Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
Here’s a screenshot of the USGS Water Watch website showing Colorado streamflow conditions today.
Click here to read the FAQ from the USGS:
A confined aquifer is an aquifer below the land surface that is saturated with water. Layers of impermeable material are both above and below the aquifer, causing it to be under pressure so that when the aquifer is penetrated by a well, the water will rise above the top of the aquifer.
A water-table–or unconfined–aquifer is an aquifer whose upper water surface (water table) is at atmospheric pressure, and thus is able to rise and fall. Water-table aquifers are usually closer to the Earth’s surface than confined aquifers are, and as such are impacted by drought conditions sooner than confined aquifers.
Aquifers and Groundwater Aquifer Basics
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.
From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):
This year the run-off in Colorado is late. “The native water hasn’t started to flow yet,” said Roy Vaughan with the Bureau of Reclamation. Vaughn is part of the team that helps manage what stored and released from Lake Pueblo Reservoir.
Water released from the dam is currently much less than typical. “We’re releasing about 15 percent of what we normally do this time of year.” The number is a correlation with the amount of run-off flowing into the reservoir. Run-off is late this year. “We see it start and then the weather changes, it cools down and it slows up again. It’s about three weeks late.” For now, spillways are mostly dry.
Click here to go to the USGS website. Here’s an excerpt:
When a drought hits and little or no rain has fallen in a long time, you might expect small streams and even larger rivers to just dry up, right? In many cases, they don’t. Streamflow might lessen to a trickle or so, but water continues to flow. How is that possible? Read on to find out how “base flow”, which is water seeping into the stream from groundwater, helps keep water in streams during droughts.
From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via The Salt Lake Tribune:
The bug flows are part of a larger plan approved in late 2016 to manage operations at Glen Canyon Dam, which holds back Lake Powell. The plan allows for high flows to push sand built up in Colorado River tributaries through the Grand Canyon as well as other experiments that could help native fish such as the endangered humpback chub and non-native trout.
Researchers are recommending three consecutive years of bug flows. Scott VanderKooi, who oversees the Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, said something about the weekend steady flows is encouraging bugs to emerge as adults from the water, which might lead to more eggs, more larvae and more adults. But, more study is needed.
Researchers also are hopeful rare insects such as stoneflies and mayflies will be more frequent around Lees Ferry, a prized rainbow trout fishery below Glen Canyon Dam.
The bug flows don’t change the amount of water the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must deliver downstream through Lake Mead to Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico. The lower levels on the weekend are offset by higher peak flows for hydropower during the week, the agency said.
Hydropower took a hit of about $165,000 — about half of what was expected — in the 2018 experiment, the Geological Survey said.
The agency recorded a sharp increase in the number of caddisflies through the Grand Canyon. Citizen scientists along the river set out plastic containers with a battery-powered black light for an hour each night and deliver the bugs they capture to Geological Survey scientists, about 1,000 samples per year.
In 2017, the light traps collected 91 caddisflies per hour on average, a figure that rose to 358 last year, outpacing the number of midges for the first time since the agency began tracking them in 2012, VanderKooi said.
The number of adult midges throughout the Grand Canyon rose by 34% on weekends versus weekdays during last year’s experiment. Intensive sampling one weekend in August showed an 865% increase in midges between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry, the agency said.
“For a scientist, this is really great,” VanderKooi said. “This is the culmination of a career’s worth of work to see this happen, to see from your hypothesis an indication that you’re correct.”
The Arizona Game and Fish Department also surveyed people who fished from a boat at Lees Ferry during the experiment to see if the bug flows made a difference. Fisheries biologist David Rogowski said anglers reported catching about 18% more fish.
He attributed that to the low, steady flows that allow lures to better reach gravel bars, rather than the increase in bugs.
Here’s the release from the USGS:
This week marks a significant milestone in the conservation and recovery of the endangered whooping crane. On March 11 and 13, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center transferred its last two cranes of the approximately 75 that were in its flock to other institutions, closing out more than 50 years of the center’s whooping crane research and captive breeding success.
Researchers at the center pioneered the science informing much of the birds’ recovery to date, including assessing dietary needs, developing breeding methods and techniques for raising chicks, and preparing birds for reintroduction into their natural habitats. Over the years, the program at Patuxent has naturally transitioned to a more operational role of producing chicks for reintroduction. With other institutions capable of filling that role, the USGS has transferred the birds to organizations in North America interested in continuing the captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, allowing the USGS to focus its resources on other species at risk and in need of scientific research.
“Whooping cranes are still endangered, but the overall population has grown more than tenfold in the last 50 years since Patuxent’s program began,” said John French, a USGS biologist and director of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. “The end of the USGS program is an indication of just how far we’ve come in our research and recovery efforts and is a tribute to the numerous researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and numerous collaborators and partners who dedicated five decades to help chart the course for the recovery of this iconic species.”
Whooping cranes are North America’s largest bird and a longtime symbol of the American conservation movement. They are native to North America and their current population is estimated at more than 700 birds. In 1942, the entire population declined to 22 birds. This decline was primarily due to human actions, such as overhunting and the development of shorelines and farmland that led to habitat loss.
The Start of the Largest Whooping Crane Captive Breeding Program
The captive breeding program began in 1967 when biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured a young whooping crane and collected 12 eggs from the wild in Canada. All were sent to the Patuxent center, which was then under the USFWS. The center was transferred to the USGS in 1996. The overall conservation goal for the species has been to help establish new populations in places where the large, majestic birds once lived. The Patuxent effort became the world’s largest whooping crane captive breeding program, and a model for science-based reintroduction of endangered species.
USGS Role in Breeding and Raising Whooping Crane Chicks
“When the staff at Patuxent first got involved in whooping crane recovery, new scientific research was needed on just about every aspect of whooping crane biology,” said French. “That research was used to establish captive breeding programs, to develop methods of reintroduction and, more recently, to assess how the reintroduced populations are faring.”
Scientists sought ways to increase the number of eggs laid and chicks hatched. In the wild, whooping cranes typically lay two eggs at a time and only one clutch (group) per year. If the eggs don’t survive or are lost to predators, a whooping crane may lay a second or even a third clutch that year. In captivity at Patuxent, scientists removed eggs from the parents’ nests for incubation in the lab, which encouraged re-nesting and increased the total number of eggs and chicks produced. Sandhill cranes were often used to incubate the extra eggs.
Methods developed at Patuxent for artificial insemination of breeding females have allowed the production of chicks with a healthy genetic heritage and allowed the preservation of genetic diversity in the captive flock.
From the moment a whooper chick hatched, technicians interacted with them only when wearing a crane costume. Costumed technicians taught the chicks how to find food, purred or played brood calls to the chicks like their parents would, and introduced them to wetland habitats. The costume prevented chicks from imprinting on—or attaching themselves to—humans. This is especially valuable after release, as it is beneficial for the chicks to act as natural in their habitat as possible.
Various methods were also developed for preparing whooping crane chicks for reintroduction to the wild. Federal scientists and partners developed and improved the method of training young crane chicks to follow an ultralight aircraft, which was used to teach the fledglings a migration route south for their first winter.
The Next Phase and Transferring Cranes
Patuxent’s cranes were transferred to other institutions that can produce chicks for reintroduction. These institutions are the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia; the White Oak Wildlife Conservation in Yulee, Florida; the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin; the Dallas, Houston, Abilene and San Antonio Zoos in Texas; the Oklahoma City Zoo in Oklahoma; the Omaha Zoo in Nebraska; the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center in Louisiana; and the Calgary Zoo and the African Lion Safari in Canada.
Conservation and Recovery Plan
Whooping crane captive breeding for reintroduction in North America is one part of the strategy for conservation and restoration of the species. A joint U.S.-Canada International Recovery Team develops and guides the strategy for whooping crane management, which is detailed in the International Recovery Plan for the Whooping Crane. The team also oversees the management of wild and reintroduced populations of whooping cranes.
Learn more about the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s captive breeding program and role in whooping crane research at: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/pwrc/science/whooping-crane-restoration
Here’s the release from the USGS (David Ozman):
CSM to be new home of USGS labs, 150 government scientists
Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke joined Paul C. Johnson, president of Colorado School of Mines, to announce a long-term partnership between the university and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The partnership will bring more than 150 USGS scientists and their minerals research labs to the university’s Golden, Colorado, campus where government scientists and Mines faculty and students will work together in a new state-of-the-art facility. Johnson and Zinke were joined at today’s announcement by Senator Cory Gardner and Congressman Ed Perlmutter, as well as Mines Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas E. Jorden and Roseann Gonzales-Schreiner, USGS Associate Director for Administration and Acting Director of the Southwest Region.
