#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

Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #drought contingency plan depends on rights holders bypassing water #COriver #aridification

The looming possibility of mandatory curtailment of water use has raised concerns among Western Slope water managers, who feel that such cuts could harm Western Slope agricultural, such as this hay filed in the Yampa River basin. However, as water levels continue to drop to record lows in Lake Powell, mandatory curltailments are being discussed as a real possibility, especially by Front Range water managers. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hassenbeck):

The collective group of [recently signed] agreements is called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

It aims to raise the unprecedented low water levels in the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, to enable them to continue to deliver water and produce hydropower.

In Colorado, it calls for three possible actions:

  • Creating a bank of stored water in federally owned reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell. This water would be released into Lake Powell in order to make sure Colorado continues to meet obligations to deliver a certain amount of water to downstream states under the Colorado River Compact.
  • Increasing cloud seeding and removing deep-rooted, invasive plants that take up a lot of water, such as tamarisk.
  • Creating a voluntary program that would temporarily pay agricultural water users to fallow their land and send water they have a right to downstream. This is called demand management.
  • Of the options on the table, demand management — the option that would pay farmers not to use their water — is the one most likely to impact Routt County…

    Demand management is still only a hypothetical, so the Yampa River Basin could opt out of a program if it doesn’t work for the area.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has assembled workgroups on topics related to demand management. These groups are now meeting behind closed doors to develop preliminary reports outlining how the program might work.

    Brown said once these reports are completed and released to the public, there will be opportunities for community members to provide input on the idea. She said there will be the “opportunity for a real, thoughtful conversation, especially in the Yampa and White (river) basins.”

    Protecting the River’s Edge from an Invasive Threat

    From The Walton Family Foundation (Peter Skidmore):

    In the Colorado River Basin, RiversEdge West leads a coordinated effort to restore critical habitat

    Doug King’s family has been ranching the lands around the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado since the 1930’s. “It’s beautiful−I call it John Wayne country,” Doug says, proudly. “I’m the third generation on the land, my son will be the fourth generation, and his son will be the fifth.”

    Over the decades, Doug experienced firsthand the steady, relentless creep of invasive plant species like tamarisk and Russian olive and its impact on the land he has cared for his whole life. The damage has been extensive, threatening the larger riparian—or river bank—habitat that in the Colorado River Basin ultimately supports more than 40 million lives across two nations.

    As the unwelcome vegetation pressed in on essential farmland and fish and wildlife habitat, Doug and many others in the region understood it was time to lock arms and push back.

    Originally conceptualized in 1999 to discuss strategies for addressing invasive plant species along rivers in western Colorado, the then-named Tamarisk Coalition was fueled by a desire to shape a landscape-scale solution. The group had observed that conventional site-by-site eradication simply wasn’t able to move quickly enough.

    “People were getting grants to do five acres or half a mile” of tamarisk removal, recalls Tim Carlson, the coalition’s first executive director. “That wasn’t going to solve the problem. We started with a bold approach: If we were going to solve this problem, it’s got to be a regional solution.”

    The introduction of the tamarisk is a story of unintended consequences. Long thought to prevent erosion along the banks of western rivers, its presence was so valued in earlier days that Boy Scouts would receive badges for planting it. But the persistent shrub with scale-like leaves took to its adopted habitat like a parasite, displacing native vegetation.

    Restoring and sustaining the overall health of the Colorado River Basin has been a primary goal of the Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program since its inception nearly a decade ago. And, the program’s first grant to the Tamarisk Coalition in 2009 supported its restoration efforts along the San Miguel and Dolores river systems. Gradually, the foundation expanded its support to also include work along the Escalante, Verde and Gila systems.

    “We have a great relationship with the foundation where we present innovative ideas, and they help us scale up these efforts. The investment affects a vast landscape, bolsters our work and has helped us promote best practices to other organizations,” says Cara Kukuraitis, outreach and education coordinator for the organization now known as RiversEdge West.

    The organization changed its name in 2018 to reflect its broader work in Western riparian areas and the surrounding communities. But it retains its unique and core operating model—to facilitate collaboration and information-sharing across diverse groups and individuals to accomplish riparian restoration at a larger scale than any one partner can attain on its own. As a result, RiversEdge West now supports 20 ambitious multi-stakeholder partnerships encompassing federal, state, and community organizations throughout the American West, teaching best practices to over 300 local public and private restoration organizations and successfully restoring some 11,500 acres—and counting—of riparian habitat.

    The state of Colorado is among the group’s core partners.

    “Our relationship with RiversEdge West has allowed Colorado Parks and Wildlife to more effectively meet our mission of improving the wildlife habitat within the state,” explains Peter Firmin, manager of the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park.

    “The networking and training opportunities provided by RiversEdge West allow us to leverage intellectual and financial resources to improve habitat along the Colorado River. As a group, we are able to accomplish more than we could as individuals.”

    The work of RiversEdge West and its growing network is bolstered by an array of technical tools. For example, a multi-partner geodatabase stores and shares data with land managers, so they can see how their projects connect and positively impact the landscape over time.

