gamut, from rebuilding lost banks to altering the channel with rock that makes the current meander, ebb and flow. This, in turn, stimulates the production of insects that fish feast on. Bruchez said anglers tell him the results are “off the charts.”

    Calming Suspicions

    A restored Colorado River means good things for the ranchers near Kremmling and the trout that thrive in its waters. How much further work happens and at what scale remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the merits have been demonstrated. For her part, Whiting said the next challenge and hard conversation will entail finding ways to leave more water in the river.

    Beyond the physical improvements to the river, the interaction between stakeholders has also worked well, Bruchez said, especially with trans-mountain diverters such as Denver Water. “We all view it now as a one-river thing, and when we all work together and are able to talk about the issues, we can solve problems,” he said. “If we all go to our corners and put up our fists, it doesn’t work so well.”

    The Upper Colorado River meanders through the high plateau around Kremmling, Colorado. (Source: Russell Schnitzer, used with permission)

    Whiting said partnerships between landowners and outside agencies work best when people like Bruchez are there to serve as a bridge.

    “They can go in and say, ‘These guys are not coming to take your water, they are not here to take your land,’” she said. “All these suspicions can be calmed when you have a trusted source who walks stakeholders through it.”

    As 2019 moves toward 2020, more bank and river channel work is scheduled. Centered at the swirl of activity, Bruchez said he wants to keep things in perspective.

    “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we are trying to not get too big for our britches,” he said. “We also recognize there are river-system challenges all over the country, especially in the Southwest, and we are hoping as a collective group that this project is enough of a success that we can really try and demonstrate to others how people can come together and accomplish a successful project, especially by reasonably affordable techniques of installation.”

    Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @gary_wef
    Know someone else who wants to stay connected with water in the West? Encourage them to sign up for Western Water, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

    Click here to read Coyote Gulch posts about Paul Bruchez’s influence.

    Restoring forests means less fuel for wildfire and more storage for carbon — EurekaAlert! @ESA_org #ActOnClimate

    In areas that experience low-severity burns, fire events can serve to eliminate vegetative competition, rejuvenate its growth and improve watershed conditions. But, in landscapes subjected to high or even moderate burn severity, the post-fire threats to public safety and natural resources can be extreme. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

    From the Ecological Society of America (Zoe Gentes):

    When wildfires burn up forests, they don’t just damage the trees. They destroy a key part of the global carbon cycle. Restoring those trees as quickly as possible could tip the scale in favor of mitigating severe climate change.

    Lisa A. McCauley, a spatial analyst at The Nature Conservancy, explains how quick action to thin out vegetation will actually increase carbon storage in forests by the end of this century. Her new paper is published in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications, and she will present the findings this August at ESA’s 2019 Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY.

    “With predictions of widespread mortality of western U.S. forests under climate change,” McCauley states, “our study addresses how large-scale restoration of overly-dense, fire-adapted forests is one of the few tools available to managers that could minimize the adverse effects of climate change and maintain forest cover.”

    Forests are a vital carbon sink – a natural sponge that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis. Because carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activities are a major cause of climate change, forests do humanity a huge service by disposing of much of its gaseous waste.

    Unfortunately, wildfires are more common than they used to be. Higher tree density, more dry wood for fuel, and a warmer, drier climate have caused an increase in the frequency, size, and severity of wildfires in western U.S. forests. Restoring forests in a timely manner is critical in making subsequent wildfires are less likely. The U.S. Forest Service states that rehabilitation and restoration takes many years, and includes planting trees, reestablishing native species, restoring habitats, and treating for invasive plants. There is an urgent need for such restoration in the southwest U.S. to balance out the carbon cycle.

    Enter, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). The U.S. Forest Service began the 4FRI in 2010 to restore 2.4 million acres (3750 square miles) of national forests in Arizona. The goals of the 4FRI are to restore the structure, pattern, composition, and health of fire-adapted (dependent on occasional fires for their lifecycle) ponderosa pine ecosystems; reduce fuels and the risk of unnaturally severe wildfires; and provide for wildlife and plant diversity. Doing so involves a full suite of restoration projects that are carried out by US Forest Service personnel, partners and volunteers, and contractors. Managers of the four forests – the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto – are engaged in a huge, collaborative initiative to with a diverse group of stakeholders to explore the best methods for restoring the ponderosa pine forests in the region.

    One such exploration is a study in which researchers, including McCauley, use computer simulations to see how the carbon cycle and wildfire severity between the years 2010-2099 would be influenced by different rates of restoration of about 1500 square miles of forest.

    A potential drawback to a very rapid restoration plan is that it includes the thinning out (harvesting) of dense, dry trees — possibly by controlled burns — to get rid of plants that could act as potential wildfire fuel. Reduction in overall vegetation could mean that the overall carbon uptake and storage of these forests would drop.

    “The conventional wisdom has been that forest restoration in the western U.S. does not benefit carbon stocks,” McCauley says. “However, with wildfire size, frequency and severity increasing, we believe that additional research is needed across more forests so that we can better understand the fate of carbon and forest cover, particularly for fire-adapted forests where tree densities exceed historical norms and the risks of climate-induced forest loss are increasing.”

    Interestingly, the simulations show that despite early decreases in the ecosystem’s stored carbon, a rapid restoration plan increases total carbon storage by 11-20%, which is about 8-14 million metric tons of carbon by the end of the century. This is equal to the removal of carbon emissions from 67,000-123,000 passenger vehicles per year until 2100.

    “By minimizing high-severity fires,” McCauley explains, “accelerated forest thinning can stabilize forest carbon stocks and buy time – decades – to better adapt to the effects of climate change on forest cover.”

    Restored forests provide other benefits than just increased carbon storage in the next century. A restored fire-adapted forest would be less dense, with fewer trees but more diversity, allowing more sunlight to penetrate the canopy, increasing cover of grass and encouraging a more diverse understory. The wildfires that do occur would burn at lower severity as ground fires that consume grasses rather than torching canopies that kills trees.

    McCauley says this study is unique because it is a large, landscape-scale study that uses data from a real-world restoration project–the largest restoration being implemented in the U.S. The results are indeed promising, indicating that restoration is likely to stabilize carbon and the benefits are greater when the pace of restoration is faster.

    Wildfire mitigation projects help reduce damage from the #LakeChristineFire burn scar

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    A large catch basin that Eagle County sculpted into the mountainside above Basalt in recent weeks prevented significantly more water, mud and debris from swamping part of the Hill District during [the August 4, 2019] flash flood, officials said Thursday.

    Eagle County Road and Bridge Department used heavy equipment to dig out a settlement pond and then used the dirt removed to regrade the hillside above the Basberg Townhouses. Boulders were placed in two drainage channels that led the water to the settlement pond. While water topped the pond during Sunday’s downpour, a lot of it was captured. Thick, sludge-like water was still in the pond Thursday.

    This summer, the town of Basalt also created berms, added curb and gutter and installed a swale to direct water, all just uphill from the Basbergs…

    The work was part of a $1.35 million Emergency Watershed Protection Program project. The federal government supplied a $1.23 million grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The state of Colorado contributed $153,359. Basalt, Eagle County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are undertaking in-kind projects valued at $153,359, or 12.5%, to cover a local match.

    The grant was administered by Basalt. Projects were identified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Engineering was provided by SGM, a consultant for Basalt town government.

    Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said about 20% of the work has been completed. Additional projects have been identified above Basalt, on the hillside overlooking Ace Lane’s Tree Farm property in El Jebel and on Basalt Mountain where it drops steeply to Upper Cattle Creek where several historic cabins are located.

    Mahoney said he felt work performed at and around a culvert at the intersection of Pinon and Cedar drives in the Hill District also softened the blow of the flash flood.

    The town widened the area around the entrance to the culvert but it was still overwhelmed by the amount of water roaring down from a usually dry gulch on the mountain.

    “We’ve got some river pigs — big concrete blocks — at the bottom of the drainage,” he said. “Those are to hold debris back.”

    […]

    Governments teamed to install three rain gauges on Basalt Mountain so the risk of flash flooding can be better assessed in the future. Those rain gauges were calibrated this week to ensure accurate readings.

    In addition, National Weather Service meteorologists visited Basalt Mountain with local emergency responders this week to get a better feel for the lay of the land. Thompson said Sunday’s storm demonstrated that different sections of Basalt Mountain can experience vastly different weather.

    The projects funded through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program will continue through the summer and into fall. All told, work will be undertaken in nine drainages, Mahoney said.

    @USBR uses #RioGrande high streamflow this year to expand Silvery minnow habitat

    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    This year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to take advantage of high water levels from a strong spring runoff and create more habitat for the fish on the Middle Rio Grande.

    Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County, and for years she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

    Rhodes’ land is nestled on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, according to Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph.

    Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of the property. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

    “What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

    Slowing the river flow

    Reclamation worked with the private non-profit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

    The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

    The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural floodplain, according to Reclamation Albuquerque Area public affairs specialist Mary Carlson.

    Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

    “Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

    Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

    The new channels don’t just provide habitat for the small fish, which was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1994. Birds, deer and other wildlife are also drawn to the lowered riverbank…

    Torres said the crews left native cottonwoods intact and planted New Mexico olive trees. Crews also completed the project quickly so as not to disturb the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

    “Normally we would go through and just clear-cut everything for excavation purposes, but for this project we elected to leave the islands and leave as much of the native vegetation as we could,” Torres said…

    The property has flooded at least four times since 2006 – which Rhodes says is a good thing.

    “The Rhodes Property is a release valve,” she said. “When the river’s running high, water will come on to the property. It protects farmers to the north and south and also protects Bosque del Apache.”

    She said that, after the minnow project is complete, her next step will likely be more removal of the invasive salt cedar and planting of native plant species.

    “The more conservation that happens down here,” Rhodes said, “the more I’m convinced that this property is on the right path.”

    Swan River Restoration Project – Midsummer Update — Summit County Open Space & Trails Department

    From the Summit County Open Spack & Trails Department (Jason Lederer):

    And all of a sudden it’s mid-summer! If you spent much time in Summit County this spring, you are well aware of the wet, cool spring we had with accumulating snow until the end of June. All of this weather resulted in a slow start to many constructions projects around the County and, hence, a delay in gravel removal activities from the Reach B site. However, with the winter of 2019 behind us, things are back in full swing. There is even some new signage at the site explaining the work that is happening.