“This is a great day for the USGS and for Colorado School of Mines,” said Secretary Zinke. “The majority of USGS’s work is on federal lands in the west, but their research is also used by government agencies, the private sector, universities, nonprofits and partners all over the world. Partnering with Colorado School of Mines, a world-class earth science research institution, and co-locating our scientists and researchers creates incredible opportunities to spur innovation and transformational breakthroughs, while also providing an incredible pool of talent from which to recruit.”
“With this new facility, the USGS and the School of Mines will have a revolutionary shared workspace for the world-class research and education that the USGS and the Colorado School of Mines are famous for delivering to the country,” said USGS Director Jim Reilly. “We look forward to this expansion of our efforts in the great State of Colorado and I’m distinctly honored to be the Director at the time of this development.”
“The expanded USGS presence at Mines will capitalize on our collective expertise to address the availability of mineral and energy resources, environmental challenges and geo-environmental hazards, all of which are of critical importance to national security and the economies of Colorado and the nation. It will also create an incredibly unique educational environment that will produce the leaders we need to tackle future challenges related to exploration and development of resources here on Earth and in space, subsurface infrastructure and sustainable stewardship of the Earth,” said Mines President Paul C. Johnson. “We want to thank our Colorado congressional delegation, especially Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Sen. Cory Gardner, for their help in forging this exciting partnership with the USGS.”
“I’ve been working hard to convince everyone that Colorado and the School of Mines are a perfect match for the United States Geological Survey,” said Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO). “This move highlights the scientific leadership of our state. We will be putting USGS in a modern facility in a state where research on their core mission areas can be performed right out their back door. Their water resource research will be particularly useful to Colorado and other western states as we continue to grapple with long-term drought. I’d like to welcome Dr. Reilly and his team to the campus and thank Secretary Zinke for his leadership on this issue.”
“This new Subsurface Frontiers Building on the Mines Campus will be a tremendous asset for their faculty and students, and housing USGS staff and lab space will further cement the strong relationship between Mines, USGS and the Department of the Interior,” said Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO-7). “This was a team effort, and I want to thank everyone for their hard work to make this happen.”
USGS and Mines, renowned for their expertise in the earth sciences and engineering, are expanding a long-standing relationship to catalyze even greater collaboration among USGS scientists and Mines faculty and students in the name of tackling the nation’s natural resource, security and environmental challenges, and exploring frontiers where the next innovations in earth and space resources, technology and engineering will occur. The relationship between Mines and the USGS goes back more than 40 years, with the USGS Geologic Hazards Science Center and its National Earthquake Information Center already calling the Mines campus home.
Here’s the release from the USGS (Heather Dewar:
To learn more about USGS’ role providing science to decision makers before, during and after #Florence, visit the #USGS Hurricane Florence page at https://www.usgs.gov/florence
The floodwaters that covered wide swaths of the Carolinas’ coastal plain are finally receding, more than two weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall Sept. 14 near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and U.S. Geological Survey hydrographers are moving in rapidly to the areas where the flooding lingered longest. About 30 flood experts are in the second week of a high water mark campaign, traveling from one hard-hit community to the next, searching neighborhood by neighborhood and sometimes door to door for physical evidence of flooding.
The USGS experts are looking for telltale lines of seeds, leaves, grass blades and other debris left behind on buildings, bridges, other structures and even tree trunks as floodwaters recede. Once they find these high water marks, they label them, photograph them, survey them, and record crucial details about them.
The USGS flood experts’ field work is highly skilled and time-sensitive, because high water marks can be obliterated by weather and by property owners’ cleanup efforts. Hydrographers have been in the field collecting high water marks each day since Sept. 18, working mostly in two-person teams and moving as quickly as receding waters and the scope of the work permits. The teams from the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center, which covers the Carolinas and Georgia, have recorded more than 600 high water marks in North and South Carolina and surveyed at least 365 of those. Field crews expect to record many more as they move into communities like Conway, South Carolina, where the floodwaters have not yet finished their retreat. You can see some preliminary results of their work at the USGS Flood Event Viewer for Hurricane Florence: https://stn.wim.usgs.gov/FEV/#FlorenceSep2018
Why is this fieldwork important? The physical signs of flooding provide valuable information that can confirm or correct other lines of evidence. Among these are measurements from a network of about 475 permanent and temporary river and streamgages that were in place in North and South Carolina when Florence struck; more than 175 stream and river flow measurements taken by field crews after the storm on flood-swollen rivers, streams and even roads; satellite photos and imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones); and computer modelled flood projections. Taken together, all this evidence will allow USGS experts to reconstruct precisely where, when, at what depth, and in what volume floodwaters inundated the region.
Right after the storm, the USGS’ early information from high water marks can help emergency managers decide where to locate relief centers, so that aid can reach the most severely affected communities quickly, and can help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage flood control.
In the coming weeks USGS flood information can help the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discern the difference between wind and water damage – important information for property owners and insurers. Over the long term, it can help emergency managers plan better for future floods; improve the computer models used by the National Weather Service to forecast flooding; and provide information used by FEMA to update the nationwide flood zone maps that underpin the federal flood insurance program.
“I am proud of the USGS staff’s speed, thoroughness and accuracy as they do this essential work in difficult conditions, and under the pressure of time,” said USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center director Eric Strom. “The team began working well before Florence made landfall, when field crews began installing storm-tide sensors along the coast. Right after the storm passed, we mobilized as many as 60 people at a time to fix or relocate streamgages that were damaged or destroyed, monitor the flooding, and work with forecasters and emergency managers to get them the up-to-date flood information they needed. And now, because the rivers have receded so slowly, we’re in the midst of a long high water mark campaign in two states.
“It’s been a sustained, coordinated effort in response to a hurricane that triggered record-setting floods.”
Preliminary USGS data indicates that Florence’s heavy rains resulted in 19 water level records on rivers and streams in North Carolina and 10 records in South Carolina. Rivers that reached or exceeded the major flood stage heights forecast by the National Weather Service included the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear, Neuse, Lumber, Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Black and Lynches rivers.
The flooding in the Carolinas was long-lasting, with several rivers experiencing two peaks of high water flow or flood stage. The first one happened as local rainfall flowed into rivers and streams, and the second one came as rain that fell near the rivers’ headwaters worked its way downstream. In Goldsboro, North Carolina, about 100 miles inland from Florence’s landfall, the Neuse River escaped from its banks, crested at 27.6 feet on September 18, and lingered above the 18-foot flood stage mark for almost a week. The last two rivers to peak were both in South Carolina: the Little Pee Dee on Sept. 25 and the Waccamaw River on Sept. 26.
“Unfortunately, our experience dating back to the 1940s shows that the Carolina coastal plain is a flood-prone region,” said the center’s South Carolina-based associate director John Shelton, who was the on-site coordinator for much of the USGS response. “The scientific knowledge we’re gaining now will be put to good use helping to protect lives and property if and when floods strike this area again.”
For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.
Here’s an interview with Ted Kennedy, a U.S. Geological Survey aquatic biologist from Gary Pitzer and the Water Education Foundation. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Water means life for all the Grand Canyon’s inhabitants, including the many varieties of insects that are a foundation of the ecosystem’s food web. But hydropower operations upstream on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam, in Northern Arizona near the Utah border, disrupt the natural pace of insect reproduction as the river rises and falls, sometimes dramatically. Eggs deposited at the river’s edge are often left high and dry and their loss directly affects available food for endangered fish such as the humpback chub.
Ted Kennedy, a U.S. Geological Survey aquatic biologist, led a recently concluded experimental flow that is raising optimism that the decline in insects such as midges, blackflies, mayflies and caddisflies can be reversed. Conducted under the long-term, comprehensive plan for Glen Canyon Dam management during the next 20 years, the experimental flow is expected to help determine dam operations and actions that could improve conditions and minimize adverse impacts on natural, recreational and cultural resources downstream.
Western Water spoke with Kennedy about the experiment, what he learned and where it may lead. The transcript has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:
A U.S. Geological Survey river gauge in Farmington that recorded the Animas River flowing at nearly non-existent levels was the result of human error, the scientific agency said Friday.
Fletcher Brinkerhoff, a supervisory hydrologic technician for the USGS in Albuquerque, said the reading of 0 cubic feet per second at the gauge was the result of incorrect information entered into the USGS’s database.
The Durango Herald reported about record-low reading in a Page 1A story Friday.
Still, water levels the past few weeks have been incredibly low, Brinkerhoff said, hovering around 5 cfs.