    “The data helps us establish and measure progress against quantitative goals, so the project can jump from removing tamarisk by just cutting trees to collecting data on the extent of the problem and promoting ways to encourage the ecosystem’s overall health,” says Cara.

    It is a testament to the organization’s enduring value that its annual conference attracts upwards of 200 representatives from Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah and Mexico to connect on riparian restoration science.

    The organization also is working to convey the broad importance of these efforts through its ongoing “Riverside Stories” web series, which tells the personal stories of people who call this land home and are working to restore this habitat for future generations. Among them is Doug and his family.

    “I have a theory that we should leave the land better than how we got it,” Doug notes in sharing his story. “The Colorado River is soon going to be the most important resource in the West. We are just caretakers. You are only going to be here 50-60 years, and then somebody else is going to have this land.

    Non-native tamarisk are demonized across the West, but are they really the enemy? — Cronkite News

    From Cronkite News (Rae Ellen Bichell):

    The tamarisk, which was brought to the U.S. from Eurasia in the late 1800s for erosion control, windbreaks and decoration, is much detested. Since its introduction, tamarisk – also known as salt cedar – has been blamed for choking waterways, hogging water and salting the earth as its range expands, driving out such native trees as cottonwood and willows. In Palisade, Colorado, a state lab is breeding beetles whose sole purpose is to destroy tamarisk. At one point, the University of Nevada published a poster about the plant titled WANTED – Dead, Not Alive!

    “There’s been a concerted effort to demonize tamarisk,” said Matt Chew, a historian of invasion biology at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. But he thinks this war is aimed at the wrong enemy.

    The tree, he said, is a scapegoat for our struggle with something much bigger and messier than weedy fields: our relationship with water in the West.

    The tamarisk has a reputation for hogging water – but is it warranted?

    “This is one of the constant counts against tamarisk – that it’s wasting water,” Chew said. “That particular idea got started in the late 1930s and early 1940s for a very particular reason.”

    Back then, Chew says, the Phelps Dodge Corp. wanted to expand its copper mine in Arizona, but it didn’t have the water it needed for the additional mining and processing. All the water rights to a nearby creek and river had been allocated.

    “What they needed was an excuse to say there was more water in the rivers so that Phelps Dodge could have more water,” Chew said. “So, where are they going to get more water?”

    Phelps Dodge inspected nearby water sources and found lots of tamarisk growing along the banks, Chew said. Mine officials rationalized that if they could prove the tamarisk was draining river water, he said, the mine could potentially get the rights to the “extra” water available by killing tamarisk.

    “Phelps Dodge did a bunch of experiments which were later picked up by the Agriculture Department,” Chew said, adding that Phelps Dodge ended up getting its water rights through other means, but the tamarisk’s image was destroyed.

    As Chew writes in the “Journal of the History of Biology,” “with water shortages, economic development during the Depression and copper mining for national defense during World War Two, federal hydrologists moved quickly to recast tamarisks as water-wasting foreign monsters.”

    Since then, researchers have shown that the tree doesn’t use more water than native riparian vegetation, including cottonwoods.

    To make matters worse, big changes were occurring in the 1930s and ’40s in the way that water was being moved through the West. Dams and diversions were changing the patterns of flooding, patterns that used to be in sync with the reproductive cycle of more sensitive native plants, such as cottonwoods.

    “To some extent, the way we were managing Western rivers actually created a giant tamarisk housing project,” Chew said. If the tamarisk is a monster, he said, it’s because we created it.

    “If you want good, old-fashioned 17th-century riparian areas in the western U.S.,” Chew said, “you can’t take all the water out of the river. You can’t have big irrigated fields. You can’t have huge cities.”

    Anna Sher, an invasive species biologist at the University of Denver and author of the book “Tamarix: A Case Study of Ecological Change in the American West,” agrees that Tamarix (the species’ genus) isn’t all bad.

    Yes, Tamarix can create saltier surface soil that retards other vegetation, and its dense wood can fuel more intense fires. Sher even has heard that a boater drowned in Arizona because rescuers couldn’t get through the dense thickets of tamarisk crowding the shore in time to help him.

    But, she says, “I certainly do not hate this plant.”

    It provides nesting spots for the Southwestern willow flycatcher, for example, and she says it’s entirely possible for the trees to be a part of the landscape without completely taking over.

    “It’s only behaving badly because of the way that we’ve managed our rivers,” Sher said.

    Although the way we manage our rivers isn’t going to change anytime soon, Sher sees hope for restoring the landscape. It’s called the Field of Dreams hypothesis.

    “The Field of Dreams hypothesis predicts that when you remove the invasive species, there’s an opportunity for the desirable species to come in,” she said.

    Initially, Sher and other ecologists suspected the hypothesis was a pipe dream.

    “But after doing surveys of hundreds of sites throughout the American Southwest, we can see that, on average, native species will come back and they’ll come back proportionally to how much tamarisk has been removed,” she said. “More tamarisk taken out, more native plants can come in.”

