May 1 San Juan #snowpack update — Jonathan Thompson (@JonnyPeace) #runoff

Westwide SNOTEL May 5, 2019 via the NRCS.

From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

Snow levels have presumably peaked in the San Juan Mountains and, as expected, they look pretty darned healthy. That said, it’s not quite the biggest snow year on the books. How 2019 ranks depends on which SNOTEL station you’re looking at.

…as of May 1, this year’s snow levels were the second highest at Red Mountain Pass and Columbus Basin, fourth highest at the lower elevation Cascade station, and fifth at Molas Lake (which seems off to me).

But whether it was a record year or not, it’s clear that it has been — and continues to be — a good year for water supplies and river flows in the whole region. At every station the snowpack remains far above average, and three to four times what it was at this time last year. Also, one only needs to look at all the snow slide debris in the high country to determine that it was a historic avalanche cycle…

But that was past. What about the near future? How high will the Animas River get this year?

It’s already hit 3,000 cubic feet per second in Durango, which is plenty of flow for some good kayaking and rafting (albeit a bit chilly). And it’s fair to bet that it will top 5,000 cfs before the runoff is over. But whether it will shoot up past 8,000 cfs as it did in 2005 (which saw a smaller snowpack at most stations in the watershed) or not is anyone’s guess.

Just because the snowpack is bigger than 2005 doesn’t mean the runoff will hit a bigger peak. A cool spring will result in a slower melt, and that will mean a higher average flow and a longer rafting season, but not necessarily a bigger peak.

Either way, the reservoirs are likely to get a bit of a boost, and the smaller ones will likely get topped off. As for Lake Powell rising back up to its former glory? Don’t get your hopes up.

Animas River at Durango March 1 through May 6. 2019 via USGS

Paper: Russian olive habitat along an arid river supports fewer bird species, functional groups and a different species composition relative to mixed vegetation habitats

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

Click here purchase access. Here’s the abstract:

The establishment and naturalization of non-native Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) in southwestern US riparian habitats is hypothesized to have negative implications for native flora and fauna. Despite the potential for Russian olive establishment in new riparian habitats, much of its ecology remains unclear. Arid river systems are important stopover sites and breeding grounds for birds, including some endangered species, and understanding how birds use Russian olive habitats has important implications for effective non-native species management. We compared native bird use of sites that varied in the amount of Russian olive and mixed native/non-native vegetation along the San Juan River, UT, USA. From presence/absence surveys conducted in 2016 during the breeding season, we found 1) fewer bird species and functional groups used Russian olive habitats and 2) the composition of species within Russian olive habitats was different from the composition of species in mixed native/non-native habitats. Our results suggest Russian olive may support different bird compositions during the breeding season and as Russian olive continues to naturalize, bird communities may change. Finally, we highlight the paucity of research surrounding Russian olive ecology and stress the need for rigorous studies to improve our understanding of Russian olive ecology.

#AnimasRiver: The @EPA hopes to improve aquatic life in four reaches

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Environmental Protection Agency has named four areas in the Animas River basin where it plans to focus on improving water quality for aquatic life.

The EPA recently released a study assessing risks in aquatic habitats, a result of years of sampling and testing water quality in the Animas River basin around Silverton.

Andrew Todd, an aquatic toxicologist for the EPA, said the study confirmed many suspicions throughout the watershed: In areas where water had low pH and elevated metals, fish and other aquatic life populations were highly impaired or non-existent.

But the study also helped inform the EPA about what areas the agency could focus on with cleanup projects, he said, where marked benefits, such as restoring aquatic populations, could be achievable.

The areas include:

  • The Animas River just below the confluence of Elk Creek, about 5 miles downstream of Silverton.
  • The upper Animas River from Howardsville to just above the confluence with Cement Creek.
  • The south fork of Mineral Creek.
  • Upper Mineral Creek from Mill Creek to just above the confluence with the middle fork of Mineral Creek.
  • […]

    Christina Progress, Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site manager, said a final decision on the EPA’s quick-action plan that seeks to address 26 mining sites over the next five years or so should be announced in the next month or two.

    Progress said the cleanup projects in the proposed plan are in line with the EPA’s four identified priority areas.

    Weather permitting, Progress told The Durango Herald, the EPA plans to conduct four or five projects this summer. The low water year in 2017-18 and the high water year in 2018-19 are also allowing the EPA to get a better idea of the hydrology of the mountains.

