From the USGS:
The Next Generation Water Observing System provides high-fidelity, real-time data on water quantity, quality, and use to support modern water prediction and decision-support systems that are necessary for informing water operations on a daily basis and decision-making during water emergencies. The headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin provide an opportunity to implement the NGWOS in a snowmelt-dominated system in the mountain west.
The USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS) is generating integrated data on streamflow, groundwater, evapotranspiration, snowpack, soil moisture, water quality, and water use. When fully implemented, the NGWOS will intensively monitor at least 10 medium-sized watersheds (10,000-20,000 square miles) and underlying aquifers that represent larger regions across the Nation.
The USGS has selected the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin (Upper Colorado River Basin) in central Colorado as its second NGWOS basin. This decision was based on rigorous quantitative ranking of western basins, input from USGS regions and science centers, and feedback from targeted external stakeholders in the west.
The Upper Colorado River Basin is important because nearly all flow in the Colorado River originates in the upper basin states and runoff from the Upper Colorado River Basin is nearly three times that of other basins in the area. Thus, the Upper Colorado River Basin is particularly critical for downstream users.
Long-term drought conditions facing the Upper Colorado region, interstate ramifications of the drought, water-quality issues, stakeholder support, and alignment with Department of Interior and USGS priorities make the Upper Colorado an ideal basin to implement the USGS’s integrated approach to observing, delivering, assessing, predicting, and informing water resource conditions and decisions now and into the future. Of note, a newly released (October 2019) Federal Action Plan for Improving Forecasts of Water Availability includes a milestone to pilot long-range water prediction in the Upper Colorado River Basin, an activity that will greatly benefit from the newly selected USGS NGWOS basin.
An integrated data-to-modeling approach in the Upper Colorado River Basin will help improve regional water prediction in other snowmelt dominated systems in the Rockies and beyond. The approach is useful for addressing issues of both water availability and water quality and for evaluating the effects of both short-term climate perturbation (for example, fire, insect mortality, drought) and long-term climate change.
Water Resources Challenges in the Colorado River Basin
The Colorado River supplies water for more than 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland across the western United States and Mexico. The Colorado River and its main tributaries originate in the mountains of western Wyoming, central Colorado, and northeastern Utah. The large amount of snowmelt that feeds the Upper Colorado is central to water availability throughout the Basin. In 2019, urgent action was required to prevent previously developed rules from potentially reducing Colorado River water allocations to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico due to declining water levels in the two largest reservoirs within the Colorado River Basin—Lake Powell and Lake Mead. A Colorado Drought Contingency Plan was signed in April 2019.
State-of-the-art measurements Dense array of sensors at selected sites Increased spatial and temporal data coverage of all primary components of the hydrologic cycle New monitoring technology testing and implementation Improved operational efficiency Modernized and timely data storage and delivery
From the USGS:
The areal and vertical location of the major aquifers is fundamental to the determination of groundwater availability for the Nation. An aquifer is a geologic formation, a group of formations, or a part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs.
A two-dimensional map representation of the principal aquifers of the Nation is shown below. The map, which is derived from the Ground Water Atlas of the United States, indicates the areal extent of the uppermost principal aquifers on a national scale. In this map, a principal aquifer is defined as a regionally extensive aquifer or aquifer system that has the potential to be used as a source of potable water. (For study or mapping purposes, aquifers are often combined into aquifer systems.)
Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:
The National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are concerned about cumulative effects of groundwater development on groundwater-dependent resources managed by, and other groundwater resources of interest to, these agencies in Snake Valley and adjacent areas, Utah and Nevada. Of particular concern to the NPS and BLM are withdrawals from all existing approved, perfected, certified, permitted, and vested groundwater rights in Snake Valley totaling about 55,272 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr), and from several senior water-right applications filed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) totaling 50,680 acre-ft/yr.
An existing groundwater-flow model of the eastern Great Basin was used to investigate where potential drawdown and capture of natural discharge is likely to result from potential groundwater withdrawals from existing groundwater rights in Snake Valley, and from groundwater withdrawals proposed in several applications filed by the SNWA. To evaluate the potential effects of the existing and proposed SNWA groundwater withdrawals, 11 withdrawal scenarios were simulated. All scenarios were run as steady state to estimate the ultimate long-term effects of the simulated withdrawals. This assessment provides a general understanding of the relative susceptibility of the groundwater resources of interest to the NPS and BLM, and the groundwater system in general, to existing and future groundwater development in the study area.
