Even with above-average snowpack, #RioGrande faces uncertain future — Wild #Earth Guardians

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 21, 2020 via the NRCS.

From Wild Earth Guardians:

The National Resources Conservation Service has predicted that the Rio Grande flows at Otowi Bridge (just northwest of Santa Fe) will be 90 percent of average. At the same time, dry conditions this past summer and fall led to drier soils and aquifers in need of recharge—meaning there still will be less water available for rivers and streams.

Parts of Colorado and New Mexico are currently experiencing drought conditions. When soil moisture is low and aquifers are drawn down, much of the water from snowmelt is needed to replenish aquifers and soil.

In the hotter, drier world we live in, this is all the more evidence that we need to learn to manage water differently for both people and the environment.

Read the press release.

Albuquerque: New injection well installed for ASR

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

A new injection well built by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will pump treated river water back into the aquifer for future use in the metro area. The $2 million well, built at the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Treatment Plant in north Albuquerque, is key to the city’s aquifer storage and recovery plan.

Project manager Diane Agnew said the well, which is the first of its kind in the city, is a “success for Albuquerque’s water sustainability.”

“This is like a ‘water savings account’ that builds up over time,” she said. “The injection well gives us an alternate source to meet our long-term water demand. It lets us take (treated) San Juan-Chama water and store it in the aquifer, where it won’t evaporate.”

[…]

To access the stored aquifer water, the new well pumps can be “flipped” from injection to extraction.

The project expands on the city’s efforts to recharge the aquifer and address long-term water demand.

Each winter, San Juan-Chama water is released into the Bear Canyon Arroyo. That water infiltrates the ground and eventually ends up in the aquifer.

Agnew said the Bear Canyon setup takes advantage of the arroyo’s natural recharge mechanism, but the water may evaporate before it seeps into the ground, and it can take as long as six weeks to reach the aquifer.

The new injection well can send 3,000 gallons of water a minute directly into the aquifer 1,200 feet below the well site, where it can be stored without risk of evaporation. Injected well water reaches groundwater in just a few days…

As with the arroyo project, water will be injected at the well site from October to March, when water demand is lower.

The water authority has worked with the state Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources to identify other areas in the city which would be optimal for future aquifer injection wells.

Albuquerque’s shift away from pumping groundwater has spurred recovery of the aquifer underneath the city.

A report released last year by the U.S. Geological Survey showed city groundwater withdrawals had dropped by 67% from 2008 to 2016. Aquifer levels in some parts of Albuquerque rose as much as 40 feet during that time.

Del Norte Riverfront Project update

Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summitville retrospective #superfund

Here’s a look at the history of the Summitville Superfund Site from Kenneth Jessen I that’s running in The Loveland Reporter-Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Gold was panned throughout 1870 until winter arrived. The following spring a new rush of prospectors came into the area, but poor yields discouraged most, and by the end of the summer, they left the area.

[J.L. Wightman] plus two others remained and took their gold dust to Denver, receiving $170.

They did not give up and when the source of the gold was discovered, it led to the establishment of Summitville and underground mining.

A post office opened in 1876, and the town grew to become the largest gold producing camp in Colorado. The town’s population fluctuated from 300 to 600, enough to support 14 saloons and the publication of the Summitville Nugget…

Summitville was reborn when large-scale mining to remove low-grade ore resumed in 1934. The post office reopened, and 70 new homes were constructed of milled lumber along with a bathhouse, bunkhouses and large dining hall. Summitville also got its own school and its population swelled to an estimated 1,500.

The mine continued to operate, but due to the harsh weather and deterioration of its buildings, Summitville was again abandoned. Miners and mill workers were brought in by bus from Del Norte…

Mining ended in 1992 after a cease and desist order by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Part of the problem was overflow from the heap leach ponds combined with leaks in the liner allowing potassium cyanide to flow into the nearby stream.