Here’s the release from the USGS (Mia Drane-Maury, Cheryl Dieter):
Reductions in water use first observed in 2010 continue, show ongoing effort towards “efficient use of critical water resources.”
Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in 45 years. According to a new USGS report, 322 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the United States during 2015.
This represents a 9 percent reduction of water use from 2010 when about 354 Bgal/d were withdrawn and the lowest level since before 1970 (370 Bgal/d).
“The downward trend in water use shows a continued effort towards efficient use of critical water resources, which is encouraging,” said Tim Petty, assistant secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior. “Water is the one resource we cannot live without, and when it is used wisely, it helps to ensure there will be enough to sustain human needs, as well as ecological and environmental needs.”
In 2015, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 states (in order of withdrawal amounts): California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Arkansas, New York, Illinois, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and Nebraska.
California accounted for almost 9 percent of the total withdrawals for all categories and 9 percent of total freshwater withdrawals. Texas accounted for about 7 percent of total withdrawals for all categories, predominantly for thermoelectric power generation, irrigation, and public supply.
Florida had the largest share of saline withdrawals, accounting for 23 percent of the total in the country, mostly saline surface-water withdrawals for thermoelectric power generation. Texas and California accounted for 59 percent of the total saline groundwater withdrawals in the United States, mostly for mining.
“The USGS is committed to providing comprehensive reports of water use in the country to ensure that resource managers and decision makers have the information they need to manage it well,” said USGS director Jim Reilly. “These data are vital for understanding water budgets in the different climatic settings across the country.”
For the first time since 1995, the USGS estimated consumptive use for two categories — thermoelectric power generation and irrigation. Consumptive use is the fraction of total water withdrawals that is unavailable for immediate use because it is evaporated, transpired by plants, or incorporated into a product.
“Consumptive use is a key component of the water budget. It’s important to not only know how much water is being withdrawn from a source, but how much water is no longer available for other immediate uses,” said USGS hydrologist Cheryl Dieter.
The USGS estimated a consumptive use of 4.31 Bgal/d, or 3 percent of total water use for thermoelectric power generation in 2015. In comparison, consumptive use was 73.2 Bgal/d, or 62 percent of total water use for irrigation in 2015.
Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power generation was the largest use nationally at 133 Bgal/d, with the other leading uses being irrigation and public supply, respectively. Withdrawals declined for thermoelectric power generation and public supply, but increased for irrigation. Collectively, these three uses represented 90 percent of total withdrawals.
Thermoelectric power decreased 18 percent from 2010, the largest percent decline of all categories. Irrigation withdrawals (all freshwater) increased 2 percent. Public-supply withdrawals decreased 7 percent.
Trends in total water withdrawals by water-use category, 1950-2015.
A number of factors can be attributed to the 18 percent decline in thermoelectric-power withdrawals, including a shift to power plants that use more efficient cooling-system technologies, declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic life, and power plant closures.
As it did in the period between 2005 and 2010, withdrawals for public supply declined between 2010 and 2015, despite a 4 percent increase in the nation’s total population. The number of people served by public-supply systems continued to increase and the public-supply domestic per capita use declined to 82 gallons per day in 2015 from 88 gallons per day in 2010. Total domestic per capita use (public supply and self-supplied combined) decreased from 87 gallons per day in 2010 to 82 gallons per day in 2015.
The USGS is the world’s largest provider of water data and the premier water research agency in the federal government.
Click here to go to the USGS website to read the report. Here’s the abstract:
Spatial and temporal variability in the frequency, duration, and severity of hydrological droughts across the conterminous United States (CONUS) was examined using monthly mean streamflow measured at 872 sites from 1951 through 2014. Hydrological drought is identified as starting when streamflow falls below the 20th percentile streamflow value for 3 consecutive months and ending when streamflow remains above the 20th percentile streamflow value for 3 consecutive months. Mean drought frequency for all aggregated ecoregions in CONUS is 16 droughts per 100 years. Mean drought duration is 5 months, and mean drought severity is 39 percent on a scale ranging from 0 percent to 100 percent (with 100% being the most severe). Hydrological drought frequency is highest in the Western Mountains aggregated ecoregion and lowest in the Eastern Highlands, Northeast, and Southeast Plains aggregated ecoregions. Hydrological drought frequencies of 17 or more droughts per 100 years were found for the Central Plains, Southeast Coastal Plains, Western Mountains, and Western Xeric aggregated ecoregions. Drought duration and severity indicate spatial variability among the sites, but unlike drought frequency, do not show coherent spatial patterns. A comparison of an older period (1951–82) with a recent period (1983–2014) indicates few sites have statistically significant changes in drought frequency, drought duration, or drought severity at a 95-percent confidence level.
Click here to access the site. (Not safe for work unless you are a historian.)
From the White River Conservation District (Callie Hendrickson) via The Rio Blanco Times:
Thank you to all the interested public and stakeholders for your commitment to finding the drivers of the algae in the White River. We also want to thank you all for your patience with our Technical Committee (TC) as they have put a great amount of time, effort, and energy into identifying the most critical elements to the Scope of Work (SOW) that will help identify the causes of the algae. This is a very complex problem that has evolved over time and it will require some time to identify the cause. It is anticipated that there is no one single cause or source of this problem. There are multiple rivers across the western United States that are experiencing the excess algae issue, much like the White River.
A quick review of what the Technical Committee has done reminds us that USGS had originally recommended we do a one-year study primarily up-river from Meeker. The TC asked USGS to provide a proposal that would also include studying the river all the way down to Rangely and to make it a multi-year study over concerns that one year’s worth of data would not be statistically significant. USGS came back to the group with that proposal which gave many of the committee members “sticker shock.”
Realizing that it would be a huge challenge to get down to the detail necessary, a five-member workgroup was appointed in January to work out those details and bring a recommendation back to the TC. The final recommendation from the workgroup is the culmination of many hours (days), conversations, meetings, emails, etc. I’m confident that the workgroup has done exactly what the TC asked.
In reviewing the USGS draft SOW, the workgroup literally dissected it into a chart where they evaluated it line by line based on prioritized questions. Then they developed and analyzed a more elaborate spreadsheet for more discussion so that they could sort based on priorities and the “core” tasks required to ensure scientific analysis and credibility to the study. There were a number of tasks that each individual would like to include but the group finalized the SOW based on the highest priorities ensuring scientific integrity in determining the cause of excess algae. The workgroup’s final step in the two-month processes is to present the final SOW to the technical committee on March 21.
The workgroup recognizes that there is a sense of urgency in finding the cause of the algae and has balanced that sense of urgency with a solid scientific-based study that will give us the best of both worlds. To identify different sources of nutrients in the White River as quickly as possible, the proposed SOW will analyze isotopic-signatures of oxygen and nitrogen from nitrate in various source materials and in the river during 2018. Please remember, there is no guarantee that the “signatures” will be different enough to help determine the potential source. While analyzing samples for isotopic signatures, the proposed SOW will simultaneously include efforts to help develop a better understanding of the physical and chemical properties controlling the algal growth.
The draft proposal includes annual progress reports from USGS to evaluate the next year’s proposed work based on findings of the current year. We will be using adaptive project management based on annual findings.
While the anticipated cost is more than any of us would like to see, the workgroup has done a great deal of individual research and determined that we do need all the components of this SOW. Discussion was had about the USGS preliminary costs being a little higher than potentially other researchers. The consensus of the workgroup was that with USGS providing 35 percent of the funding and their reputation of being nonbiased, they are the best entity to have do this research and analysis.
So, how are we going to pay for the study? We currently have commitments for a total of $60,000 for 2018. That leaves us approximately $30,000 to raise for 2018 work. The conservation district and others will be meeting with individuals and agencies during the remainder of March to solicit this $30,000 because it is too short of a time frame to get grant funding and it seems like it is a “doable” amount to raise for such an important issue to the community.
In ensuing years, we will be seeking support again from the stakeholders and applying for grants through the Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and others to be determined.
The White River Conservation District anticipates that we will have annual agreements with USGS for the study dependent upon funding availability and on adaptive research based on each year’s outcome.
The technical committee meeting will be March 21 at the Fairfield Center beginning at 11 a.m. At that time the workgroup will give a brief overview of their recommendations followed by a more detailed presentation of the SOW by USGS. We will break for lunch and reconvene at 1:30 p.m. for further discussion and public comment specifically on the proposal in anticipation of finalizing the SOW by end of the day.
Landowners and interested parties are welcome to attend the technical committee meeting and will have an opportunity to provide comment and input on the proposal during the public comment period. We strongly encourage that anyone interested in providing comment in the afternoon attend the morning session, where they receive a copy of the proposal and hear the presentations.