    Summit County’s gravel removal contractor, Schofield Excavation, has removed gravel nearly to the Reach B eastern property boundary. Once they reach the property limit, they will begin working their way out of the site, establishing final rough grades along the way.

    With the Reach B gravel removal “light at the end of the tunnel” coming into focus, we are gearing up to complete the final restoration work as soon as possible once the removal work is complete. This summer, in coordination with the County’s ecological engineering consultant, Ecological Resource Consultants (ERC), we are working to optimize the conceptual restoration design by taking into account new groundwater information, post-gravel removal surface grades, opportunities for onsite wetlands creation, and other factors.

    This year’s historic snow pack and runoff cycle really tested the integrity of the constructed channel and floodplain in Reach A. Two and half years following the completion of major construction, we are happy to report that the new stream fared quite well with riffles, pools, banks, and other features functioning as intended. In fact, we are even starting to see new habitat features, such as sandy point bars, form naturally.

    Swan River restoration Reach A gravel removal. Photo credit: Summit County

    The Reach A site did experience some erosion at the temporary overflow channel where seasonal runoff passes beneath Rock Island Road. However, in coordination with Schofield Excavation, we were able to quickly stabilize the location utilizing large boulders and gravels from the Reach B site. This temporary overflow channel was designed solely to convey spring runoff and will be abandoned when the future upstream Reach B channel is permanently connected with Reach A.

    This year’s moisture has also helped riparian and upland vegetation flourish, with natural recruitment of several native plant species including rushes, grasses, sage, and others species native to the valley.

    Stay tuned for more exciting announcements about the Swan River Restoration Project site later this year.

    Additional information about Swan River Restoration Project is available at http://RestoreTheSwanRiver.com as well as on the Open Space and Trails Special Projects web page. If you have additional questions about the restoration project, you can contact Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch, or Open Space and Trails Resource Specialist Jason Lederer, or call 970.668.4060.

    Court ruling could expedite cleanup of long-dormant uranium mines — @COindependent

    Old uranium sites in Colorado via The Denver Post

    From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

    The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled companies must reclaim uranium mines that sit idle for more than 10 years

    Recent images of the Van 4 uranium mine show a dark rig towering above a sagebrush and juniper mesa. Beside the scaffolding sit piles of loose white rocks and two metal buildings, one of which drips insulation from its ruptured ceiling. The site is one of western Colorado’s active uranium mines. But it looks deserted.

    The operator, Piñon Ridge Mining, LLC, a subsidiary of Western Uranium & Vanadium Corp., is waiting for the price of uranium to rebound before firing up the mine again. The last time that happened was 30 years ago.

    Just how long mines like the Van 4 should be allowed to remain open — but idle — has long been a point of contention in Colorado between environmentalists and mine owners.

    Environmentalists argue the site should have been cleaned up and restored to sagebrush scrub decades ago.

    But the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, an eight-member panel appointed by the governor that enforces the state’s mining laws, has allowed mining companies to delay tearing down their operations by granting mine owners reclamation exemptions, known as “temporary cessation” permits.

    This delay has frustrated environmental advocates. They see the unremediated sites as threatening wildlife habitat, water quality and a new West End economy based on recreational opportunities. They believe companies have relied on temporary cessation permits to sidestep environmental regulations requiring them to close and clean their all-but-shuttered mining operations.

    And last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with them.

    The court ruled state regulatory board “abused its discretion” by granting two five-year temporary cessation permits to Piñon Ridge Mining, which owns the Van 4 site. After 10 years of sitting idle, the court said, the Van 4 operation must be terminated and the owner must fully comply with reclamation requirements, restoring the site closer to its natural condition.

    Phone messages left for the operator of the Van 4 mine seeking a response to the ruling were not returned Wednesday. But the president of the Colorado Mining Association argued it’s important to consider national security risks when deciding whether to close mines.

    The court’s opinion could have far-reaching consequences. Owners of the state’s 29 active uranium mines — 16 of which have been granted temporary cessation permits, according to state data — may have to begin tearing down rigs and buildings and testing for radiation. The state does not yet know how many mines are past due for reclamation, according to the court’s interpretation. But it knows there are several.

    “Those sites will very likely need to be reclaimed in accordance with this order,” said Ginny Brannon, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

    The state estimates the federal Department of Energy holds about $14.5 million in bonds that companies front to ensure resources are available to restore closed mining operations.

    View of Durango, CO, Remediated Processing Site (1991) via US Department of Energy.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Radioactive material used for roads, foundations, landscaping in mid-1900s

    It turns out more than 100 properties in Durango were missed during a massive, multi-million dollar cleanup in the 1980s of radioactive waste that was once used for the construction of homes, buildings and roads.

    Now, more than three decades later, the state of Colorado’s health department says these hot spots that slipped through the cracks need to be cleaned up.

    “We’re now looking to raise the awareness of this potential issue in Durango,” said Tracie White, a remediation program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It’s been on our radar for a while, and we’ve been laying the groundwork. Now, it’s coming into place.”

    A cheap and easy material
    Durango is no stranger to the issues left behind from the town’s legacy with uranium mining.

    In the 1940s, the U.S. government built a mill on the northeast side of Smelter Mountain, now the Durango Dog Park, to reprocess uranium tailings for sale to the Manhattan Project, which produced the world’s first atomic bomb.

    After extracting uranium, though, what’s left behind is a gray, sand-like waste product that can be filled with radioactive components, like radium and radon. In Durango, this pile grew to 1.2 million cubic yards, enough to fill nearly 400 Olympic-size swimming pools.

    Over the years, people freely used the uranium mill tailings in construction around town, said Duane Smith, a local historian and former Fort Lewis College professor. It was as easy as driving your truck up to the waste pile and taking a load…

    The uranium tailings were a cheap, easy material to work with and were used for the foundation of buildings and homes, driveways and roads, including sections of Camino del Rio. The radioactive waste was even used as a substitute for sand in gardens and sandboxes.

    The practice went unchecked until the tailings became a major public health concern in the 1970s, which prompted Congress to pass the “Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act” in 1978 to tackle the 24 worst uranium sites around the country.

    Durango ranked in the top four.

    In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated 122,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste had been used in and around Durango homes, businesses, public buildings, roads and parks, and that it would take years and millions of dollars to remove it all.

    Greg Hoch, the city of Durango’s longtime planning director, now retired, said federal government officials went up and down Durango streets surveying for hot spots. In the end, most of the high-risk sites were removed and cleaned up, he said…

    But properties were missed, not just evidenced by this recent announcement from the state health department. In 1997, it was discovered that even more hot spots beneath Durango homes and streets remained contaminated by tailings, a discovery that “unsettled” the city at the time, according to The Durango Herald archives.

    Records identify 115 properties at risk
    This time around, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is trying to spread the word that uranium mill tailings contamination potentially still exists on about 115 properties in and around Durango, but at this point, it’s still a bit of a guessing game.

    White, with the state health department, said surveys in the 1980s estimated approximately 915 properties in Durango were believed to have the uranium waste byproduct. While most were cleaned up, there has always been an understanding that some likely escaped the effort, she said.

    Recently, however, CDPHE was able to home in on which properties may still pose a risk after records from the 1990s were digitized.

    “Now that the records are more easily accessible and searchable, we are able to identify properties that may still have tailings remaining,” White said.

    Health officials suspect properties have been passed over for a number of reasons: tailings could have been relocated, properties could have been partially but not fully cleaned or, in some cases, the homeowner at the time refused to take part in the project.

    Home buyers and sellers are not required to test for radon or uranium issues. However, if a seller is aware of an issue, he or she would legally have to share that information, said John Wells with the Wells Group.

    But ultimately, state health officials can’t say for sure whether there’s a contamination problem until crews can conduct gamma radiation surveys. And in yet another wrinkle, that cannot happen until a disposal site is secured to take the waste – and there’s no telling when that will happen.

    @COHighLineCanal: Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program (STEP) update

    From The Highline Canal Conservancy:

    The Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program (STEP) will bring a new life and a renewed utility to the High Line Canal as a green infrastructure system that provides for stormwater quality management.

    The High Line Canal Conservancy is working with Denver Water, Mile High Flood District and local jurisdictions through STEP to advance stormwater solutions in the Canal for both existing and new conditions.

    Two Main Goals of STEP

    Plan for and implement stormwater management projects in the Canal that transform it into a stormwater management system.
    Develop a collaborative management, maintenance, financial and operational model to advance stormwater projects in the Canal.
    Any drop of water that falls into adjacent watersheds naturally drains toward the Canal. In some areas, stormwater already enters the Canal, while in other areas, stormwater is diverted away from the Canal. Diverting that stormwater toward the Canal and holding it there briefly (less the 72 hours) can provide many benefits.

    Benefits to the Canal and region include:

    WATER

  • Reduces the amount of pollution going into the waterways, improves water quality, boosts water cycle support, upholds flood management and allows for cleaner stormwater
  • NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

  • Improves air quality, promotes carbon sequestration, increases wildlife diversity and abundance and reduces the urban heat island effect
  • COMMUNITY HEALTH & LIVABILITY

  • Encourages healthy lifestyles, increases access, builds climate resilience, enhances human health and user experience and fosters stewardship
  • Beavers work hard for river ecosystems — @AspenJournalism

    A beaver slap on the upper Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    https://soundcloud.com/aspenjournalism/es-beavers-biodiversity-web

    Development and climate change are top threats to wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and in the arid west, water supply is a consistent concern for all kinds of life. But ecologists see a simple, natural way for ecosystems to be more resilient: beavers.

    When local ecologist Delia Malone walks along the Crystal River in Carbondale, she sees something missing. The footpath she takes runs through an area that used to flood during spring runoff, but with the combination of development and climate change, it doesn’t anymore. Malone said it’s also, in part, because there are no beavers on this stretch of river.

    “When we lose beaver, we also lose the wetlands they create, we lose the water storage,” Malone said. “Beaver dams store tremendous amounts of carbon. When beaver dams dry out because the beaver have left, that carbon goes up and is contributing to global warming.”

    People have aggressively pushed beavers out of some areas, especially when they damage irrigation systems, flood fields and roads, and cut down trees on people’s property.