A much bigger problem, however, was the toxic contents of the water coming from the open pit mine and old abandoned tunnels. The water in this area is naturally acidic and for that reason, it dissolves the metals found in the ground and in waste rock. The combination rendered the Wightman Fork of the Alamosa River void of aquatic life for many miles.

The mine owner, Canadian Galactic Resources, soon filed for bankruptcy.

The Environmental Protection Agency was left holding the bag for the cleanup to the tune of around $255 million including $18 million for a water treatment plant.

Galactic Resources paid around $30 million in a settlement. Colorado has now taken over the operation of the plant costing taxpayers about $2 million per year potentially forever.

A visitor to Summitville will see about two dozen abandoned buildings sitting in a meadow and with a beautiful backdrop of high mountains. The ramshackle cabins are split into two groups: one by the road and the other on the hillside.

Summitville Mine superfund site

Beckoning the Beavers — Wild Earth Guardians

From Wild Earth Guardians (John Horning):

I love beavers. Ever since I was a kid and watched them slap their tails defiantly, and loudly, to warn their clan of the threatening presence of large animals, I’ve thought beavers were worthy of my admiration. Then I realized they build dams too! As an aspiring dam builder myself, I figured beavers had more than a few things to teach me.

In fact, when the question of what is my favorite spirit animal arises, my response is almost always: beavers. They bring joy and gusto to their daily work and are quite content in mud and water. What’s not to admire?

So, when the opportunity came up in late September to be a beaver for a day with WildEarth Guardians’ restoration crew, I jumped at it—especially since I could bring along my energetic, six-year-old twin boys.

But what it exactly means to be a beaver for a day I did not know. I could only imagine that flowing water, willows, and mud had to be essential ingredients.

What I did know was that we were supposed to convene on the banks of San Antonio Creek—a meandering stream that sits at the bottom of a cleft in the volcanic uplift that is the Jemez Mountains. So, it was there that Wiley, Finn, and I found ourselves on a recent Saturday morning with another thirty souls who, I sensed, were likewise wondering whether they, too, could be adequate beavers for a day.

There, WildEarth Guardians’ restoration director, Reid Whittlesey, laid out our task. Standing next to a large pile of willows and rocks, he explained that our goal was to weave willow, and place rocks and mud. If we did it well, as our dam rose so, too, would the water.

The job of building these beaver dam analogues, or BDAs as they are known, was made easier by the placement of two dozen wooden posts that had been driven into the ground in a cross-crossed pattern across the stream. These posts, placed days earlier by Reid and his crew, provided the necessary foundation for each dam to rise.

And so a beaver clan, a crew of five or six people, was deployed to each of the six dam sites. For my boys—as it seemed for everyone—the excitement of the reality of dam-building overrode the hesitation that often comes with trying something new. In partnership with the other adults, the boys wove the willow back and forth between the poles and watched as others did the same.

Without it really being emphasized we had already embodied one of the critical qualities of beavers: collaboration amongst a family unit to accomplish a grand task.

And steadily each of the dams rose. Not on the scale of a New York City skyscraper, but rather like a humble, sod hut that once housed pioneers on the Great Plains. First one foot, then two feet and, in some cases, three or even four feet of willow, mud, sedge, and stone. Each dam was a unique creation and an imperfectly perfect monument—not to our ability to mimic the wisdom of beavers, but rather to our deep human yearning to heal damaged lands.

Of course, every story of healing and restoring the land and its grace, its beauty, and its dignity is also a story of trauma. For healing would not be necessary if there were no trauma. And this piece of the Santa Fe National Forest, this creek, has been deeply and repeatedly traumatized. Not by some massive and obvious threat, but rather by the insidious and ubiquitous presence of cattle grazing in otherwise arid landscapes.

Absent cows, there would be willows along the stream. And almost everywhere there are willows, beavers thrive. And where beavers thrive there is ecological dynamism, and the land sings, with the literal songs of flycatchers and frogs and with the slithering of snakes and the pattering of shrews and mice. And in the stream itself, native trout grow fatter and more abundant in the cooler, deeper waters that beaver dams create.