Visit the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website (www.whiterivercd.com) to find copies of the workgroup’s recommendations, previous meetings’ minutes, research and meeting information. Contact the conservation district office at 878-9838 with any questions.
From UNDARK (Martin Doyle):
This group was the “food base” team from the U.S. Geological Survey, led by Ted Kennedy and Jeff Muehlbauer. They had started their research trip at Lees Ferry, 87 miles upstream; they had already been on the river more than a week, and they looked it. Short-timers in the Grand Canyon, like me, wear quick-dry clothes and wide-brimmed hats only days or hours removed from an outfitter’s store in Flagstaff, Arizona. Long-termers like river guides and the USGS crew look like Bedouin nomads, with long-sleeved baggy clothes, bandannas, and a miscellany of cloths meant to protect every inch of skin from the sun — yet nevertheless with vivid sunburns, chapped and split lips, and a full-body coating of grime. Almost as soon as I got there, the ecologists wrapped up their work, packed their nets, buckets, tweezers, and other gear, and led me to their home: a flotilla of enormous motorized rubber rafts that held a mini-house of living essentials and a mini-laboratory of scientific essentials, all tightly packed and strapped to get through the rapids of the Grand Canyon.
Here’s the release from CIRES (Jim Scott):
A rash of earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico recorded between 2008 and 2010 was likely due to fluids pumped deep underground during oil and gas wastewater disposal, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.
The study, which took place in the 2,200-square-mile Raton Basin along the central Colorado-northern New Mexico border, found more than 1,800 earthquakes up to magnitude 4.3 during that period, linking most to wastewater injection well activity. Such wells are used to pump water back in the ground after it has been extracted during the collection of methane gas from subterranean coal beds.
One key piece of the new study was the use of hydrogeological modeling of pore pressure in what is called the “basement rock” of the Raton Basin – rock several miles deep that underlies the oldest stratified layers. Pore pressure is the fluid pressure within rock fractures and rock pores.
While two previous studies have linked earthquakes in the Raton Basin to wastewater injection wells, this is the first to show that elevated pore pressures deep underground are well above earthquake-triggering thresholds, said CU Boulder doctoral student Jenny Nakai, lead study author. The northern edges of the Raton Basin border Trinidad, Colorado, and Raton, New Mexico.
“We have shown for the first time a plausible causative mechanism for these earthquakes,” said Nakai of the Department of Geological Sciences. “The spatial patterns of seismicity we observed are reflected in the distribution of wastewater injection and our modeled pore pressure change.”
A paper on the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth. Co-authors on the study include CU Boulder Professors Anne Sheehan and Shemin Ge of geological sciences, former CU Boulder doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, and Professor Susan Bilek of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.
The Raton Basin earthquakes between 2008 and 2010 were measured by the seismometers from the EarthScope USArray Transportable Array, a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to measure earthquakes and map Earth’s interior across the country. The team also used seismic data from the Colorado Rockies Experiment and Seismic Transects (CREST), also funded by NSF.
As part of the research, the team simulated in 3-D a 12-mile long fault gleaned from seismicity data in the Vermejo Park region in the Raton Basin. The seismicity patterns also suggest a second, smaller fault in the Raton Basin that was active from 2008-2010.
Nakai said the research team did not look at the relationship between the Raton Basin earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The new study also showed the number of earthquakes in the Raton Basin correlates with the cumulative volume of wastewater injected in wells up to about 9 miles away from the individual earthquakes. There are 28 “Class II” wastewater disposal wells – wells that are used to dispose of waste fluids associated with oil and natural gas production – in the Raton Basin, and at least 200 million barrels of wastewater have been injected underground there by the oil and gas industry since 1994.
“Basement rock is typically more brittle and fractured than the rock layers above it,” said Sheehan, also a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “When pore pressure increases in basement rock, it can cause earthquakes.”
There is still a lot to learn about the Raton Basin earthquakes, said the CU Boulder researchers. While the oil and gas industry has monitored seismic activity with seismometers in the Raton Basin for years and mapped some sub-surface faults, such data are not made available to researchers or the public.
The earthquake patterns in the Raton Basin are similar to other U.S. regions that have shown “induced seismicity” likely caused by wastewater injection wells, said Nakai. Previous studies involving CU Boulder showed that injection wells likely caused earthquakes near Greeley, Colorado, in Oklahoma and in the mid-continent region of the United States in recent years.
The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new report detailing changes of groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. The report presents water-level change data in the aquifer for two separate periods: from 1950 – the time prior to significant groundwater irrigation development – to 2015, and from 2013 to 2015.
“Change in storage for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period was a decline of 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the change in recoverable water in storage calculated for the 2011 to 2013 comparison period,” said Virginia McGuire, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “The smaller decline for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period is likely related to reduced groundwater pumping.”
In 2015, total recoverable water in storage in the aquifer was about 2.91 billion acre-feet, which is an overall decline of about 273.2 million acre-feet, or 9 percent, since predevelopment. Average area-weighted water-level change in the aquifer was a decline of 15.8 feet from predevelopment to 2015 and a decline of 0.6 feet from 2013 to 2015.
The USGS study used water-level measurements from 3,164 wells for predevelopment to 2015 and 7,524 wells for the 2013 to 2015 study period.
The High Plains aquifer, also known as the Ogallala aquifer, underlies about 112 million acres, or 175,000 square miles, in parts of eight states, including: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The USGS, at the request of the U.S. Congress and in cooperation with numerous state, local, and federal entities, has published reports on water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer since 1988 in response to substantial water-level declines in large areas of the aquifer.
“This multi-state, groundwater-level monitoring study tracks water-level changes in wells screened in the High Plains aquifer and located in all eight states that overlie the aquifer. The study has provided data critical to evaluating different options for groundwater management,” said McGuire. “This level of coordinated groundwater-level monitoring is unique among major, multi-state regional aquifers in the country.”
Click here to go to the website:
Watch Landsat LIVE!
A recent release of the EarthNow! Landsat Image Viewer displays imagery in near real-time as Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 orbit the Earth. Along with the near real-time video stream, EarthNow! also replays acquisition recordings from a list of previous Landsat overpasses. When Landsat 7 or Landsat 8 are out of viewing range of a ground station, the most recent overpass is displayed. EarthNow! can also display current satellite positions and footprints.
EarthNow! is based on the FarEarth Global Observer tool (developed by Pinkmatter Solutions) to help visualize incoming data for Landsat’s International Ground Stations, including the USGS-acquired imagery shown on EarthNow!.
Click here to read the news. Here’s an excerpt:
A new USGS assessment suggests that brackish groundwater could help stretch limited freshwater supplies. The amount of fresh or potable groundwater in storage has declined for many areas in the United States and has led to concerns about the future availability of water for drinking-water, agricultural, industrial, and environmental needs. Use of brackish groundwater could supplement or, in some places, replace the use of freshwater sources and enhance our Nation’s water security.
Here’s the release from the USGS:
As part of an ongoing effort to improve the suite of hydrography web-based map services, the USGS will separate the services for the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) and Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD).
Currently, the NHD dynamic service, “Hydrography (inc. watersheds)” includes both NHD and WBD layers. The existing address will be updated to include only NHD layers, and a new endpoint will be designated for WBD services.
The NHD and WBD represent inland waters for the U.S. as a part of The National Map. The NHD represents the drainage network with features such as rivers, streams, canals, lakes, ponds, coastline, dams, and streamgages. The WBD represents drainage basins as enclosed areas in eight different size categories.
Focusing these services to two endpoints enables the USGS to isolate changes and issues, and continue to improve the performance of each set of services independently. When complete, users will have the choice to consume the services of NHD or WBD independently. Accessing the WBD services will not require users to consume the additional NHD layers, and accessing NHD services will not require users to have to consume the additional WBD layers. Separating the services and increasing resources available has improved performance.
This change will impact applications presently consuming the combined NHD and WBD layers from the existing service address. Once this is implemented, users who would like to consume the WBD dynamic services will need to use the new service endpoint. In addition, users currently consuming the combined service may need to update application configurations for display of the desired layers.
Additionally, two NHD/WBD-related web services are being retired at the end of April. See the summary below for more information.
An announcement will be posted in the “What’s New” section on the The National Map website once changes are implemented.
New – Hydrography data service endpoints:
1. National Hydrography Dataset
Function: Provides national hydrography data Endpoint: https://services.nationalmap.gov/arcgis/rest/services/nhd/MapServer This NHD endpoint remains the same, the WBD layers have been removed.