    The rodents also create natural water storage — even in dry years — and restore wetlands. So Malone wants to bring more of them to high-elevation public lands in the Roaring Fork Valley. She’s working with researchers at the Colorado Natural Heritage Program on a computer model that will indicate suitable habitat for beavers.

    “Beaver can be a simple but a really important strategy to remediate the impacts that we’ve caused by changing our climate,” Malone said.

    A 2018 survey by Colorado Wildlife Science found that when beavers return to suitable places, the health of the river ecosystem improves. The willows grow faster, there’s more food for other wildlife and there are more songbirds.

    Ecologist Delia Malone walks along the Crystal River. Malone says areas like this would benefit from beaver activity. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    A haven at Hallam Lake
    Hallam Lake, a 25-acre nature preserve tucked into a hillside behind the Aspen post office, is a haven for diverse forms of life. Water is pooling and dropping gently through several ponds, which are fed year-round by natural springs. Hallam Lake is home to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, or ACES, and this beauty is possible because of a family who has been living here for decades.

    Beavers are maintaining this lake,” said Jim Kravitz, the naturalist programs director for ACES.

    The lake is full of life. A recent study found 20 mammal species, dozens of insects and more than 150 plant species, including a carnivorous plant called the Lesser Bladderwort and 15 species of lichen.

    “This is sort of this unique ecosystem here, because of the spring water, because of the beavers,” Kravitz said.

    Beavers have lived under the roots of spruce trees along the banks at Hallam Lake for decades, and they work hard for the local ecosystem.

    “They slow down the water, they filter out pollutants, they slow down floods, they keep the water on the land,” Kravitz said. “They have so many benefits, especially in dry places and where water is going to be a concern in the future.”

    With climate change driving persistent drought, that means beavers could help out the entire western United States.

    #ForestHealth — #ClimateChange — water supply in the #West #ActOnClimate #Wildfire #aridification

    Here’s a in-depth look wildfire in Colorado and the west from Mark Jaffee writing for The Colorado Sun. Click through for the article and the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    The heat of a warming planet, like an artist’s palette knife on a canvas, etches its way across Western forests, slowly altering ecosystems that have flourished for centuries.

    A firefighting helicopter flies in the foreground while the Spring Creek Fire (August 2018) rages behind it. Photo credit: El Paso County

    Stevens-Rumann, a 33-year-old assistant forestry professor at Colorado State University, was [on site to observe the aftermath of the Spring Fire to measure and mark what comes next. In all likelihood, the ponderosa pine forest that had been there would not return.

    Aspen and scrub oak have already sprouted, but all the pine trees and their cones were destroyed. No pine saplings poke through the charred soil.

    Across the Rockies and even into the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Northwest’s Cascades, forests are changing or simply vanishing. Wildfire has played a big role. Insect infestations have also had a hand, as has drought.

    Behind it all is one driving force — climate change. Scientists charting the fate of forests see it, whether they are entomologists or botanists or wildfire ecologists like Stevens-Rumann. The heat of a warming planet, like an artist’s palette knife on a canvas, etches its way across Western forests, slowly altering ecosystems that have flourished for centuries.

    “We are really moving out of a climate that is suitable for forests,” Stevens-Rumann said. “Old trees can persist, but when change comes in a disturbance like a wildfire and the ecosystem resets, the forests don’t come back.”

    The transformation isn’t quite that simple. Lower elevation forests, like those along the Front Range, are most at risk, but as the forest rises into the mountains, the nature of the woods may change with spruce, fir and pine competing for survival even as new pests push into those higher, and now warmer and drier, mountain reaches.

    “As ecosystems change, there are going to be winners and losers,” said Thomas Veblen, a biogeographer and distinguished professor at the University of Colorado. “The regulator function of the forest could diminish … leading to more runoff and flash floods. With a reduction of the forest canopy, we are going to see the potential for greater erosion. The question is how much of the forest will fail to regenerate.”

    Fire changes the forest’s composition

    Colorado’s Front Range has had five ecotones — shifts in plant and animal communities — from grasslands at 5,500 feet above sea level to alpine tundra at 11,300 feet.

    “When we go to higher elevations under warming temperatures, we do expect the species from lower elevations to do better after a fire or other disturbance,” Veblen said.

    After six years as a forest firefighter in an elite hotshot crew, Stevens-Rumann, curious about what happens after the fire is out, became a wildfire ecologist.

    In a study of 1,485 sites that burned in 52 wildfires in forests from Colorado to northern Idaho, a team led by Stevens-Rumann found tree regeneration was significantly reduced at the sites that burned after 2000.

    Fewer than half the spots had signs of growing back with a density of trees similar to the pre-fire forest, and nearly one-third of the sites had no trees at all.

    These forests ranged from lower elevation dry conifer forests, containing ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, to moister conifer forests of Engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine. The highest elevation forests in the study were around 9,000 feet.

    The researchers measured the site temperatures and moisture, and classified the areas by the severity of the burn.

    It appeared that the hotter and drier the site, the less chance of a forest coming back. “There is an ecotone shift already underway,” Stevens-Rumann said. “We may see aspen and scrub oak replace pine and at higher elevations, maybe pine replace fir.”

    This is happening across the Front Range. An analysis of five Front Range forest fires between 1996 and 2003 — Bobcat Gulch, Overland, High Meadow, Buffalo Creek and Hayman — found that 23% of the forest cover has been lost.

    “Below 8,200 feet, we saw little generation; above 8,200 feet, where it tends to be cooler and moister, we saw more,” said Marin Chambers, a researcher at the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and the study’s lead author.

    Savage wildfires disrupt the trees’ lifecycle

    At the site of the 2002 Hayman Fire — the largest in the state’s history, consuming 135,114 acres northwest of Colorado Springs — the most intensely burned areas have come back as grasslands.

    The problem, Chambers explained, is that while fire releases the seeds of pine cones, they do not travel very far. And the hotter, drier and more open sites where they land are less hospitable.

    Fire has been an essential component of the pine forest ecosystem. The pine and fir trees are “serontinous” — depending on fire to release their seeds and simultaneously clear an ashy, nutrient-rich bed for new seedlings.

    Two things, however, have altered the natural cycle. First, a century of fire suppression — think Smokey the Bear — has prevented regeneration, creating forests of mostly large, old trees. Additionally, it has built up dead wood on the forest floor that aids fires to burn more intensely when they do happen.

    Black Forest Fire June 2013 via CBS Denver

    And now those fires are coming more quickly and more savagely. Since 2000, there has been vastly more acreage burned in Colorado than in the three previous decades, with peaks of more than 300,000 acres scorched in 2003 and about 160,000 acres destroyed in 2013.

    Across the West, about 20 million acres burned between 1979 and 2015. The average fire season grew by 26 days, a 41% increase, and high-fire-potential days increased by 17, according to a study by John Abatzoglou, a University of Idaho geographer.

    Abatzoglou measured drought conditions and water availability, as well as temperature, and estimated that climate change contributed to about half the forest fire acreage as heat parched the forests, creating more dry fuel.

    The analysis also found that significant declines in spring rains in the southwestern U.S. during the period from 1979-2015 and in summer precipitation in the Northwest add to the fire problem.

    Another Abatzoglou study projects the shortening of the snowpack season except for in the high Rockies and parts of the Uinta and Bighorn ranges in Utah and Wyoming, as well as more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.

    How much hotter has it been? The average observed summer temperature in Colorado between 2005 and 2009 was nearly 67 degrees Fahrenheit — the hottest it has been in a century, up almost 2.5 degrees since 1989, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The temperature itself poses an ecological Rubicon. A study of 177 burn sites from 21 forest fires in the northern Rockies documented the same phenomenon Stevens-Rumann saw: fewer trees growing in the lower elevation patches and no trees at about one-third of the sites, with grasses, sedges and a wild, purple evening primrose called fireweed taking root.

    The study also calculated that at summer average temperatures above 63 degrees, fir tree regeneration would be “minimal.” Ponderosa pine is slightly more heat tolerant at temperatures up to 66 degrees, the study said…

    So much is at stake. And it’s not about the view.

    There is much more at stake in the fate of the high-country forests than just a majestic view. The snowpack that falls in the woods, and is essential to nourishing the forest, and it is also the main source of drinking water for the state.

    “Every person in Colorado gets a touch of the forest ecosystem every day when they open up the tap,” West said. But thinner forests would lead the dwindling snowpack to run off more quickly.

    Even without the spruce beetle, the high-elevation forests are under threat. In a study of Colorado Front Range forests between 9,500 feet and 11,150 feet, researchers found a decrease in new spruce and fir as a result of declining snowpack and rising summer temperatures.

    Above-average snowpack was found to be a key in the establishment of new Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir, according to one of Veblen’s studies. Conversely, declining snowpack along with cooler, wetter summers was related to a decrease in the number of fir and spruce establishment events from 1975.

    A study of high-elevation areas in Rocky Mountain National Park warned that these ecosystems were “at higher risk of species redistribution as they are more insular and experience more rapid changes than environments at lower elevations.”

    In some places, climate change is pushing forests higher or farther. In Alaska’s Noatak National Preserve, boreal forests have moved as much as 300 feet north onto what was formerly treeless tundra.

    In Yosemite National Park researchers have found whitebark and lodgepole pines pushing into montane meadows as high at 10,000 feet.

    Air pollution from straw burning near a residential area. The traditional practice of open burning of rice straw produces large amounts of smoke creating a thick cloud over fields. Photo: Ali Mohammadi, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu

    From Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

    Researchers suggest new approach needed to address Anthropocene risk

    A team of international researchers led by Colorado State University is calling for a new approach to understanding environmental risks in the Anthropocene, the current geological age in which humans are a dominant force of change on the planet.

    Patrick Keys, a research scientist in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at CSU, is the lead author of “Anthropocene risk,” a perspective paper published July 22 in Nature Sustainability that suggests adopting a holistic approach to understanding environmental risks. Keys said the team hopes that the article is “productively provocative.”

    “The Anthropocene is a time of rapid global change – socially, environmentally, and geophysically,” he said. “Typical notions of neatly and cleanly delineating complex environmental risks are changing in unexpected ways. It’s becoming clear that a more holistic perspective, including social history, power relations, and environmental ethics may be important components of Anthropocene risks.”

    As an example, Keys said it’s a common belief that the civil war in Syria has been driven by drought and climate change. While those two factors more than likely played a role in what led to the civil war, it also ignores other aspects such as incentives by Syrian government officials that kept farmers on agriculturally precarious land for decades. Keys said those incentives made it possible for drought and climate change to have such an impact.