At the NPS and BLM groundwater resource sites of interest, simulated drawdown resulting from withdrawals based on existing approved, perfected, certified, permitted, and vested groundwater rights within Snake Valley ranged between 0 and 159 feet (ft) without accounting for irrigation return flow, and between 0 and 123 ft with accounting for irrigation return flow. With the addition of proposed SNWA withdrawals of 35,000 acre-ft/yr (equal to the Unallocated Groundwater portion allotted to Nevada in a draft interstate agreement), simulated drawdowns at the NPS and BLM sites of interest increased to range between 0 and 2,074 ft without irrigation return flow, and between 0 and 2,002 ft with irrigation return flow. With the addition of the proposed SNWA withdrawals of an amount equal to the full application amounts (50,680 acre-ft/yr), simulated drawdowns at the NPS and BLM sites of interest increased to range between 1 and 3,119 ft without irrigation return flow, and between 1 and 3,044 ft with irrigation return flow.
At the NPS and BLM groundwater resource sites of interest, simulated capture of natural discharge resulting from withdrawals based on existing groundwater rights in Snake Valley, both with and without irrigation return flow, ranged between 0 and 100 percent; simulated capture of 100 percent occurred at four sites. With the addition of proposed SNWA withdrawals of an amount equal to the Unallocated Groundwater portion allotted to Nevada in the draft interstate agreement, simulated capture of 100 percent occurred at nine additional sites without irrigation return flow, and at eight additional sites with irrigation return flow. With the addition of the proposed SNWA withdrawals of an amount equal to the full application amounts, simulated capture of 100 percent occurred at 11 additional sites without irrigation return flow, and at 9 additional sites with irrigation return flow.
The large simulated drawdowns produced in the scenarios that include large portions or all of the proposed SNWA withdrawals indicate that the groundwater system may not be able to support the amount of withdrawals from the proposed points of diversion (PODs) in the current SNWA water right applications. Therefore, four additional scenarios were simulated where the withdrawal rates at the SNWA PODs were constrained by not allowing drawdowns to be deeper than the assumed depth of the PODs (about 2,000 ft).
In the constrained scenarios, total withdrawals at the SNWA PODs were reduced to about 48 percent of the Unallocated Groundwater portion allotted to Nevada (35,000 acre-ft/yr reduced to 16,817 acre-ft/yr or 16,914 acre-ft/yr, without or with irrigation return flow, respectively), and about 44 percent of the full application amounts (50,680 acre-ft/yr reduced to 22,048 acre-ft/yr or 22,165 acre-ft/yr, without or with irrigation return flow, respectively). This indicates that the SNWA may need to add more PODs, or PODs in different locations, in order to withdraw large portions or all of the groundwater that has been applied for.
At the NPS and BLM groundwater resource sites of interest, simulated drawdown resulting from the addition of the constrained SNWA withdrawals applied to the Unallocated Groundwater amount ranged between 0 and 290 ft without irrigation return flow, and between 0 and 252 ft with irrigation return flow. With the addition of the constrained SNWA withdrawals applied to the full application amounts, simulated drawdowns at the NPS and BLM sites of interest ranged between 0 and 358 ft without irrigation return flow, and between 0 and 313 ft with irrigation return flow.
At the NPS and BLM groundwater resource sites of interest, with the addition of the constrained SNWA withdrawals applied to the Unallocated Groundwater amount, simulated capture of 100 percent of the natural discharge occurred at five additional sites without irrigation return
flow, and at two additional sites with irrigation return flow (in addition to the four captured from existing water rights both with and without irrigation return flow). With the addition of the constrained SNWA withdrawals applied to the full application amounts, simulated capture of 100 percent occurred at six additional sites both with and without irrigation return flow.
Click here to view the poster from the United States Geological Survey:
In the early evening of July 31, 1976 a large stationary thunderstorm released as much as 7.5 inches of rainfall in about an hour (about 12 inches in a few hours) in the upper reaches of the Big Thompson River drainage. This large amount of rainfall in such a short period of time produced a flash flood that caught residents and tourists by surprise. The immense volume of water that churned down the narrow Big Thompson Canyon scoured the river channel and destroyed everything in its path, including 418 homes, 52 businesses, numerous bridges, paved and unpaved roads, power and telephone lines, and many other structures. The tragedy claimed the lives of 144 people. Scores of other people narrowly escaped with their lives.
The Big Thompson flood ranks among the deadliest of Colorado’s recorded floods. It is one of several destructive floods in the United States that has shown the necessity of conducting research to determine the causes and effects of floods. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts research and operates a Nationwide streamgage network to help understand and predict the magnitude and likelihood of large streamflow events such as the Big Thompson Flood. Such research and streamgage information are part of an ongoing USGS effort to reduce flood hazards and to increase public awareness.