    Because Cement Creek has never been known to support aquatic life, it was not considered in this part of the EPA’s process, Progress said. The mines draining into upper Cement Creek are considered some of the worst loaders of heavy metals in the basin.

    “We need a lot more understanding of the groundwater system to understand how best to address those (mine) sources,” she said. “We know it’s a significant area of contamination and prohibitive to our overall success.”

    Progress said the EPA’s human health risk assessment should also be released in the next month or so. A terrestrial health risk assessment is expected this fall, she said.

    Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the San Juan National Forest, and Trout Unlimited are partnering to repopulate Wolf Creek with San Juan Cutthroat trout

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

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (John Finefrock):

    The San Juan cutthroat trout, a fish native to the San Juan Wa- tershed and once thought to be extinct, will be reintroduced to the area in a project administered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW ) and the San Juan National Forest…

    In 1874, naturalist Charles E. Aiken collected and preserved samples of the San Juan cutthroat in Pagosa Springs, one of which has been stored in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., since the late 1800s.

    The San Juan cutthroat was believed to have gone extinct about 100 years ago.

    About 10 years ago, samples of a cutthroat were collected, but scien- tists didn’t, or couldn’t, prove that it was the same genetically pure San Juan cutthroat that originated in the San Juan Watershed and was collected in 1874.

    “There were a couple populations identified around 10 years ago,” Hanks said. “People started looking at ‘em and saying, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with these, there might be something special about these. But, the consensus was that they were just some sort of hybrid.”

    Last year, modern genetic test- ing was done on the fish samples collected 10 years ago that prove a genetic match between the recent samples and the Smithsonian samples from the late 1800s. “Now we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that those fish we’ve always wondered about are indeed the San Juan lineage cutthroat trout. They are not a hybrid, they are native to the San Juan Basin,” said Hanks.

    Now, CPW, the San Juan National Forest and Trout Unlimited are partnering to breed and reintroduce the San Juan cutthroat, in abundance, to the area around Pagosa Springs…

    The project, currently under- way, will breed the San Juan cut- throats in the Durango hatchery and ultimately release them into Wolf Creek, near Wolf Creek Pass…

    Hanks explained that Wolf Creek was chosen as the site of the proj- ect because “it’s a very productive fishery.”

    The San Juan cutthroat bred in Durango will be released into Wolf Creek around the summer of 2022.

    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

    Farmington: San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas to report at meeting Wednesday (April 3, 2019) that the recent outage for the #CementCreek water treatment plant did not impact water quality

    Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

    From The Farmington Daily Times:

    Officials will hear confirmation from the county’s emergency management manager on Wednesday that contaminated water recently released from the Gold King Mine did not adversely impact water quality downstream in the Animas River.

    San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas will speak about the mine’s status in his presentation to the San Juan Water Commission during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the San Juan Water Commission Office Building, 7450 E. Main St. in Farmington.

    The presentation will serve as an update for county water commissioners on the Gold King Mine spill of 2015, and what has happened since then.

    The mine, near Silverton, Colorado, created concerns for water quality this winter when storms and avalanche danger cut off access to the facility that treats water draining from the mine.

    The facility also lost power at that time, causing untreated water to bypass the plant and drain into Cement Creek for 48 hours.

    #Runoff/#Snowpack news: In the #AnimasRiver Valley highs in the 60s and plenty of solar radiation have kicked off the snowmelt season

    Screen shot of the USGS Water Watch streamflow map for Colorado March 30, 2019.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A water gauge on the Animas River near the Powerhouse Science Center saw levels rise from 300 cubic feet per second Monday to more than 700 cfs as of Friday afternoon.

    Water levels came close, but not close enough, to a previous high for March 29 set in 1916 of 1,100 cfs. The water gauge near the Powerhouse has 108 years of records.

    Throughout the past week, daytime highs have lingered in the mid-60s, prompting the first round of snowmelt and runoff…

    But early next week, Kormos said temperatures will rise once again, and the river along with it. By late next week, the center calls for the Animas River to exceed 1,000 cfs, though Kormos noted forecasts that far out are difficult to predict.

    According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel river basins are at 161 percent of historic, normal averages as of Wednesday, the latest available data. Those snow totals, however, are taken from weather stations placed in high elevations…

    The rise in water and promise of a sustained spring runoff is a welcome sight to members of the boating community, especially after one of the lowest water years on record in 2018.