    There are two conditions required for successful restoration. First, there has to be enough water in the rivers and streams to supply the new vegetation. Second, the public has to remain open to what native plants might come back. They might not be the cottonwoods and willows people hope for.

    “It’s a new game now with Tamarix here and with the water needs that we have now,” Sher said, and humans will have to get used to plants that can handle the landscape as we’ve shaped it.

    Those plants might be drought-adapted shrubs and grasses instead of picnic-worthy trees. And they will most certainly have a tamarisk or two as neighbors.

    Tamarisk Program Begins Restoration Phase — The Prowers Journal

    From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

    A tamarisk eradication spray program begun almost ten years ago along a portion of the Arkansas River has transitioned into a restoration project this year by the Colorado Division of Natural Resources and Parks and Wildlife. Travis Black, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager, said a restoration program has begun which will re-seed the areas between Granada and the Kansas State Line. “The area will be re-vegetated with natural grass species along with willow shrubs and we’re planting cottonwood poles as well,” he explained, adding that the eradication program took some hops and skips between the towns along the river to the Kansas border.

    Tamarisk, similar to Russian Thistle, is an invasive plant introduced into southeast Colorado decades ago. Unfortunately, it consumes hundreds of gallons of water per plant and is very hard to kill. Its growth along the Arkansas River allowed it to spread, siphoning off thousands of gallons of water and added to the salinity of the river. Another drawback was in flood mitigation as the plant, growing along the banks of the river, restricted the water flow along the channel which created backups and flooding. The trick to effectively killing off tamarisk is patience. Even after a comprehensive spraying program, it takes a minimum of three years to be sure the limbs, seed and especially roots are dead.

    A collaboration of a number of groups including the NRCS and Prowers County sought grant funding to finance the aerial spraying of approximately 400 acres to begin with in 2009, but because of increased funding and a lower cost of service, the area was increased to 1,500 acres. Contributing groups included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Land Board, Holly Flood District, Tri-State G & T and the Northeast Prowers Conservation District among others and some private landowners.

    Black said, some of the spraying was more effective than anticipated as a lot of the undergrowth was killed off along with the tamarisk and that eliminated the cover for local wildlife species. The revegetation program will help restore the riparian areas to their natural state and habitat. Not all of the funding is complete for the entire stretch of river into Kansas, but the acreage has been cleared along the Arkansas River, especially visible as you cross the bridge along Highway 50 just a few miles west of Holly. He said there’s no end date to the restoration program, but it will continue when new funding streams become available. The dead tamarisk plants were excavated and ground up on the spot, using specialized equipment that is loaned out to projects around the state.

    Tamarisk Coalition: Riparian Restoration Conference, February 6 and 7, 2018

    Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

    Click here to for the Inside skinny and to register:

    Join Tamarisk Coalition and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University for the 16th annual Riparian Restoration Conference in Grand Junction, Colorado, a premier destination on Colorado’s Western Slope.

    Rifle “State of the River” meeting recap: We, “are all in this together” — Annie Whetzel

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, MCWC, aims to protect the stretch of Colorado River from the mouth of Glenwood Canyon to De Beque at the western edge of Garfield County. We work with everyone who uses water from the agricultural community, to city water users (including tooth-brushers and lawn-waterers), to oil and gas developers and every governmental agency in between to encourage wise water use and ensure safe water quality for everyone involved.

    Working with the Colorado River District for the State of the River was a great reminder that navigating these diverse interests and subsequent water uses is a common thread for the entire river, from the headwaters of the Colorado down to the river terminus. Through education, dialog and exchange of information we have a chance to better understand and manage the finite resource.

    The MCWC has a few projects on the ground and on the horizon that aim to connect our stretch of river to the larger river system. These efforts involve riparian restoration, a nice term for fighting invasive species like tamarisk and ensuring native plants have a chance to grow back, and water quality management.

    Tamarisk

    Tamarisk Coalition chose the MCWC as one of nine programs to join their Restore Our Rivers campaign. The campaign provides tools and funding for river restoration programs that combat tamarisk and Russian olive and more…

    This summer the MCWC will begin a few restoration projects and will continue to monitor existing projects. It is our way of working along our 75 mile stretch of river and understanding how we fit into the larger picture.

    As for water quality monitoring, we are undertaking a citizen science program to establish a baseline for what is in our water in the middle Colorado River and its tributaries. Upstream and downstream of us, many groups already test water quality, and therefore again, we are tasked with understanding how our section of river fits into the larger system. Our citizen science program is designed to find out what water quality looks like today, see how that compares to the past, and allows for the opportunity to evaluate trends into the future. How are we affecting water quality and are there opportunities to improve? The data we and our stakeholders collect will help us understand our basin better, but will also provide service to everyone downstream of us.

    Our little, but significant, stretch of river is ours to take care of. Managing the entire Colorado River might seem like a daunting task, but we can be stewards for our stretch, from Glenwood Canyon to De Beque. The steps we take to protect our water helps our little basin, but also, we are working a much larger system throughout the west, because we are all in this together.

    Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the council, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the council on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.