    “If we ignore the social and political economic factors that deliver us to this present, we will attribute an event to being caused by the environment when, in fact, that was just one cause or the icing on top of the cake. If we look at things only in the present, we will come up with solutions to a problem defined in the present, but we may not be defining the problem correctly.”

    This point of view stems from Guidance for Resilience in the Anthropocene: Investments for Development (GRAID), a program based at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where five of the paper’s co-authors currently work.

    In the paper, the research team explores four different cases outside of Europe and North America to highlight this way of looking at environmental risks and underline why people studying such risks must take a broader approach.

    “As the Anthropocene unfolds, navigating new and emerging risks will require considering changes that happen over years, decades, centuries, or even millennia.” Keys said. “In this increasingly interconnected and accelerating world, it’s on us to really educate ourselves about how to interact intelligently and meaningfully to work toward a more sustainable world.”

    Tamarisk leaf beetles at work

    From The Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via Tucson.com:

    That the tiny beetles brought to the U.S. from Asia in an experiment to devour invasive, water-sucking tamarisks showed up at the Verde River in central Arizona is no surprise. But it’s further evidence they’re spreading faster than once anticipated and eventually could pervade the Southwest U.S, raising wildfire risks and allowing less time to uproot the tamarisks, also called salt cedars, and replace them with native trees.

    Without those efforts, an already highly flammable tree will burn more intensely, and an endangered songbird that nests in tamarisk might not have a home.

    The federal program to use the beetles to chew up tamarisk trees began as an experiment in rural Nevada in 2001 and was approved for more widespread use in 2005, as long as they were at least 200 milesfrom Southwestern willow flycatcher territory. It ended in 2010 as the beetles intruded on the birds’ habitat. An unintentional release in southern Utah also helped the insects spread into Arizona.

    Johnson believes the quarter-inch beetles hitchhiked to the Verde River on clothing, a backpack or a boat. Normally, they are wind travelers but would have had to catch quite a gust to get to the river from the closest drainage where they’ve been recorded, he said.

    Johnson has sent samples to a geneticist in Colorado to determine if the beetles can be traced to a population north of Arizona or a subtropical one from Texas that multiplies quicker.

    Arizona once was projected to be too hot for the beetles to survive, but they’ve evolved as they’ve expanded their reach.

    Dan Bean with the Colorado Department of Agriculture found even more this summer in far southwestern Arizona along the California border, where temperatures regularly top 100 degrees.

    The concern now is the beetles establishing themselves in the Gila, Salt and San Pedro watersheds, which have higher concentrations of flycatcher habitat.

    The beetles aren’t known to feast on anything other than tamarisks, though one beetle can’t eat much on its own. In the thousands, they can consume entire trees, Bean said.

    Southwestern Willow flycatcher

    The tamarisk leaves can grow back within the season, but repeated attacks can be fatal for the trees — a welcome result in places flycatchers don’t live.

    Dead tamarisks can litter the ground with leaves and increase wildfire risks.

    The trees already are notorious for burning hot and black, and beetle predation would provide more fuel.

    Ben Bloodworth works with Rivers Edge West, formerly the Tamarisk Coalition, which has been tracking the beetles’ movement for years.

    The group has mapped the beetles along the Green River in Utah, the Rio Grande and Pecos River in New Mexico and Texas, the Arkansas River in Colorado, the Colorado River — a major source of water for 40 million people in seven Western states — and other waterways.

    “Eventually the beetles will be throughout the entire Southwest, and really what we need to do is, in areas where it’s appropriate, get in ahead of the beetle (and) plant willows and cottonwoods and other native species that can provide habitat for the willow flycatcher,” Bloodworth said.

    The beetles and the songbird have been the subject of legal fights. The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in 2013.

    The lawsuit alleged the damage caused by the insects through the beetle release program violated the Endangered Species Act, and argued the federal government should be held liable.

    As part of a settlement, the USDA released a draft conservation plan in June for the flycatcher, which is found in parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. Under the plan, the agency would aid existing conservation programs, contribute money and monitor beetle impacts. The public has until Aug. 8 to weigh in.

    The beetles would not be in the United States if not for the tamarisk that thrives along riverbeds.

    2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition

    USFS has embarked on a bit of a science experiment to see if trees, willows and other vegetation are able to take root on a mine waste pile

    USGS scientist measuring pH, Specific Conductance and dissolved oxygen in a remediation ditch constructed with local volcanic rock possessing some acid neutralizing capacity. Brown’s Gulch is below the Brooklyn Mine, a few miles north of Siverton, Colorado, in the Mineral Creek basin. (Credit: Douglas Yager , USGS. Public domain.)

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    The U.S. Forest Service has embarked on a bit of a science experiment this summer, to see if trees, willows and other vegetation are able to take root on a waste pile near the Brooklyn Mine, located on a mountainside northwest of Silverton, said Gretchen Fitzgerald, a forester with the agency.

    “Not much has been done with this waste rock,” Fitzgerald said. “But I wanted to try this.”

    If successful, the project could have beneficial effects on water quality and set a precedent for the future restoration of toxic areas.

    “It’s an experiment,” Fitzgerald said…

    Because the Brooklyn Mine is located on the San Juan National Forest, the Forest Service is taking the lead on the cleanup there, said Ben Martinez with the San Juan National Forest. But it’s possible previous mining companies could be on the financial hook.

    “The EPA along with its federal and state partners are coordinating on site-wide efforts to identify potentially responsible parties at the (Bonita Peak) site,” Martinez said.

    In the meantime, federal agencies are going ahead with the cleanup. Martinez said the site is being investigated to find out just how much contamination the Brooklyn Mine is contributing to the headwaters of the Animas, and what the possible right steps are for long-term remediation.

    South Fork Mineral Creek, Silverton photo via hhengineering.com

    Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group said the Brooklyn Mine was included in a list of the top 33 polluting mine sites created by the stakeholders group years ago. He said the wastewater coming out of the mine, especially, poses a problem, leeching heavy metals into Mineral Creek, a tributary of the Animas River…

    While the big picture cleanup is being figured out, projects like Fitzgerald’s tree planting could help with issues associated with the waste rock pile.

    For the project, seeds were collected from Engelmann spruce trees right next to the pile, and native flowers were taken from Ophir, a small mountain town 13 miles west of Silverton.

    The seeds were sent to a nursery and matured for two years. This summer, interns with Mountain Studies Institute, Southwest Conservation Corps and Outward Bound took on the task of planting 900 spruce trees, 300 flowers and 30 willows.

    There’s a bit of technique and skill involved if you want reforested plants at an elevation of 11,000 feet to survive, Fitzgerald said…

    Fitzgerald said she’s never undertaken a project quite like this, but if the plants take hold, it could stabilize the hillside and keep the waste rock out of the watershed, acting as a sort of filter.

    There is some precedent for trying to grow on mine waste in Southwest Colorado.

    According to a Mountain Studies Institute report, some of the most significant and enduring problems of the legacy mining in the San Juan Mountains are soil and water quality degradation associated with abandoned mine tailings and waste rock piles.

    And a major impediment to reducing the amount of pollution from these sites, according to the report, is the difficulty of reestablishing vegetation.

    How biochar works. Graphic credit: The High Country News

    Mountain Studies Institute tried a few years ago to test the effectiveness of biochar (a charcoal used as a soil alternative, rich in carbon) and straw compost at abandoned mine sites around Silverton…

    The results were encouraging: The addition of biochar resulted in a nearly 200% increase in biomass on sites with levels of high acidity. On areas where soil acidity was low, however, biochar increased vegetation by only 6% to 11%.

    That’s why the Forest Service’s experiment at the Brooklyn Mine is a little more of a test trial: Fitzgerald said the mine waste rock at the site has low acidity. But, the fact some plants are naturally starting to creep out of the ground nearby is encouraging.

    @CSUtilities Partners with Forest Agencies to Invest $15 Million in Watershed Restoration — Colorado State Forest Service

    Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

    Colorado Springs Utilities, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region and Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) announced their plans to invest $15 million, over a five-year period, in forest and watershed restoration projects. These projects will occur on more than 11,000 acres in Colorado Springs Utilities’ critical watersheds located on the White River and Pike-San Isabel National Forests

    Today’s announcement comes as part of a signing event held at the Mesa Conservation Center to kick off the second phase of watershed restoration efforts.

    The U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region and Colorado Springs Utilities have been in partnership since 2013, and together, have reduced the risk of catastrophic wildfire, restored forests impacted by wildfire, and minimized erosion and sedimentation in reservoirs to over 12,000 acres of National Forest System lands.

    “We understand the obligation to the nearly 480,000 customers within the Colorado Springs Utilities area and the importance of healthy watersheds. Thus, we place heavy emphasis on partnerships like these, which allow us to keep clean water flowing to our local communities while maintaining resilient and productive forest lands,” Regional Forester, Brian Ferebee stated.

    “Our dedication to conservation and natural resource sustainability has been amplified with the inclusion of the Colorado State Forest Service.”

    View of Pikes Peak from the South Catamount Reservoir. Photo: Andy Schlosberg, CSFS

    The agreement, which now extends the existing partnership to the CSFS, expands the capacity to implement priority projects, leverage state resources, and balance national, state and local priorities. Since 1987, Colorado Springs Utilities has partnered with the CSFS to manage forests on 13,000-acres in the Pikes Peak Watershed. Their work to protect water quality, improve water yields, and identify and reduce wildfire risk, have dramatically improved forest health.

    Together, the partnership promotes an “all lands” approach that addresses watershed and forest health challenges on the National Forest System and neighboring lands.

    Forest & watershed health projects

    “The destruction of Waldo Canyon required a huge investment from Colorado Springs Utilities to repair damaged water infrastructure and restore severely burned watersheds,” said Earl Wilkinson, Chief Water Services Officer, Colorado Springs Utilities. “Our continued partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service will enable critical preventative measures to protect our drinking water supply.”

    Under the 2019-2023 program, Colorado Springs Utilities will invest $7.5 million in forest and watershed health projects within critical watersheds. This funding will be matched dollar for dollar by the U.S. Forest Service and the CSFS for a total value of approximately $15 million.