2. National Watershed Boundary Dataset
Function: Provides watershed boundary data Endpoint: https://services.nationalmap.gov/arcgis/rest/services/wbd/MapServer
3. Hydrography (cached)
Function: Provides a fast USGS Topo styled hydrography overlay Endpoint: https://basemap.nationalmap.gov/arcgis/rest/services/USGSHydroCached/MapServer This service was announced and made public March 2017 and is also available as a WMTS service.
Retiring at the end of April 2017
NHD Base Map (former primary tile cache) Function: Cached base map of hillshade, NHD and WBD combined Endpoint: https://basemap.nationalmap.gov/arcgis/rest/services/USGSHydroNHD/MapServer
USGS NHD Base Map – Below 18K Scale Dynamic
Function: Dynamic map service used below 18K to work along with older NHD Base Map cache. This also contains hillshade, NHD and WBD combined Endpoint: https://services.nationalmap.gov/arcgis/rest/services/USGSHydroNHDLarge/MapServer
For any questions, comments, or concerns regarding this update, please contact Ariel Doumbouya (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Click here to register for the webcast from The Center for Watershed Protection. Here’s their pitch:
Newly recognized contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) include a broad list of synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals (e.g., pharmaceuticals, synthetic fragrances, detergents, disinfectants, plasticizers, preservatives) or any microorganisms that have the potential to cause adverse ecological and(or) human health effects. Advances in our ability to detect and study CECs in the environment have shown that they are widespread throughout the aquatic ecosystem, and some studies are showing adverse impacts to aquatic organisms and public health. While a major source of CECs is POWT discharges, illicit discharges containing sewage into the municipal separate sewer system is a major pathway for CECs to be delivered to urban and suburban stream systems. Illicit discharge detection and elimination (IDDE) systems have the potential to be effective tools to mitigate the effect of CECs on the environment. This webcast focuses on CECs and the potential for IDDE programs to reduce their impacts.
Here’s the release from the USGS:
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently completed an assessment of our Nation’s geothermal resources. Geothermal power plants are currently operating in six states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. The assessment indicates that the electric power generation potential from identified geothermal systems is 9,057 Megawatts-electric (MWe), distributed over 13 states. The mean estimated power production potential from undiscovered geothermal resources is 30,033 MWe. Additionally, another estimated 517,800 MWe could be generated through implementation of technology for creating geothermal reservoirs in regions characterized by high temperature, but low permeability, rock formations.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:
To evaluate the influence of military training activities on streamflow and water quality, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Army, began a hydrologic data collection network on the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson in 1978 and on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in 1983. This report is a summary and characterization of the precipitation, streamflow, and water-quality data collected at 43 sites between October 1, 2012, and September 30, 2014 (water years 2013 and 2014).
Variations in the frequency of daily precipitation, seasonal distribution, and seasonal and annual precipitation at 5 stations at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and 18 stations at or near the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site were evaluated. Isohyetal diagrams indicated a general pattern of increase in total annual precipitation from east to west at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Between about 54 and 79 percent of daily precipitation was 0.1 inch or less in magnitude. Precipitation events were larger and more frequent between July and September.
Daily streamflow data from 16 sites were used to evaluate temporal and spatial variations in streamflow for the water years 2013 and 2014. At all sites, median daily mean streamflow for the 2-year period ranged from 0.0 to 9.60 cubic feet per second. Daily mean streamflow hydrographs are included in this report. Five sites on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site were monitored for peak stage using crest-stage gages.
At the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, five sites had a stage recorder and precipitation gage, providing a paired streamflow-precipitation dataset. There was a statistically significant correlation between precipitation and streamflow based on Spearman’s rho correlation (rho values ranged from 0.17 to 0.35).
Suspended-sediment samples were collected in April through October for water years 2013–14 at one site at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and five sites at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Suspended-sediment-transport curves were used to illustrate the relation between streamflow and suspended-sediment concentration. All these sediment-transport curves showed a streamflow dependent suspended-sediment concentration relation except for the U.S. Geological Survey station Bent Canyon Creek at mouth near Timpas, CO.
Water-quality data were collected and reported from seven sites on the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site during water years 2013–14. Sample results exceeding an established water-quality standard were identified. Selected water-quality properties and constituents were stratified to compare spatial variation among selected characteristics using boxplots.
Trilinear diagrams were used to classify water type based on ionic concentrations of water-quality samples collected during the study period.
At the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, 27 samples were classified as very hard or brackish. Seven samples had a lower hardness character relative to the other samples. Four of those nine samples were collected at two U.S. Geological Survey stations (Turkey Creek near Fountain, CO, and Little Fountain Creek above Highway 115 at Fort Carson, CO), which have different geologic makeup. Three samples collected at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site had a markedly lower hardness likely because of dilution from an increase in streamflow.
Here’s the FAQ page from the United States Geological Survey. Here’s an excerpt:
What different types of aerial photographs are available through the USGS?
The aerial photographs date as far back as the 1940’s for the United States and its territories. Availability of specific coverage, film type, and acquisition dates vary from agency to agency.
The Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (EROS) in Sioux Falls, SD has digitized over 6.4 million frames of aerial film creating medium-resolution digital images (400 dpi) and associated browse images for online viewing. Products can be downloaded at no cost through EarthExplorer or GloVis. Several kinds of aerial photos are available.
CIR (color infrared) film, originally referred to as camouflage-detection film, differs from conventional color film because its emulsion layers are sensitive to green, red, and near-infrared radiation (0.5 micrometers to 0.9 micrometers). Used with a yellow filter to absorb the blue light, this film provides sharp images and penetrates haze at high altitudes. Color infrared film also is referred to as false-color film. Black-and-white panchromatic (B/W) film primarily consists of a black-and-white negative material with a sensitivity range comparable to that of the human eye. It has good contrast and resolution with low graininess and a wide exposure range.
Black-and-white infrared (BIR) film, with some exceptions, is sensitive to the spectral region encompassing 0.4 micrometers to 0.9 micrometers. It is sometimes referred to as near-infrared film because it utilizes only a narrow portion of the total infrared spectrum (0.7 micrometers to 0.9 micrometers). Natural color (also referred to as conventional or normal color) film contains three emulsion layers which are sensitive to blue, green, and red (the three primary colors of the visible spectrum). This film replicates colors as seen by the human eye.
Photographic reproduction of images from the USGS film archives ceased on September 3, 2004. For those who specifically need paper or film products, there is a list of USGS Business Partners who provide aerial photographic research and image printing services.
National High Altitude Photography Program
EROS (Find Data)
Here’s the release from the USGS:
Assessing age of groundwater to determine resource availability
Groundwater discharge that flows into the Upper Colorado River Basin varies in response to drought, which is likely due to aquifer systems that contain relatively young groundwater, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study published in Hydrogeology Journal.
The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to more than 40 million people in seven states, irrigate more than 5.5 million acres of land, and support hydropower facilities. More than half of the total streamflow in the UCRB originates from groundwater. Reductions in groundwater recharge associated with climate variability or increased water demand will likely reduce groundwater discharge to streams.
This is the first study that examines the short-term response of groundwater systems to climate stresses at a regional scale by assessing groundwater age. USGS scientists determined the age of groundwater by sampling the water flowing from nineteen springs in the UCRB. Age-tracing techniques can assess how long it takes groundwater to travel from the time it enters the aquifer system as precipitation to when the groundwater exits to springs and streams. Scientists compared eight of the springs with historical discharge and precipitation records with the groundwater age to better understand how aquifers have responded to drought. These findings helped scientists understand the variability and timing of groundwater discharge associated with drought.
“About half of the springs analyzed in the Upper Colorado River Basin contained young groundwater, which was surprising,” said USGS scientist and lead author of the study John Solder. “These findings suggest that shallow aquifers, which are more responsive to drought than deeper systems, may be significant contributors to streamflow in the region.”
Results show that if springs contain mostly older water, groundwater discharge is less variable over time and takes longer to respond to drought conditions. Springs that contain predominately young water, around 80 years old or less, are more likely to vary seasonally and respond rapidly to drought conditions. These results indicate that young groundwater resources are responsive to short-term climate variability.
“Sampling 19 springs in a very large basin is just the start, and further studies are needed to better understand the groundwater resources of this specific region,” said Solder. “Determining groundwater age has promise in predicting how these systems will respond in the future and allows us to assess resource vulnerability where no historical records are available.”
This study was funded by the USGS National Water Census, a research program focusing on national water availability and use at the regional and national scales. Research is designed to build decision support capacity for water management agencies and other natural resource managers.