Here in New Mexico, there is a long list of endangered species that have been imperiled in the absence of beavers and that would benefit from their return. The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the Southwest willow flycatcher are just a few.

Sadly, the need for BDAs and the return of beavers is not limited to San Antonio Creek. In 2016 ecologists found that beaver occupied fewer than 1% of potential stream habitats in New Mexico. They found the problem even worse on national forests in northern New Mexico, concluding “beaver dams were exceptionally rare on public lands managed for cattle grazing.” (Small et. al 2016, Livestock grazing limits beaver restoration in northern New Mexico, Restoration Ecology.)

But this story of the beaver apocalypse is not unique to New Mexico, nor even to the American West. Beavers have been extirpated from literally tens of thousands of miles of streams and small rivers—the victims of both trapping and habitat degradation. Those ecosystems suffer greatly in their absence.

Our hope, of course, is that beavers will return to San Antonio Creek and make these dams their own. But when and if they do there is yet another challenge they will face: the harsh, deadly reality of a body-crushing trap. On nearly all of New Mexico public lands, trapping is allowed. So as soon as beavers return to the San Antonio Creek, a weekend trapper could eliminate every last one in the entire watershed.

All of these unfortunate realities for beavers reflect antiquated policy dictated by outdated beliefs—that beavers are pests and nuisance animals that should be eliminated any time someone complains. Incredibly, the last time the state of New Mexico wildlife agency did a beaver inventory was in 1956, the year before the television show “Leave it to Beaver” debuted.

Sadly, we can’t just leave it to beavers anymore. And the work of building beaver dam analogues reflects that reality. If we are to heal our streams and make our water supplies more resilient in the face of an ever-warming planet, we need to get busy. We must create and pass new state and federal policies and practices that restore beavers and beaver habitat to every single mile of streams and rivers on national forests, national parks, and all our public lands.

All the beaver clichés aside, we are losing time, losing species, and losing our precious water supplies every day of our collective inaction. I feel urgency not only for the creatures, large and small, whose intrinsic right to exist is being trampled on, but also for my boys and their deep yearnings to see frogs, snakes, and jumping mice animate the wild places they grow up in.

Toward the end of our time as beavers, my boys and I retreated to our nearby campsite where we shared stories of our days’ feats around the fire. That night, we drifted off to sleep to the hooting calls of a pair of Mexican spotted owls nested in the remnant ancient fir and pine forest that cover the valley walls.

The next morning after packing up, we were about to get in the car when my boys proclaimed that we could not leave without one more inspection of “our” beaver dam. Much to their satisfaction, not only was the dam still intact, but the water level had risen noticeably since the previous afternoon. As their energy lingered, the boys hummed, gently sang, and chattered to themselves and to each other in contemplative satisfaction with their work. One walked back and forth across the dam while the other waded in and out of the now waist-deep water. Without further words, we headed back up stream and up the hill to our car. But before moving on, one of my boys said, “Dad, we need to come back and build more beaver dams!”

“Yes, we do,” I said. “Yes, we do.”

For additional photos from Guardians’ Restoration Director, Reid Whittlesey, click here and scroll down.

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

Busy #cowater month in the San Luis Valley

From The Valley Courier:

January will be a busy month for the San Luis Valley Water Community.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s Board of managers for Special Improvement District number 5 meeting will take place on Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. at the Saguache County Road and Bridge Dept. at 305 3rd St. in Saguache.

Thursday Jan. 9 — Mosca-Hooper Soil & Water Conservation District will host a workshop with consensus process professional, Jeff Goebel called “Exploratory consensus process on groundwater conflict” from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., lunch provided. There is no cost to participate, please RSVP by Jan. 3 to moscahoopercd1@gmail.com.

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable will meet on Jan. 14 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District Office at 623 E. 4th St. in Alamosa.