    Management activities associated with these projects will include forest thinning, prescribed fire, invasive species management, road and trail improvements, and stream improvements.

    “Through partnerships like this one, land managers and water providers in Colorado can help ensure clean, reliable water for present and future generations,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and CSFS Director.

    Colorado Springs Utilities has a large mountain water system with many reservoirs and other infrastructure located on U.S. Forest Service Land. Forest restoration and wildfire fuels reduction projects will take place within watersheds near Colorado Springs, including the vicinity of Pikes Peak, the headwaters of the Arkansas River, surrounding Homestake Reservoir on the Eagle River, and in the Blue River watersheds.

    The projects will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and post-fire sedimentation and erosion upstream of Colorado Springs Utilities’ reservoirs and other water delivery infrastructure.

    For details contact:

    Colorado State Forest Service – Ryan Lockwood, (970) 491-8970, ryan.lockwood@colostate.edu
    U.S. Forest Service – Lawrence Lujan, (303) 815-9902, lawrence.lujan@usda.gov

    All fishing bag, possession limits removed for Sand Creek drainage located in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Joe Lewandnowski):

    In preparation for a native cutthroat trout restoration project, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has removed all bag and possession limits for fishing on Upper Sand Creek Lake, Lower Sand Creek Lake and Sand Creek located in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the National Park Service are working to restore the Rio Grande cutthroat trout to its native waters. In late August, the lakes and creek will be treated to remove all fish from the drainage. If all goes as planned, Rio Grande cutthroats will be stocked again in the fall of 2020. These waters are located high on the west flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

    Anglers must hold a valid Colorado fishing license and can only use standard methods of take. Commercial fishing is not allowed. The area holds rainbow, brook and non-native cutthroat trout. Anglers can keep all the fish they can catch starting Monday, July 22 through Aug. 25

    Once the Rio Grande cutthroat trout are re-established, anglers will have the unique opportunity to catch this native fish. Cutthroat trout populations have declined over the last 100 years due to water diversions, land-use changes and competition from non-native trout that have been stocked throughout the Rio Grande drainage.

    “This is a challenging project, but it will provide ideal and protected habitat for these fish,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southwest Region. “We appreciate that the National Park Service shares CPW’s goals to re-establish native cutthroats in the waters of the San Luis Valley.”

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife seeking applications for projects that will restore wetland habitat — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    US 36 wetland mitigation photo via Western States Reclamation, Inc.

    From Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Travis Duncan):

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is seeking applications for wetland and riparian restoration, enhancement, and creation projects to support its Wetlands Program Strategic Plan.

    CPW will award up to $1.3 million in funds from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to projects in Colorado that support the Wetlands Program Strategic Plan’s two main goals:

    1. Improve the distribution and abundance of ducks, and opportunities for public waterfowl hunting.
    2. Improve the status of declining or at-risk species.

    The Colorado Wetlands for Wildlife Program is a voluntary, collaborative, and incentive-based program to restore, enhance and create wetlands and riparian areas in Colorado. Funds are allocated annually to the program and projects are recommended for funding by a CPW committee with final approval by the Director.

    “Wetlands are so important,” said CPW Wetlands Program Coordinator Brian Sullivan. “They comprise less than two percent of Colorado’s landscape but provide benefits to over 75 percent of the species in the state, including waterfowl and several declining species. Since the beginning of major settlement activities, Colorado has lost half of its wetlands.”

    Since its inception in 1997, the Colorado Wetlands Program has preserved, restored, enhanced or created almost 220,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent habitat and more than 200 miles of streams. The partnership is responsible for almost $40 million in total funding devoted to wetland and riparian preservation in Colorado.

    The application deadline for this year’s funding is Friday, August 9, 2019. The Wetlands Funding Request for Applications (RFA) is available on CPW’s website.

    A fungus threatens survival of the only toads that live high in the Rocky Mountains — @ColoradoSun

    A submerged Boreal toad. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife / Melissa Butynski

    Here’s an in-depth recap of the first trek this summer to collect and treat boreal toads up near Buena Vista via Jennifer Brown writing for The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole thing and for the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    Tim Korpita is wearing blue rubber gloves and thigh-high waders, but when someone shouts “Toad!” he lunges like a ninja.

    He takes a giant step over the marsh grasses and is on his stomach at the edge of a slow-moving creek, clutching a tiny, speckled boreal toad between his thumb and index finger. He immediately turns the inch-long creature, checking for a green or pink spot on its inner thigh.

    Nothing.

    Korpita, a University of Colorado doctoral candidate, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists last summer captured 250 boreal toadlets — beyond tadpoles but not quite terrestrial toads — in a high-elevation wetland along Cottonwood Creek. They injected them with a spot of either pink or green dye, visible through amphibian skin when held up to the sunlight.

    Biologists collect and record data at a field laboratory as they bathe 35 Boreal toads captured on South Cottonwood Creek, west of Buena Vista, on Sept. 6, 2018. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Pink was the control group, while the green-tagged toads received antifungal bacterial baths that scientists hoped would protect them from a pathogen killing off boreal toads throughout the Rocky Mountains. The disease is killing amphibians across the globe as biologists race to stop it before it’s too late.

    Korpita, 29, and a parks and wildlife crew returned to the mountains above Buena Vista on a recent blue-sky day, hoping to find at least some of their study group.

    By lunchtime on toad hunt day, after nearly two hours of peering along the edges of mountain ponds and in the mud-bottomed streams flowing through the bog, the team had found just six yearling toads. They spotted five more that afternoon, gently placing each one in a plastic bag with a clump of moss for moisture.

    Of the 11, just two were tagged (one pink, one green), meaning there was little to say about whether a bath last summer in the lavender-tinted wash, dubbed “purple rain,” is saving their lives.

    But this was biologists’ first trek of the summer. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CU scientists plan to return every two weeks to the Chaffee County marsh to catch the black-and-gray toads and swab their skin for DNA before releasing them back to the pond. Each one, tagged or not, is showered with sterile water to rinse off the mud and placed in a large test tube for exactly one hour to collect a sample of the bacteria on their skin.

    Meanwhile, on Korpita’s recent trip to the ponds, he sits under the shade of a pine tree in the middle of the forest and showered the first batch of captured toads. With a cotton swab, he strokes their clean skin for DNA samples. Back at the lab, Korpita will try to determine whether the toads carry the deadly chytrid fungus. And for the toads that received last summer’s fungus-fighting bacteria treatment, Korpita will try to see if it’s still active in their skin and protecting them from the disease.

    The hope is that by summer’s end, Korpita will have captured enough toads that received his bacterial bath to know whether it works in the wild.

    BUENA VISTA — Tim Korpita is wearing blue rubber gloves and thigh-high waders, but when someone shouts “Toad!” he lunges like a ninja.

    He takes a giant step over the marsh grasses and is on his stomach at the edge of a slow-moving creek, clutching a tiny, speckled boreal toad between his thumb and index finger. He immediately turns the inch-long creature, checking for a green or pink spot on its inner thigh.

    Nothing.

    Korpita, a University of Colorado doctoral candidate, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists last summer captured 250 boreal toadlets — beyond tadpoles but not quite terrestrial toads — in a high-elevation wetland along Cottonwood Creek. They injected them with a spot of either pink or green dye, visible through amphibian skin when held up to the sunlight.

    Pink was the control group, while the green-tagged toads received antifungal bacterial baths that scientists hoped would protect them from a pathogen killing off boreal toads throughout the Rocky Mountains. The disease is killing amphibians across the globe as biologists race to stop it before it’s too late.

    Tim Korpita searches for boreal toads in thick marsh grasses in the Cottonwood Creek drainage above Buena Vista in late June. Korpita treated the toads with a bacterial wash last summer in an effort to protect them from a fungus that is killing amphibians worldwide. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)
    Korpita, 29, and a parks and wildlife crew returned to the mountains above Buena Vista on a recent blue-sky day, hoping to find at least some of their study group.

    By lunchtime on toad hunt day, after nearly two hours of peering along the edges of mountain ponds and in the mud-bottomed streams flowing through the bog, the team had found just six yearling toads. They spotted five more that afternoon, gently placing each one in a plastic bag with a clump of moss for moisture.

    Of the 11, just two were tagged (one pink, one green), meaning there was little to say about whether a bath last summer in the lavender-tinted wash, dubbed “purple rain,” is saving their lives.

    But this was biologists’ first trek of the summer. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CU scientists plan to return every two weeks to the Chaffee County marsh to catch the black-and-gray toads and swab their skin for DNA before releasing them back to the pond. Each one, tagged or not, is showered with sterile water to rinse off the mud and placed in a large test tube for exactly one hour to collect a sample of the bacteria on their skin.

    Meanwhile, on Korpita’s recent trip to the ponds, he sits under the shade of a pine tree in the middle of the forest and showered the first batch of captured toads. With a cotton swab, he strokes their clean skin for DNA samples. Back at the lab, Korpita will try to determine whether the toads carry the deadly chytrid fungus. And for the toads that received last summer’s fungus-fighting bacteria treatment, Korpita will try to see if it’s still active in their skin and protecting them from the disease.

    The hope is that by summer’s end, Korpita will have captured enough toads that received his bacterial bath to know whether it works in the wild.

    The tedious effort is one of many underway to save boreal toads, the only high-elevation toad in the Rockies. The slow-moving toads — listed as an endangered species in Colorado — can hibernate beneath the snow for six to eight months of the year, at elevations from 7,500 to 12,000 feet.

    Boreal toads were so abundant, from the late 1800s and until the 1960s, that they would sit under Buena Vista lamp posts at night, gobbling up insects that swarmed to the light, according to historical articles reviewed by Parks and Wildlife. They live in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Utah, Colorado and, until they died off there, New Mexico.

    Northern Colorado bison herd flourishes — #Colorado State University

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

    On a recent sunny day in Northern Colorado, a team from Colorado State University and the City of Fort Collins released eight bison on the windswept plains of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and the Red Mountain Open Space.
    “It never gets old,” said CSU’s Jennifer Barfield as the majestic animals started to explore their new home, lumbering their way to join the rest of the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd.

    The Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd was established with nine females and one male calf in November 2015. The bison had valuable genetics from the Yellowstone National Park Herd and — thanks to science implemented at CSU — the animals were also disease-free.