Here’s the release from the USGS (Anne Berry Wade/Sarah Haymaker):
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have published a new study that demonstrates that agricultural conservation practices in the upper Mississippi River watershed can reduce nitrogen inputs to area streams and rivers by as much as 34 percent.
The study combined USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) data with the USGS SPARROW watershed model to measure the potential effects of voluntary conservation practices, which historically have been difficult to do in large river systems, because different nutrient sources can have overlapping influences on downstream water quality.
“These results provide new insights on the benefits of conservation practices in reducing nutrient inputs to local streams and rivers and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sarah Ryker, Interior’s acting assistant deputy for Water and Science. “The incorporation of agricultural conservation practice information into watershed models helps us better understand where water quality conditions are improving and prioritize where additional conservation actions are needed.”
Until this study, nutrient reductions have been difficult to detect in the streams because changes in multiple sources of nutrients (including non-agricultural sources) and natural processes (e.g., hydrological variability, channel erosion) can have confounding influences that conceal the effects of improved farming practices on downstream water quality. The models used in this study overcame these difficulties to help validate the downstream benefits of farmers’ conservation actions on the land.
“As the results of this valuable collaboration with the USGS indicate, voluntary conservation on agricultural lands is improving water quality. When multiple farmers, ranchers and working forest land managers in one region come together to apply the conservation science, the per acre conservation benefit is greatly enhanced,” said USDA Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills. “While there are no short-term solutions to complex water quality issues, USDA is committed to continuing these accelerated voluntary conservation efforts, using collaborative science to target conservation in watersheds where the greatest benefits can be realized.”
Nutrient reductions attributable to agricultural conservation practices in the region ranged from five to 34 percent for nitrogen and from one to 10 percent for total phosphorus, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
High levels of nutrients containing nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural and urban areas contribute to hypoxic regions (low oxygen “dead zones”) in offshore marine waters.
The study underscored evidence that slowing the water and routing it into the ground can significantly reduce the nitrogen that is eventually transported to streams. Structural and erosion control practices, such as conservation tillage, in the Upper Mississippi River Basin have been shown to reduce runoff and peak flows, thereby increasing water infiltration into the soils and the subsurface geology. An added benefit of these conservation actions is that, in some areas, hydrological and biogeochemical conditions in the subsurface can promote the removal of nitrogen by natural biological processes.
Phosphorus reductions were lower than was seen for nitrogen, possibly because of long time lags between conservation actions and the time it may take for sediment-bound phosphorus to move downstream. In addition, some erosion control practices, such as no-till and reduced tillage, have been shown to increase soluble phosphorus levels in farm runoff, which can potentially offset some benefits from erosion control practices.
The innovative approach combined information from process-based models from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with a USGS hybrid statistical and process-based model to quantify the environmental benefits of agricultural conservation practices at a regional scale.
The USGS watershed model was calibrated with data from over 700 water-quality monitoring stations operated by numerous local, state, and federal agencies throughout the Upper Mississippi River basin. The investigation used the most recently available farmer survey data from CEAP (2003-2006), together with stream water-quality data that are approximately coincident with the time period (1980s to 2004, with the average centered on 2002) over which farmer conservation practices, as measured in the survey, were adopted.
Additional information on the USGS SPARROW modeling approach and a nutrient mapper and an online decision support tool for the Mississippi River basin is available online.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Two projects to improve Fountain Creek will get underway soon after contracts were approved at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
A $67,000 contract with MWH Global was approved to evaluate flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
It’s the next phase of a project to determine the best type and placement of flood control structures on Fountain Creek, which could include a dam or several smaller detention ponds.
The planning started with a U.S. Geological Survey study in 2013 that identified the most effective concepts to protect Pueblo from severe floods and reduce harmful sedimentation. Last year, another study determined flood control projects could be built without harming water rights downstream.
The new study will use $41,800 in grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board through the roundtable process. It is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2017.
A second project, totaling $60,000, was approved to continue a study of Fountain Creek stability and sediment loading by Matrix Design. The project was begun in 2010, and will identify the most critical areas for projects along Fountain Creek.
The district obtained matching funds for the projects through the payment of $125,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities to the district under terms of a recent intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that allowed Southern Delivery System to be put into service.
The district board also agreed on a formula to fund routine operation of the district among member governments in Pueblo and El Paso County. The district is looking at $200,000 in funding for next year’s budget. The funding is allocated by population, with Colorado Springs paying half; unincorporated El Paso County, 25 percent; small incorporated cities in El Paso County, 5 percent. The city of Pueblo would pay $26,000, or 13 percent; Pueblo County, $13,000, or 6.5 percent.
Those costs are still subject to approval by each governmental entity.
Click here to go to the USGS Water Glossaries webpage. (You know you want to spend most of the afternoon there.)
Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey:
USGS scientists have documented that the carbon that moves through or accumulates in lakes, rivers, and streams has not been adequately incorporated into current models of carbon cycling used to track and project climate change. The research, conducted in partnership with the University of Washington, has been published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Earth’s carbon cycle is determined by physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in and among the atmosphere (carbon dioxide and methane), the biosphere (living and dead things), and the geosphere (soil, rocks, and water). Understanding how these processes interact globally and projecting their future effects on climate requires complex computer models that track carbon at regional and continental scales, commonly known as Terrestrial Biosphere Models (TBMs).
Current estimates of the accumulation of carbon in natural environments indicate that forest and other terrestrial ecosystems have annual net gains in storing carbon — a beneficial effect for reducing greenhouse gases. However, even though all of life and most processes involving carbon movement or transformation require water, TBMs have not conventionally included aquatic ecosystems — lakes, reservoirs, streams, and rivers — in their calculations. Once inland waters are included in carbon cycle models, the nationwide importance of aquatic ecosystems in the carbon cycle is evident.
Speaking quantifiably, inland water ecosystems in the conterminous U.S. transport or store more than 220 billion pounds of carbon (100 Tg-C) annually to coastal regions, the atmosphere, and the sediments of lakes and reservoirs. Comparing the results of this study to the output of a suite of standard TBMs, the authors suggest that, within the current modelling framework, carbon storage by forests, other plants, and soils (in scientific terms: Net Ecosystem Production, when defined as terrestrial only) may be over-estimated by as much as 27 percent.
The study highlights the need for additional research to accurately determine the sources of aquatic carbon and to reconcile the exchange of carbon between terrestrial and aquatic environments.
Here’s the abstract:
Inland water ecosystems dynamically process, transport, and sequester carbon. However, the transport of carbon through aquatic environments has not been quantitatively integrated in the context of terrestrial ecosystems. Here, we present the first integrated assessment, to our knowledge, of freshwater carbon fluxes for the conterminous United States, where 106 (range: 71–149) teragrams of carbon per year (TgC⋅y−1) is exported downstream or emitted to the atmosphere and sedimentation stores 21 (range: 9–65) TgC⋅y−1 in lakes and reservoirs. We show that there is significant regional variation in aquatic carbon flux, but verify that emission across stream and river surfaces represents the dominant flux at 69 (range: 36–110) TgC⋅y−1 or 65% of the total aquatic carbon flux for the conterminous United States. Comparing our results with the output of a suite of terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs), we suggest that within the current modeling framework, calculations of net ecosystem production (NEP) defined as terrestrial only may be overestimated by as much as 27%. However, the internal production and mineralization of carbon in freshwaters remain to be quantified and would reduce the effect of including aquatic carbon fluxes within calculations of terrestrial NEP. Reconciliation of carbon mass–flux interactions between terrestrial and aquatic carbon sources and sinks will require significant additional research and modeling capacity.
Click here to read the fact sheet from the United States Geological Survey. Here’s the introduction:
The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) concept of a national census (or accounting) of water resources has evolved over the last several decades as the Nation has experienced increasing concern over water availability for multiple competing uses. The implementation of a USGS National Water Census was described in the USGS 2007 science strategy document that identified the highest priority science topics for the decade 2007–17. In 2009, the SECURE Water Act (Public Law 111–11, subtitle F) authorized the USGS to create a Water Availability and Use Assessment Program for the Nation, and in 2012, the Department of the Interior WaterSMART initiative provided funding to begin implementation of the USGS National Water Census (NWC).