After the September 2013 floods Allen Best wrote about being part of the disaster response in The Denver Post. It’s a good read. Here’s one passage:
I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.
Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.
I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.
Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.
Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.
In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.
Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).
Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.
Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.
At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.
The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.
From the USGS (Jaime Delano):
Food can be a common thread between peoples of history and today and it often plays an important role in morale, celebration, hardship and bringing people together. How did food influence the original Powell expedition, and how does it factor into modern long-haul rafting trips, such as the one USGS scientists and science support staff are currently engaged in?
In the 19th Century
Adequate food supply was one of the biggest hurdles for the 1869 Powell expedition. The crew started the trip assuming a relatively leisurely pace and packed enough food supplies for 10 months. The explorers had to rely on food preserved by drying (like flour, rice, beans and dried apples) or salting (like bacon). Cooking relied on fires fueled with collected branches and driftwood.
Although the boats had adequate space for a long trip, proper food storage turned out to be more of a challenge than the explorers anticipated. One boat, the No Name, was destroyed three weeks into the trip and a third of the food was lost. Within the salvaged wreckage, Powell was thrilled to discover that the barometers had survived. The crew was more excited that a smuggled keg of whiskey, until then hidden from Powell, had made its way through the rapids unharmed. Not long after losing the No Name, an out-of-control campfire caused the men to lose nearly all their kitchen supplies except for a camp kettle and a few cups and bowls.
To supplement their preserved food stores, the men would hunt, fish and gather wild plants (like currants). The crew also occasionally stole from others’ gardens. One stolen bounty proved to be a mistake — root vegetables pilfered from an interpreter’s garden on the Green River weren’t mature enough to eat, so the men cooked and ate the plant greens instead, including potato greens. Potato greens contain moderate levels of the toxin solanine. All the men became violently ill almost instantly, except for Bradley and Howland, who couldn’t stomach the bitter greens and abstained.
Early in the trip, game was more plentiful (e.g., water fowl, fish, beavers, wild sheep, and deer) but the latter part of trip provided little opportunity for fresh meat because of the steep canyon walls and scarce game. Fish were harder to catch in the lower basin, too, due to a combination of swift currents, muddy waters[DJE3] and poor understanding of the local species.
The boats were frequently flooded and splashed by water, wetting the food and causing it to spoil. Wet, spoiled flour was either thrown out or sifted with mosquito netting. The sugar dissolved into the river. The bacon became rancid, apples frequently had to be re-dried, and supplies ran low. The crew often commented on provision scarcity and how it degraded their morale. One day, while subsisting on half-rations in the Grand Canyon, the explorers happened upon a Native American garden. They stole some squash, which raised everyone’s spirits. With the exception of the stolen squash, the explores only ate biscuits made from spoiled flour and dried apples for the last month of the trip. With two weeks left, the baking soda was lost in the river and the men had to eat unleavened bread. Luckily, coffee was plentiful throughout the trip and would help warm up and lift the spirits of the damp explorers, as long as they could find enough wood to boil water. The crew emerged from the river with only a few days’ provisions left. They found settlers and were taken in and fed a large dinner that included fish and squash.
In the 21st Century
Food preservation has come a long way since the first Powell expedition. With the availability of well-insulated coolers, fresh and frozen food lasts as long as the crew has ice. For long trips, meals are pre-planned and staged in date-specific coolers to reduce ice loss from repeated opening. Canned and other shelf-stable foods are easy to find and much more varied than the dried apples, rice and flour of the Powell expedition. The biggest advancement is our ability to keep things dry in coolers, dry bags and sturdy bins, all securely fastened to rafts. The menu is only limited by the creativity and determination of the group. For longer segments, the reduced fresh food can influence morale, just as it did to the Powell crew.
The current Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition is well-provisioned. Fresh supplies are brought in coolers and bins at each segment switch. Food is cooked with propane and charcoal on grills and stoves, without having to rely on driftwood as a fuel source. The menu is varied and flavorful, and includes dishes such as fried eggs, oatmeal and French toast for breakfast; sandwiches, cookies and snack mixes for lunch; and salmon, steak, and fish tacos for dinner. Like Powell’s men, the current crew has not always had such great luck fishing, and, also like the 1869 Powell expedition, coffee remains an essential part of the trip. In addition, SCREE has located 10 Hopi heritage bean variety seeds and reached out to Native American elders in the region to recognize the stolen squash from the historic expedition.
To follow this year’s expedition, see http://www.usgs.gov/powell150.
Click here to view the story map.