The Board of Directors for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District will hold their quarterly meeting on Jan. 21 at the RGWCD office.

On Jan. 22, the Board of Managers for Special Improvement District number 2 will hold their annual meeting.

Many representatives of the Valleys’ water entities along with fellow water users from across the state will also travel to the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention on Jan. 29-31 in Westminster.

With the Renewable Water Resources export proposal and numerous other issues still at large, it is highly likely that 2020 will be an eventful year on the San Luis Valley water scene.

Saguache Creek

#MonteVista Crane Festival tickets available January 2, 2020 #mvcranefest

Click here tomorrow to purchase your tickets.

From the Monte Vista Crane Festival via The Mineral County Miner:

Mark your calendars for the 37th Monte Vista Crane Festival, scheduled for March 6 – 8, 2020. Ticket sales for the tours, speakers, movies and other events will go live Jan. 2 at http://mvcranefest.org.

The annual festival celebrates the remarkable journey of some 25,000 Sandhill Cranes through the San Luis Valley each spring—a migration that begins in southern New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and ends at the nesting grounds in the greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming and Idaho. While passing through the Valley, the tall, elegant birds gather by the thousands in and around the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge staff manage the on-site wetlands and barley fields specifically to attract cranes and other wildlife. “The wetlands offer nighttime roosting sites,” said refuge manager Suzanne Beauchaine. “We mow the barley fields just before the festival, which provides a virtual smorgasbord.”

The cranes feed on the fallen grain as well as small animals attracted to the food. “If you watch closely, you may see a crane spear a vole or mouse with its long beak and toss it to its partner,” Beauchaine said. “You’ll also see cranes hop and dance in courtship and hear collective sound of their calls, which is breathtaking, especially with the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background.”

This year’s festival includes crane- and hawk-viewing tours as well as expert-led excursions to Elephant Rocks, Blanca Wetlands, the Scott Miller Archaeological Site and a private conservation site protected under the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. Local ornithologist John Rawinski will return to lead bird walks around the Home Lake State Wildlife Area (the bird walks sold out quickly in 2019). The wildly popular craft and nature fair will once again be held in the Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Building, with live birds on display from Hawks Aloft, a raptor rescue and rehabilitator out of New Mexico.

This year’s keynote speaker is Colorado-based historian and Theodore Roosevelt re-enactor Kurt Skinner, who whisks audiences of all ages back to a time when the former president imprinted on Americans a love of the natural world. Other speakers include Cleave Simpson and Max Ciaglo. Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa, Colorado. His talk, “Dealing with Water Scarcity,” will spotlight water issues facing the Rio Grande Basin and San Luis Valley. Ciaglo, a biologist and intern with Colorado Open Lands, will present on the “Grains for Cranes” project—a unique partnership between federal agencies, local businesses and private barley growers to manage barley as a vital food for cranes.

This year’s featured movies include “Rango” and “Bird of Prey.” “Rango” is a good, old-fashioned (animated) western about a less-than-courageous chameleon who unwittingly ends up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost populated by desert creatures. Rango becomes sheriff—as well as the town’s last hope from a greedy developer’s water grab. Winners of the fourth Annual Kid’s Crane Coloring Contest will be announced before the movie. “Bird of Prey” weaves together stunning footage of the critically endangered Great Philippine Eagle with the remarkable story of wildlife cinematographer Neil Rettig and a small group of conservationists from the Philippine Eagle Foundation—who work tirelessly to save the bird from extinction.

Please note that except for the Friday night movie this year all tours, speakers and movies will require a ticket for admittance. For schedule and ticket information, visit mvcranefest.org.

The crane festival is organized every year by a dedicated group of volunteers who depend on sponsorship dollars to support the event. Without sponsorship, the crane festival would not happen. Folks interested in supporting this important community event can email mvcranefest@gmail.com or call 720-940-7561, or donate directly at http://mvcranefest.org.