Generally, the USGS NWC approaches water-availability assessment in terms of a “water budget.” The water-budget approach seeks to better quantify the inflows and outflows of water, as well as the change in storage volume, both nationally and at a regional scale and, by doing so, provides critical information to managers and stakeholders responsible for making water-availability decisions. The NWC has two primary components: Topical Studies and Geographic Focus Area Studies. Topical Studies do research on methods that can provide nationwide estimates of particular water-budget components at the subwatershed scale. Some examples of NWC Topical Studies include estimation of streamflow at ungaged locations; periodic quantification of evapotranspiration; and water use related to development of unconventional oil and gas. These efforts are planned to include additional topics in the future. Geographic Focus Area Studies (FASs) assess water availability and use within a defined geographic area, typically a surface-water drainage basin, to increase the understanding of factors affecting water availability in the region. In the FASs, local stakeholder input helps the USGS identify what components of the water budget are in most need of additional understanding or quantification. Focus Area Studies are planned as 3-year efforts and, typically, three FASs are ongoing in different parts of the country at any given time.
The Colorado River Basin (CRB) and the Delaware and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basins were selected by the Department of the Interior for the first round of FASs because of the perceived water shortages in the basins and potential conflicts over water supply and allocations. After gathering input from numerous stakeholders in the CRB, the USGS determined that surface-water resources in the basin were already being closely monitored and that the most important scientific contribution could be made by helping to improve estimates of four water-budget components: evapotranspiration losses, snowpack hydrodynamics, water-use information, and the relative importance of groundwater discharge in supporting streamflow across the basin. The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide a brief summary of the CRB FAS results as the study nears completion. Although some project results are still in the later stages of review and publication, this fact sheet provides an overall description of the work completed and cites the publications in which additional information can be found.
From the United States Geological Survey (Curt Meine):
No time seems more fitting than now – with the epic drought in California and major flooding from a nor’easter and Hurricane Joaquin – to pay tribute to Luna B. Leopold, the first chief hydrologist at the USGS. More so than any other scientist, he set the course for the USGS approach to understanding river flows, groundwater and surface water interactions and the value of long-term data collection. Today, the USGS is the world’s largest provider of hydrologic information with a mission to collect and disseminate reliable, impartial, and timely information that is needed to understand the Nation’s water resources.
Born on Oct. 8, 1915 in Albuquerque, Luna Leopold lived a rich life. From his renowned father, the biologist and author Aldo Leopold, he inherited a passion for outdoor life, a respect of craftsmanship, a highly disciplined curiosity, and an appreciation of the complex interactions of human society and natural systems. From his mother Estella, he inherited a deep connection to the semi-arid landscapes and watersheds of the American Southwest, a rich Hispanic cultural tradition, and a keen aesthetic sense. These qualities would meld and develop over time, across an extraordinary career in the earth sciences.
According to the Virtual Luna Leopold Project, “He was trained as a civil engineer (B.S degree), meteorologist (M.S. degree) and geologist (Ph.D.) and his publications reflect that blending of fields. His first publication in 1937 was entitled Relation of Watershed Conditions to Flood Discharge: A Theoretical Analysis and his most recent publication in 2005 was Geomorphic Effects of Urbanization in Forty-one Years of Observations. Few have written papers spanning 68 years, and fewer still have had such an influence on a field or on society.”
Luna Leopold’s creative intellect compelled him to explore the territory where science, policy, ethics, and environmental stewardship come together. In discerning the complex physical processes of stream formation and development, climate, precipitation, erosion, sedimentation, and deposition, he made connections to our human capacity to alter, or adapt to, hydrological realities. He understood that water science could not be separated from the water management and stewardship, which could not be separated from water ethics. On this he has been widely quoted: “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.”
“The stream has to have change”
What he was referring to, of course, was our dominant historic tendency to reduce the inherent flux in stream systems, to manage flowing waters by controlling their dynamic variability. It is a fundamental lesson that several generations now of river managers and stewards have taken to heart and employed in restoration practice.
I suspect I highlighted that line in my notes, in part, because of its rich metaphorical potential. Luna Leopold understood change. He saw the reality of change and the need for change. He was himself an agent of change. In his field work, in his policy work, in his teaching and writing and consulting, he came to a view of rivers, of water, and of our future, that called for change. Through Luna’s understanding of science, history, and aesthetics, he came to perceive a “harmony in natural systems,” and held that “the desire to preserve this harmony must… be incorporated into any philosophy of water management, and I will call this, as did Herodotus, a reverence for rivers. If this is environmental idealism, then let it be said that I am an idealist.”
Wisdom from the past shapes the USGS today
Leopold was best known for work on the geomorphology of rivers, the study of land features and the processes that create and change them. He initiated a new era in the study of rivers, one that involved quantitative approaches that spread to the broader field of geomorphology. His research related meteorology and climatology to landscape process, a concept that has become a central feature of geomorphology. One of his better known papers, The Hydraulic Geometry of Stream Channels, published in 1953, initiated a new era in the quantitative study of rivers and stimulated quantitative approaches in geomorphology generally. Revealing an orderly framework of river behavior, the paper provided a basis for observing rivers worldwide through objective measurements and data collection.
Leopold retired from the USGS in 1972, having had a distinguished 22-year career where his focus on research and interpretation of data made a profound impact on the earth sciences. His enthusiasm for rivers proved contagious, inspiring generations of colleagues and students to devote their talents to the pursuit of science and to its application for society. Following his USGS career, Leopold, became a professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 90.
Today, as our nation is faced with the challenge of balancing a finite freshwater supply among competing needs, including agriculture, drinking water, energy production, and ecosystem health, we can appreciate even more Luna Leopold’s combination of field knowledge, leadership, and wisdom. His reverence for rivers, his way of connecting head and heart, has continued to inform new generations of scientists, policy-makers, land stewards, and philosophers who are extending his insights, exploring new dimensions in water ethics, and putting that ethic into practice. The stream has to have change. The change that Leopold helped to initiate and inspire must come. It comes more predictably, perhaps, in natural systems than in human ones. But now, as we come to know how the human and natural inevitably flow together, we can perhaps allow reverence and knowledge to flow together as well—as they did through Luna’s life.
Click through to read the report. Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Dennis A. Wentz, Mark E. Brigham, Lia C. Chasar, Michelle A. Lutz, and David P. Krabbenhoft):
Major Findings and Implications
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish to levels of concern for human health and the health of fish-eating wildlife. Mercury contamination of fish is the primary reason for issuing fish consumption advisories, which exist in every State in the Nation. Much of the mercury originates from combustion of coal and can travel long distances in the atmosphere before being deposited. This can result in mercury-contaminated fish in areas with no obvious source of mercury pollution.
Three key factors determine the level of mercury contamination in fish—the amount of inorganic mercury available to an ecosystem, the conversion of inorganic mercury to methylmercury, and the bioaccumulation of methylmercury through the food web. Inorganic mercury originates from both natural sources (such as volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, geothermal springs, and volatilization from the ocean) and anthropogenic sources (such as coal combustion, mining, and use of mercury in products and industrial processes). Humans have doubled the amount of inorganic mercury in the global atmosphere since pre-industrial times, with substantially greater increases occurring at locations closer to major urban areas.
In aquatic ecosystems, some inorganic mercury is converted to methylmercury, the form that ultimately accumulates in fish. The rate of mercury methylation, thus the amount of methylmercury produced, varies greatly in time and space, and depends on numerous environmental factors, including temperature and the amounts of oxygen, organic matter, and sulfate that are present.
Methylmercury enters aquatic food webs when it is taken up from water by algae and other microorganisms. Methylmercury concentrations increase with successively higher trophic levels in the food web—a process known as bioaccumulation. In general, fish at the top of the food web consume other fish and tend to accumulate the highest methylmercury concentrations.
This report summarizes selected stream studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) since the late 1990s, while also drawing on scientific literature and datasets from other sources. Previous national mercury assessments by other agencies have focused largely on lakes. Although numerous studies of mercury in streams have been conducted at local and regional scales, recent USGS studies provide the most comprehensive, multimedia assessment of streams across the United States, and yield insights about the importance of watershed characteristics relative to mercury inputs. Information from other environments (lakes, wetlands, soil, atmosphere, glacial ice) also is summarized to help understand how mercury varies in space and time.
More USGS coverage here
Click here to go to the USGS website. This site is not safe for history buffs at work — you may spend your entire day there.
Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Anne Berry Wade/Leigh Cooper/Tanya Gallegos). (Multiply meters cubed used by 264.172052 to get gallons used). Here’s an excerpt:
The amount of water required to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells varies widely across the country, according to the first national-scale analysis and map of hydraulic fracturing water usage detailed in a new USGS study accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The research found that water volumes for hydraulic fracturing averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.
More oil and gas coverage here.