    Not even four years later, there are now 76 bison. The success of this conservation effort astounds even those closest to the project, including Barfield, who serves as the scientific lead and is a reproductive physiologist.

    “It is incredibly exciting and fulfilling to see the partnerships we’re forming, and the way we’re able to share our bison with tribal and conservation herds, which is really what we intended,” she said. “What’s really surprised me is how quickly we’ve gotten to this point, and part of that is due to how well the animals are doing. They’re reproducing well and they’re just healthy, in general.”

    New partners sustain, honor bison

    Over the last few years, the project’s partners — CSU, the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County — have contributed bison to conservation efforts across the U.S. This includes teaming up with the Minnesota Zoo, which is helping to restore bison to some of the state park systems in that state, and the Pueblo of Pojoaque tribe in New Mexico, which manages bison on the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge, in partnership with the Denver Zoo.

    Earlier this month, two bulls from the herd were delivered to the Oakland Zoo, where they will breed with female bison from the Blackfeet Nation, which partners with the zoo on its Iinnii Initiative, which aims to conserve traditional lands, protect Blackfeet culture and create a home for the buffalo. These female bison are from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada, and are descendants from animals captured on the Blackfeet land in the late 1800s.

    The calves that are produced will go back to the reservation and live on the natural landscape in Montana. The bulls will follow suit, after a few years of breeding at the zoo.

    Teri Dahle, coordinator for the Iinnii Initiative, said that the return of the buffalo to native lands provides hope for members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes the Blackfeet Nation-Amaskapi Piikuni-Montana, Kainai – Blood Tribe-Alberta, North Peigan- Piikani Nation-Alberta and Siksika Nation-Alberta.

    “It’s so important for us to have these buffalo, for many reasons, but most importantly for our spirituality,” she said.

    At one point, more than 30 million buffalo freely roamed the tribal lands, but populations neared extinction in the 1870s and 1880s due to the slaughter of wild buffalo by settlers.

    “Our whole lifestyle changed at that moment,” Dahle said.

    She hopes the partnership will also provide educational opportunities for tribal youth. “They can be exposed to what it might be like to be a veterinarian, conservationist or zoologist,” she said. “Our youth could see the connections and the scientific part of the project, too.”

    The new project has additional ties to Fort Collins. Dr. Joel Parrott, a veterinarian and CSU DVM program alumnus, is the president and CEO of Oakland Zoo.

    “I am excited to partner with my alma mater to bring Yellowstone Park ancestry to Oakland Zoo’s California Trail,” he said, referring to a 56-acre park in the zoo dedicated to iconic species, including bison. “Introducing these two bulls to our female herd will bring a more diverse and strong genetic line to the animals we release to be free-ranging on Blackfeet tribal land and U.S. and Canadian national parks through the Iinnii Initiative.”

    Meegan Flenniken, division manager of Land Conservation, Planning & Resource with Larimer County, said her team is thrilled that the conservation goals of the Laramie Foothills herd continue to be realized.

    “The proven success of this project is not only to re-introduce bison to northern Colorado at Red Mountain Open Space and Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, but ultimately for animals from that herd to help establish herds elsewhere,” she added.

    Jennifer Barfield, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says the growth of the herd has allowed them to share bison with tribal and conservation groups. Photos by William A. Cotton

    Barfield said that the two bulls who recently left the herd are quite special since they were among the first group of calves born on the prairie in Northern Colorado.

    “They’re our first generation of babies that are now going out and contributing to other herds,” she said. “We watched these guys grow from tiny little red calves and now, they’re big bulls, ready to go out and start contributing their genetics to the herd and to other herds outside ours. It’s rewarding but it’s always sad to see them go.”

    Zoe Shark, public engagement manager for the City of Fort Collins natural areas, noted that the herd has had a major impact in the region and beyond, through social media.

    “We’ve all been able to see how the community has been engaged, and really care about these animals and where they go, and how they’re contributing to conservation not only here, but outside of Colorado,” she said. “We have a lot of people who are interested in the bison and in learning more about them, their history and role in the ecosystem.”

    Efforts to clean up Fountain Creek and leverage it for recreation are building in #ColoradoSprings

    From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

    A will, but not a way — quite yet

    While the interest in cleaning up Fountain Creek through downtown Colorado Springs is building, the coalitions and money needed to do it are lagging.

    Trout Unlimited, the nationwide organization known for advocating for water quality improvements to bolster recreation, has not been involved. The local chapter’s president, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, cast doubt on the possibility of a sustainable trout population in the stretch, but he said he would be interested in learning more.

    There are cleanups of the area around the stream, but any visitor can clearly see that they aren’t solving the problem.

    “We’re absolutely talking about it,” City Council President Richard Skorman said. “But, no, there’s not, like, $10 million in a fund today that’s involved in it.”

    State Sen. Owen Hill, the Republican lawmaker Peak ventured into the creek with, said he is working to build support among nongovernmental organizations to complete a cleanup. Hill declined to identify the groups because he’s still in the early stages of talks to get them aboard.

    “It is a little sketchy, but we aren’t going to change that without building the awareness,” Hill said, noting that he has returned many times to fish the creek. “When you look at our grandparents’ generation, they used to picnic down there and swim in the creek. And now we’re afraid to go down there without waterproof clothing on.”

    Colorado Springs’ City Council recently passed ordinances increasing fines for littering and prohibiting camping within 100 feet of a public stream to help improve water quality in Fountain Creek. The latter, which adds to the city’s existing camping ban, has drawn pushback from advocates who say transients are being unfairly blamed for a bigger problem.

    Skorman says homeless displacement is a concern of his, but that the city is working toward solutions. He said he envisions that one day the confluence of Monument and Fountain creeks downtown could be like Confluence Park in central Denver, where people swim, kayak and fish.

    “We’re probably a good 10 years behind other communities,” Skorman said. “I dream about this at night. It’s my big passion. And I think we’re going to do it here. I think we’re going to do something special.”

    As for Peak, he’s going to continue working to raise awareness of Fountain Creek’s potential.

    “This isn’t something that the current city council or government did, but it is something that they have to deal with,” Peak said. “What to do? That’s the million dollar question.”

    Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

    Five Years Later, Effects Of #ColoradoRiver Pulse Flow Still Linger — KUNC

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    From inside a small airplane, tracing the Colorado River along the Arizona-California border, it’s easy to see how it happened.

    As the river bends and weaves through the American Southwest, its contents are slowly drained. Concrete canals send water to millions of people in Phoenix and Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego. Farms, ribbons of green contrasted against the desert’s shades of brown, line the waterway.

    Further downstream, near Yuma, Arizona, the river splits into threads, like a frayed piece of yarn.

    A massive multi-state plumbing system sends its water to irrigate the hundreds of thousands of farm acres in southern California and Arizona, hubs for winter vegetables, alfalfa, cotton and cattle.

    When it hits the final dam, located on the U.S.-Mexico border, every drop has been claimed and put to use. In a typical year, what’s left of the river’s flow — promised to Mexico in a 75-year-old treaty — is sent to farm fields in the Mexicali Valley, and then on to the Mexican cities of Tijuana, Mexicali and Tecate.

    All this reliance on an overallocated river has left its final hundred miles as the ultimate collateral damage. Since the early 1960s, when Glen Canyon Dam impounded the river near Page, Arizona, it has rarely reached the Pacific Ocean. The thread is frayed beyond recognition, leaving no water for the river itself.

    “About 90 percent of the water is retained on the U.S. side and it’s used and diverted,” said Karl Flessa, a researcher at the University of Arizona. He studies the Colorado River Delta.

    “In effect, one of the things we’ve done historically — not meaning to especially — what we’ve done is export some of the environmental consequences of water diversions,” Flessa said. “We’ve exported them to Mexico.”

    The Colorado River’s inability to complete its journey from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez has become one of its defining characteristics. Its historic delta, a haven for birds and mammals in the Sonoran desert, is a husk of its former self.

    From the air, in a flight arranged by non-profit group LightHawk, the Colorado River Delta transitions from a jigsaw of farms to a staggering sprawl of muddy salt flats. (LightHawk receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also funds KUNC’s Colorado River coverage.) The river’s historic channel in most parts through Mexico is nothing more than a sandy bed, scattered with saltcedar.

    Where the river used to meet the ocean, tidal pools and drainages carve the sand and soil into organic patterns, like the cross-section of a lung.

    Within the last twelve years, both the U.S. and Mexico have acknowledged the delta’s problems, signing agreements to commit both water and funding to restoring it to some semblance of its former self.

    The splashiest of those efforts took place five years ago this spring, and left a lasting imprint on those who witnessed it.

    The pulse flow

    Around 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning in March 2014, water began spilling through Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border. The release was a culmination of years of negotiation between the U.S., Mexico and environmental organizations.

    It was known as the pulse flow — flujo pulso in Spanish.

    “You think of it as this wall of water that’s going to come down, but really it was this creeping tongue of water across the sand,” said Jennifer Pitt, who worked for the Environmental Defense Fund at the time, and now directs the Colorado River program for the National Audubon Society. Both groups receive Walton Family Foundation funding. Pitt was a key negotiator to make the pulse flow possible…

    It took a few days after the dam opened for the water to arrive at the bridge, where Pitt and her colleagues gathered to wait. About 70 people in garden chairs sat in anticipation. A community clean-up a few days prior left the riverbed scrubbed of trash and debris.

    For many young people, it was the first time they had ever seen water flowing in this stretch of the Colorado River. For older residents, it had been decades since they saw this much water here.

    “They started getting up just one by one, people coming over to the water and getting down on their hands and knees and just touching it,” she said. “It was like the arrival. The great arrival of the river.”

    A spontaneous festival started, complete with music, food vendors, horses and boats.

    “I’ve spent 20 years thinking about how we can restore the Colorado River from where it dries out to where it reaches the sea,” Pitt said, “And in all of that thinking have never imagined that this site could bring so many people in as a magnet for people to enjoy something.”

    Within weeks the flow was soaked up by depleted soils, though it did eventually reach the Pacific Ocean. From where Pitt and I are standing at the bridge in early December 2018, you’d never know the West’s mightiest river was supposed to flow here.

    The pulse flow was about 105,000 acre-feet of water, enough to turn the channel again into a river for a few weeks. One acre-foot generally provides enough water for two average American households for a year. Historically more than 12 million acre-feet flowed into the delta each year…

    Combined, that amount of water led to a green up along the river corridor, and sustained more than 275,000 new trees, according to a December 2018 report from the International Boundary and Water Commission.