Here’s the abstract from the United States Geological Survey (Tristan P. Wellman):
The South Platte River and underlying alluvial aquifer form an important hydrologic resource in northeastern Colorado that provides water to population centers along the Front Range and to agricultural communities across the rural plains. Water is regulated based on seniority of water rights and delivered using a network of administration structures that includes ditches, reservoirs, wells, impacted river sections, and engineered recharge areas. A recent addendum to Colorado water law enacted during 2002–2003 curtailed pumping from thousands of wells that lacked authorized augmentation plans. The restrictions in pumping were hypothesized to increase water storage in the aquifer, causing groundwater to rise near the land surface at some locations. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Water Institute, completed an assessment of 60 years (yr) of historical groundwater-level records collected from 1953 to 2012 from 1,669 wells. Relations of “high” groundwater levels, defined as depth to water from 0 to 10 feet (ft) below land surface, were compared to precipitation, river discharge, and 36 geographic and administrative attributes to identify natural and human controls in areas with shallow groundwater.
Averaged per decade and over the entire aquifer, depths to groundwater varied between 24 and 32 ft over the 60-yr record. The shallowest average depth to water was identified during 1983–1992, which also recorded the highest levels of decadal precipitation. Average depth to water was greatest (32 ft) during 1953–1962 and intermediate (30 ft) in the recent decade (2003–2012) following curtailment of pumping. Between the decades 1993–2002 and 2003–2012, groundwater levels declined about 2 ft across the aquifer. In comparison, in areas where groundwater levels were within 20 ft of the land surface, observed groundwater levels rose about 0.6 ft, on average, during the same period, which demonstrated preferential rise in areas with shallow groundwater.
Approximately 29 percent of water-level observations were identified as high groundwater in the South Platte River alluvial aquifer over the 60-yr record. High groundwater levels were found in 17 to 33 percent of wells examined by decade, with the largest percentages occurring over three decades from 1963 to 1992. The recent decade (2003–2012) exhibited an intermediate percentage (25 percent) of wells with high groundwater levels but also had the highest percentage (30 percent) of high groundwater observations, although results by observations were similar (26–29 percent) over three decades prior, from 1963 to 1992. Major sections of the aquifer from north of Sterling to Julesburg and areas near Greeley, La Salle, and Gilcrest were identified with the highest frequencies of high groundwater levels.
Changes in groundwater levels were evaluated using Kendal line and least trimmed squares regression methods using a significance level of 0.01 and statistical power of 0.8. During 2003–2012, following curtailment of pumping, 88 percent of wells and 81 percent of subwatershed areas with significant trends in groundwater levels exhibited rising water levels. Over the complete 60-yr record, however, 66 percent of wells and 57 percent of subwatersheds with significant groundwater-level trends still showed declining water levels; rates of groundwater-level change were typically less than 0.125 ft/yr in areas near the South Platte River, with greater declines along the southern tributaries. In agreement, 58 percent of subwatersheds evaluated between 1963–1972 and 2003–2012 showed net declines in average decadal groundwater levels. More areas had groundwater decline in upgradient sections to the west and rise in downgradient sections to the east, implying a redistribution of water has occurred in some areas of the aquifer.
Precipitation was identified as having the strongest statistically significant correlations to river discharge over annual and decadal periods (Pearson correlation coefficients of 0.5 and 0.8, respectively, and statistical significance defined by p-values less than 0.05). Correlation coefficients between river discharge and frequency of high groundwater levels were statistically significant at 0.4 annually and 0.6 over decadal periods, indicating that periods of high river flow were often coincident with high groundwater conditions. Over seasonal periods in five of the six decades examined, peak high groundwater levels occurred after spring runoff from July to September when administrative structures were most active. Between 1993–2002 and 2003–2012, groundwater levels rose while river discharge decreased, in part from greater reliance on surface water and curtailed pumping from wells without augmentation plans.
Geographic attributes of elevation and proximity to streams and rivers showed moderate correlations to high groundwater levels in wells used for observing groundwater levels (correlation coefficients of 0.3 to 0.4). Local depressions and regional lows within the aquifer were identified as areas of potential shallow groundwater. Wells close to the river regularly indicated high groundwater levels, while those within depleted tributaries tended to have low frequencies of high groundwater levels. Some attributes of administrative structures were spatially correlated to high groundwater levels at moderate to high magnitudes (correlation coefficients of 0.3 to 0.7). The number of affected river reaches or recharge areas that surround a well where groundwater levels were observed and its distance from the nearest well field showed the strongest controls on high groundwater levels. Influences of administrative structures on groundwater levels were in some cases local over a mile or less but could extend to several miles, often manifesting as diffuse effects from multiple surrounding structures.
A network of candidate monitoring wells was proposed to initiate a regional monitoring program. Consistent monitoring and analysis of groundwater levels will be needed for informed decisions to optimize beneficial use of water and to limit high groundwater levels in susceptible areas. Finalization of the network will require future field reconnaissance to assess local site conditions and discussions with State authorities.
More South Platte River Basin coverage here.
— USGS (@USGS) May 1, 2015
Here’s the release from the USGS and USFS:
More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published today in Science finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed.
“The apparent success of dam removal as a means of river restoration is reflected in the increasing number of dams coming down, more than 1,000 in the last 40 years,” said lead author of the study Jim O’Connor, geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Rivers quickly erode sediment accumulated in former reservoirs and redistribute it downstream, commonly returning the river to conditions similar to those prior to impoundment.”
Dam removal and the resulting river ecosystem restoration is being studied by scientists from several universities and government agencies, including the USGS and U.S. Forest Service, as part of a national effort to document the effects of removing dams. Studies show that most river channels stabilize within months or years, not decades, particularly when dams are removed rapidly.
“In many cases, fish and other biological aspects of river ecosystems also respond quickly to dam removal,” said co-author of the study Jeff Duda, an ecologist with USGS. “When given the chance, salmon and other migratory fish will move upstream and utilize newly opened habitat.”
The increase in the number of dam removals, both nationally and internationally, has spurred the effort to understand the consequences and help guide future dam removals.
“As existing dams age and outlive usefulness, dam removal is becoming more common, particularly where it can benefit riverine ecosystems,” said Gordon Grant, Forest Service hydrologist. “But it can be a complicated decision with significant economic and ecologic consequences. Better understanding of outcomes enables better decisions about which dams might be good candidates for removal and what the river might look like as a result.”
Sponsored by the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, a working group of 22 scientists compiled a database of research and studies involving more than 125 dam removals. Researchers have determined common patterns and controls affecting how rivers and their ecosystems respond to dam removal. Important factors include the size of the dam, the volume and type of sediment accumulated in the reservoir, and overall watershed characteristics and history.
More USGS coverage here.
Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey:
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) were transported 2 kilometers downstream of a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) outfall in a coastal plain stream. EDCs persisted downstream of the outfall with little change in the numbers of EDCs and limited decreases in EDC concentrations.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists measured concentrations of select EDCs approximately 10 times in water and sediment from 2009 to 2011, at five sites in the Spirit Creek watershed near Fort Gordon, Georgia, as part of an assessment of the effects of the closure of a WWTP on EDC persistence.
Sites included a control site upstream of the WWTP outfall and four other sites in the 2–kilometer reach extending downstream to Spirit Lake, into which Spirit Creek flows. A site located at the outfall of Spirit Lake was sampled once to assess the potential for EDC transport through the lake.
A modest decline (less than 20 percent in all cases) in surface-water detections of EDCs was observed with increasing distance downstream of the WWTP and was attributed to the chemicals attaching (partitioning) to the sediment. The EDCs focused on in this study included natural estrogens (estrone, 17β–estradiol, and estriol) and detergent metabolites, which exhibit estrogenic properties. Concentrations of estrogens and detergent metabolites downstream of the WWTP remained elevated above levels observed at the upstream control site, indicating that the WWTP was the prominent source of these chemicals to the stream. The mean estrogen concentrations observed downstream of the WWTP were 5 nanograms per liter and higher, a level indicative of the potential for endocrine disruption in native fish.
Estrogens were not detected in the outflow of Spirit Lake, indicating that they were diluted, partitioned to lake sediments, or were degraded within the lake through a combination of microbial processes and/or photolysis. However, detergent metabolites were detected in the outflow of Spirit Lake, indicating the potential for EDC transport downstream.
The ongoing post–closure assessment at the Fort Gordon WWTP will provide more insight into the environmental persistence of EDCs over time and the potential for stream and lake bed sediment to serve as a long–term source of EDCs in stream ecosystems.
The Fort Gordon Environmental and Natural Resources Management Office of the U.S. Army and the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program provided the funding for this work.
More water pollution coverage here.