    The pulse flow’s biggest effects were short-lived. Both the green up and increases in certain species dropped again after the water stopped flowing.

    The pulse flow’s biggest effects were short-lived. Both the green up and increases in certain species dropped again after the water stopped flowing.

    A study from U.S. Geological Survey scientists confirmed that. It found that the amount of water in the pulse flow was too small to change the channel in a significant way, or scrub the riverbed, which would’ve happened during a more natural spring flood when flows would be much higher.

    Because of the delta’s low water table, a lot of water seeped into the ground before it could do any good on the surface to help establish new wildlife habitat in expanded restoration areas. It was an experiment, said University of Arizona researcher Karl Flessa. Scientists experiment all the time, chart the results and move on.

    Does he think the delta will ever see another pulse flow on the scale and magnitude of the one seen in 2014?

    “Probably not,” he said. “Because you can get the water to do more restoration work by delivering it in smaller doses as it were, and delivering it to the right places where the vegetation can really take advantage of it.

    “I think restoration, like any other activity with water, we’re really obliged as a society to be as water efficient as possible.”

    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.

    Rifle Creek Spring Planting Day — Middle #Colorado Watershed Council

    Here’s the release from the MCWC:

    We would love your help May 11th! 9am-4pm

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council is partnering with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and NRCS to plant native vegetation along the banks of Rifle Creek. This is an effort that will improve water quality, benefit fish and wildlife, and restore ecosystem function. We have already planted over 800 willow and cottonwood cuttings! We will continue this effort by planting a wide variety of different native rooted plants that will hopefully get this stretch of Rifle Creek back towards what it should be.

    This event includes lunch, snacks, and camaraderie! It will be 9am to 4pm, come for all or part of the day!

    To sign up send an email to ReviveRifleCreek@gmail.com. Also, you can give an RSVP on Facebook.

    The goal is for local community members, students, master gardeners’, natural resource buffs, local landowners, and anyone interested to involved and then be able follow the results of the these efforts for years to come. So come help us get 1,400 native plants in the ground on May 11th! Well… and there is always that free lunch!

    Tell your friends, send them this flier!

    Clean River Design Challenge — The Greenway Foundation

    From The Greenway Foundation:

    The Water Connection is serving as a lead voice for The Greenway Foundation (TGF) on the issue of urban waterway trash. Despite the significant evolution in the health of the South Platte River, the reality of trash and other forms of pollution continue to be an ongoing challenge to the River. In response to this reality, TGF is engaging higher education students in developing designs for urban waterway trash removal devices.

    The third iteration of this competition will host student teams from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado School of Mines, and University of Denver. Other project partners include the Flood Control District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, and representatives of Denver’s professional engineering sector.

    For the 2018-2019 competition, student teams focused on the section of the South Platte River, just upstream of the confluence with the Cherry Creek. Five teams spent the first semester developing a preliminary design, which was presented to a panel of judges in early December and the top three designs were selected.

    Round 1: Design Phase
    First Place: Team Trash Trouts from Colorado School of Mines
    Second Place: River Guardians from Colorado School of Mines
    Third Place: Team Black-Crowned Night Herons from Metropolitan State University of Denver

    Four teams continued onto Round 2, to build a scaled model of their design and test it in a specialized flume at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The top three designs were selected based on a variety of criteria: design, impact on the river corridor, amount of trash collected, cost, etc.

    Round 2: Design Phase

    It was another great year of innovation– Thank you to everyone who participated in this competition!
    Click here to watch the story on the competition from Channel 4 CBS Denver.

    Livingston Ranch in Kit Carson County receives the 2019 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award — The Sand County Foundation

    The soil’s health rebounded as it retained organic matter left on the land as crop residue. This reduced the need for fertilizer, and resulted in higher yields from their wheat, milo, corn and hay fields. Photo credit: Sand County Foundation

    Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

    Mike and Julie Livingston of Kit Carson County have been selected as the recipient of the 2019 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.

    Sand County Foundation, the nation’s leading voice for private conservation, created the Leopold Conservation Award to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. The prestigious award, named in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is given in 13 states.

    In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The Livingstons [were] presented with the $10,000 award on Monday, June 17 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s 2019 Annual Convention held at the Steamboat Grand in Steamboat Springs.

    Agricultural conservation practices have given Mike and Julie Livingston and their land the resiliency to overcome adversity.

    When they bought their ranch near Stratton in 2003, its weed-filled landscape had been abused by years of over-grazing, severe erosion and drought. When rain did fall on barren spots of land, sediment would wash into nearby rivers and aquifers.

    “We had owned the property for three years, and each year we reduced our cow numbers because the grass wasn’t recovering. What we were doing wasn’t sustainable,” Mike recalls.

    Other challenges loomed on the ranch’s horizon. In 2009 a multi-state lawsuit took away their access to water for irrigation, and three years later a historic drought took hold. Their backs against the wall, they enrolled in the Ranching for Profit School. Mike said the “life-changing experience” opened his mind to agricultural conservation practices like cover crops, no-till and planned grazing.

    Not tilling the soil and keeping it covered year-round with specialty crops soon led to better rainwater utilization and less soil erosion and runoff. The soil’s health rebounded as it retained organic matter left on the land as crop residue. This reduced the need for fertilizer, and resulted in higher yields from their wheat, milo, corn and hay fields.

    Mike and Julie, who farm and ranch with their children, Kari and Justin, and their families, also embraced conservation practices that benefitted their beef cattle and created wildlife habitat.

    They implemented a planned grazing system with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Inefficient watering systems were replaced with 100,000 feet of new pipeline. Miles of new fencing replaced the configuration of 36 old pastures, with 119 pastures that are grazed less often. The extended rest period, coupled with planting cool season grasses meant two more months of green grass.

    In addition to a 120-acre wildlife sanctuary the Livingstons created, hundreds of additional acres are left ungrazed from summer through winter to provide additional habitat for turkeys, prairie chickens, pheasants, bobcats, and herds of whitetail and mule deer. Hay fields are harvested with wildlife protection in mind, and cattle watering stations were designed for access and safety for birds, bats and other wildlife.

    The Livingstons share what they’ve learned with fellow ranchers, academic researchers, business and youth groups.

    Through hard work, holistic management, and perseverance, the Livingstons have built a ranch that is sustainable for generations to come.

    “The 2019 Leopold Conservation Award nominees featured an impressive array of families and operations from around the state. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is proud of the conservation accomplishments of each of the applicants,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “These applicants showcase the diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the dedication that farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families. We are particularly proud of this year’s recipient the Livingston Ranch and the entire Livingston family.”

    “Agriculture producers feed a growing society, domestically and abroad, through sustainable production practices that produce more by using less. This approach is the very backbone of stewardship that the Leopold Conservation Award honors,” said Mike Hogue, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President. “Congratulations to the Livingston family on their well-deserved recognition, and being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”

    “The Natural Resources Conservation Service has proudly partnered to support the Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado for more than 10 years. The families that are nominated each year illustrate the commitment Colorado farmers and ranchers have to implementing sound conservation practices. The NRCS congratulates the Livingston family for their conservation ethic and land stewardship,” said Clint Evans, NRCS State Conservationist.

    Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Cory Off of Del Norte in Rio Grande County, and Gregg, Chris and Brad Stults of Wray in Yuma County.

    The 2018 recipient was Beatty Canyon Ranch of Kim, Colorado.

    The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stanko Ranch, Gates Family Foundation, American AgCredit, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.

    Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 13 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

    For more information on the award, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

    noosa yoghurt and Morning Fresh Dairy named Northeast Region Partner of the Year — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    Water courses through the new fish passage at Watson Lake State Wildlife Area. The passage allows fish to swim up and down the river past a diversion dam. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    The Graves family, owners of Morning Fresh Dairy and noosa yoghurt, was honored Thursday night with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region Partner of the Year Award for 2019.

    The award was announced at the annual Partners in the Outdoors Conference awards dinner held at the Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center.

    The Graves’ were nominated by CPW Assistant Area Wildlife Manager Jason Surface. Rob and Lori Graves were on hand at Thursday’s dinner and banquet to accept the award.

    “The entire Graves family, and Rob in particular, deserve this award for their unwavering commitment to the natural resources of Colorado and the mission of CPW,” Surface said. “Through all facets of his life, Rob has recognized the importance of connecting all Coloradoans, including his employees, children, grandchildren and community members to their natural resources and building successful partnerships.”

    Rob Graves is co-founder of noosa yoghurt and the Graves family owns a sixth generation dairy farm, Morning Fresh Dairy, in Bellvue, Colo.

    The Graves family epitomizes a CPW partnership and has improved the state’s natural resources through stewardship, education, and monetary contribution.

    The recently completed fish ladder at the Watson State Wildlife Area and Watson Lake is one recent project that exemplifies their commitment and generosity, and it will be on display next week with the ribbon cutting ceremony to showcase the project’s completion. Graves has been heavily involved with the project from its inception in 2016, funding the conceptual design in 2017 and his leadership and contributions were instrumental in moving the habitat improvement project a reality.

    The Watson Lake fish ladder is reconnecting over two river miles on what was a fragmented Poudre River. The stretch there at Watson Lake contains important spawning habitat and deep pool that provides refuge for aquatic life.

    “The Graves family have been and continue to be a great partner to CPW and truly help us achieve the goals laid out in both our Strategic Plan and Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP),” Surface said.

    “Both of these plans emphasize the importance of wildlife conservation, outdoor stewardship and connecting people to the great outdoors by providing sustainable access and opportunities to outdoor recreation. These are goals they believe deeply in and he has made these a priority for not only himself, but his family, employees and the community of Bellvue as well.”

    There are many arenas where the Graves’ family plays a hand in sharing the mission of CPW through conservation and community enhancement.

    They develop and make outdoor stewardship ethics a priority, organize volunteer work and maintenance on our public lands, particularly at the Watson State Wildlife Area that they have adopted as their own. They organize and host events like the Pleasant Valley Days, which is focused on bringing the community together and getting people of all ages outdoors.

    The ribbon cutting event for the Watson Lake fish ladder is taking place on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at 11 a.m.

    Earth Optimism: Reasons to Feel Positive in 2019 — The Nature Conservancy #ActOnClimate #EarthOptimism

    Climate news is not all gloom and doom. Here’s a report from the Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer/Matthew L. Miller). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    If you’re a fan of nature documentaries, you’ve probably heard about the unsettling images in Netflix’s new series, Our Planet. In one episode, the lack of sea ice forces walruses to rest on a steep cliff face… where many fall to their deaths.

    This disturbing image is emblematic of so many environmental stories: not only are they dreary, but they suggest that we are heading for the cliff. All of us.

    Earth Day originated as a way to bring attention to environmental issues. But it’s also fundamentally about hope. There has been great progress made on many conservation issues. While we need to be realistic about the challenges ahead, we can’t lose sight of what we have achieved so far. You can help make a difference.

    Here is a selection of stories to feel optimistic about his Earth Day. Check out the Earth Optimism movement, and follow #EarthOptimism on Twitter for many more.

    Pop-Up Wetlands Provide New Habitat for Migrating Shorebirds

    Foraging shorebirds. Photo © David Ledig / USFWS

    Migrating shorebirds can’t afford to be choosy about where they stop — whether the right habitat is there or not, they can only fly so far and so long.

    In California’s Central Valley, flocks of 20-40 million waterfowl once used the plentiful wetlands to rest and refuel. But today those flocks are a mere fraction of their former numbers, as more than 90 percent of these wetlands and riparian areas have been converted to agricultural fields.

    TNC’s California program came up with a creative solution to help the birds and benefit farmers. By temporarily flooding rice fields, they can provide “pop-up” habitat when the birds need it most. Now, science shows that this ingenious method is working, yielding the largest average shorebird densities ever reported for agriculture in the region…

    Congress Reauthorises the LWCF

    Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.

    In 1964 the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) became law, allocating a tiny fraction of federal royalties from oil-gas leases to fund habitat protection, public access, public recreation, and historical preservation.

    LWCF quickly became America’s main tool for protecting and restoring historic sites, like battlefields, and for providing matching grants to states for urban and suburban recreation facilities, like ballfields.

    Most importantly, it became a tool for acquiring wildlife habitat and public access — through purchase and conservation easements — to be managed and improved by states, the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

    That history of conservation success appeared to end last September, when Congress declined to reauthorize LWCF and it expired. Luckily, due to action by Nature Conservancy members and many others, that setback was temporary. In January, Congress permanently reauthorized LWCF, a major victory for both wildlife conservation and public recreational access.

    ID sues to halt #ColoradoRiver #drought plan signed by @POTUS, says officials ignored #SaltonSea — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #DCP #COriver #aridification

    Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

    From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

    The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a thorough environmental analysis has been completed.

    “The logic in going forward without (us) was that the (drought plan) couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” Henry Martinez, IID general manager, said in a statement. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along — at the Salton Sea.”

    Martinez said in an interview that the district also had to act because of the continuing threat of possible mandatory water cuts, especially to farm districts like IID, if Metropolitan and others can’t meet their obligations. MWD committed to keep 2 million acre feet of water in the reservoirs under the plan, and its general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, has said his staff concluded this year’s healthy precipitation meant they could do it.

    But Martinez said that was a short-term fix. “When you go through a drastic drought, you have to keep cutting back and cutting back. It is our opinion that Met cannot supply all of the water … that would be required,” he said. If mandatory cuts were ordered, “politically, urban water users are the heavyweights at the end of the day. … Humans will beat out plants.”

    IID’s petition alleges that MWD wrongly committed to enter into agreements on behalf of itself and all other California contractors.

    In a statement, Kightlinger said, “We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

    […]

    IID was cut out of the drought plan after MWD stepped in and said it would contribute its rural neighbor’s required share of water in drought years. The districts had previously signed contracts technically making the swap possible.

    In his statement, MWD general manager Kightlinger said, “During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved — the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea.”

    Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed a joint letter to Congress requesting the drought plans be approved on March 19, without IID. The legislation passed rapidly and overwhelmingly, and was signed into law by Trump on Tuesday. Mexico will also be a party per a previous agreement. State representatives now need to finalize their approvals.

    The ripples of IID’s lawsuit were felt in the Arizona legislature on Wednesday, where top water officials gave an update on the drought plan to the Senate Committee on Water and Agriculture. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke testified that although the potential impact of the lawsuit was unknown, he doesn’t see it affecting much. He is encouraging more dialogue to bring IID back into the deal.

    “They’re choosing right now to go down this path, but from my perspective, this will not prohibit us in moving forward and signing the Drought Contingency plan,” he said.

    Buschatzke said the focus is on implementing the Drought Contingency Plan as is. If MWD doesn’t sign as a result of the litigation, others will “assess where we’re at” then.

    IID’s Martinez said that the timing of the lawsuit the same day as Trump signed the legislation was coincidental. The district was up against a deadline to act once Metropolitan’s board voted to approve taking on IID’s share of water, he said.

    Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (ebecca Kimitch/Maritza Fairfield):

    Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on Imperial Irrigation District’s legal challenge alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

    “During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved – the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea. Moving forward, we remain committed to working with our partners on the Colorado River and with the federal government to secure funding and lasting solutions to the challenges of the Salton Sea.

    “The Drought Contingency Plan will help stabilize Colorado River supplies for seven states and Mexico for the next eight years while we find lasting solutions in the basin that ensure the people, crops and ecosystems that rely on the river have a reliable water supply for generations.

    “We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

    #EarthDay2019 – Protect Our Species: “In nature, nothing exists alone” — Rachel Carson, 1962

    Click here to go to EarthDay.org:

    Nature’s gifts to our planet are the millions of species that we know and love, and many more that remain to be discovered. Unfortunately, human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago. But unlike the fate of the dinosaurs, the rapid extinction of species in our world today is the result of human activity.

    The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.

    If we do not act now, extinction may be humanity’s most enduring legacy. Here are some quick facts on the current wave of extinction and additional information about this problem here.

    All living things have an intrinsic value, and each plays a unique role in the complex web of life. We must work together to protect endangered and threatened species: bees, coral reefs, elephants, giraffes, insects, whales and more.

    The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders, and scientists to demand immediate action.

    Earth Day Network is asking people to join our Protect our Species campaign. Our goals are to:

  • Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.
  • Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species as well as individual species and their habitats.
  • Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values.
  • Encourage individual actions such as adopting plant based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.
  • Click here to view our library of resources.

    Sandhill Cranes in flight via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    Click here to go to the NOAA website for their, “15 great reads for your Earth Day week: Our ‘click list’ of cool science stories has something for everyone:

    It’s that time again to reaquaint yourself with the health and well-being of our planet. We know what you’re thinking … but it’s not all bad news. NOAA scientists are using their expertise and innovation to help to solve Earth’s biggest challenges.

    The latest e-WaterNews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

    Water courses through the new fish passage at Watson Lake State Wildlife Area. The passage allows fish to swim up and down the river past a diversion dam. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Fish passage begins its work reconnecting Poudre River segments

    Construction crews have completed a new fish passage along the Poudre River at Watson Lake State Wildlife Area northwest of Fort Collins.

    Built with the cooperation of the participants of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, noosa yoghurt and Morning Fresh Dairy, the passage serves to reconnect stretches of river that had been separated by a diversion dam.

    Fort Collins company OneFish Engineering designed the project, and the construction company L4 Environmental built it over the past four months.

    A dedication ceremony for the new structure is planned for early May. The Poudre Heritage Alliance and Trout Unlimited are also providing assistance, and a public celebration for the new passage is planned during the Pleasant Valley Rendezvous on June 2 at Watson Lake.

    Pagosa Springs: Meeting to discuss new San Juan cutthroat trout management, April 16, 2019

    Courtesy Photo This trout is one of a new pure genetic strain of cutthroat trout found recently by Colorado Parks and wildlife biologists. This photo was taken at CPW’s Durango fish hatchery via the South Fork Tines.

    From Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The South Fork Tines:

    Management plans for a new pure genetic strain of cutthroat trout will be discussed at a meeting, 6:30 p.m., April 16 at the Springs Resort, 165 Hot Springs Blvd. in Pagosa Springs.

    The meeting will be led by representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited-Five Rivers chapter and the U.S Forest Service.
    The unique San Juan River cutthroat trout was found by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists several years ago; however, the find was only verified last year thanks to advanced genetic testing techniques. Specimens of the fish were found in eight remote and isolated streams in Southwest Colorado on public and private land. Last summer, some trout were spawned on site and the fertilized eggs were taken to CPW’s Durango hatchery to be raised. Some trout were also removed because the streams were in danger of being damaged by the 416 Fire.

    “The goal of the meeting is to provide additional information on the San Juan Cutthroat trout lineage discovery, how we plan on conserving the fish, and what that might mean for fishing opportunities in the future,” said Jim White, CPW’s aquatic biologist in Durango.

    The focus of the initial conservation efforts will be in the upper reaches of Wolf Creek in Mineral County. A portion of the creek was treated last summer to kill non-native trout in the stream. CPW hopes that some San Juan cutthroats can be stocked there this summer. CPW is also working with the U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, water agencies and private landowners to identify other waters where the fish can be stocked.

    Discovery of the fish dates back to 1874 when naturalist Charles E. Aiken removed and preserved two of the fish and placed them in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. The specimen was forgotten until 2012 when researchers from the University of Colorado and CPW were searching for old trout specimens in the nation’s museums. When the researchers tested tissue from those two specimens they found genetic markers unique to the San Juan River Basin. Armed with the knowledge of these genetic “fingerprints”, CPW researchers and biologists set out to test all the cutthroat trout they could find in the basin in search of any relic populations.

    John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southwest Region in Durango, said re-establishing the fish will be a long-term process.
    “Finding and identifying the fish was a tremendous discovery,” Alves said. “But because the populations we’ve found are so small it will take years of work by CPW’s fish culturists and our biologists to establish self-sustaining populations.”

    Cutthroat trout originated in the Pacific Ocean and are one of the most diverse fish species in North America with 14 different subspecies. Three related subspecies are found in Colorado: Colorado River cutthroat trout found west of the Continental Divide; greenback cutthroat trout in the South Platte River Basin; and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the San Luis Valley. Cutthroats from each of these areas have specific and distinctive genetic markers. CPW propagates the three remaining subspecies, and actively manages their conservation and recovery throughout the state.

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout