Benefits from Upper #ArkansasRiver Water Conservancy District programs — The Mountain Mail

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Terry Scanga):

In 1979 the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District was formed. Since that time innumerable benefits have been provided to the citizens of the district.

The primary goal of the district is protection of water rights within the Upper Arkansas. Continuous monitoring and involvement in legislative measures that impact water rights, involvement in water court cases that have the potential to negatively impact Upper Basin water rights and operating umbrella augmentation plans that prevent injury to water rights by making weekly water replacements to affected rivers and streams by out-of-priority uses are the major areas of work.

Other areas include conducting water studies such as ground water monitoring, water balance studies with the U.S. Geologic Survey, identification of and development of alluvial water storage, watershed health activities such as spearheading the Monarch Pass Steep Slope Timber Harvesting Project and water education programs. The benefits of these programs are not always recognized by citizens of the district.

Water resource development is essential to an effective water right protection program. The most obvious and direct benefit of this is the district’s umbrella augmentation plan program. Augmentation is a little understood water resource concept that was developed in 1969 when Colorado fully recognized in legislation the connection between tributary ground water and surface water. With this recognition all ground water production was brought under and regulated by the prior appropriation system.

Basically, this meant that the right to extract ground water for use would be governed by the date of first use. In an arid country such as Colorado, and in particular eastern Colorado, there is never enough water to satisfy all legal claims. Thus, priority of use is controlled by the established date of first use or “First in Time Is First in Right.” This legislation prevented most well use except when a “fully consumable” water source was used to replace the amount of water used up by the well. In other words, the well use would have to be augmented with a court-decreed “Plan of Augmentation.”

The full impact of this was not completely felt until the decision of the Kansas-Colorado Compact lawsuit and the adoption by Colorado in 1995 of the “Amended Rules and Regulation on Tributary Ground Water Use in the Arkansas Basin.”

Fortuitously, the district had filed in 1992 and obtained an umbrella augmentation plan in 1994. The benefits have been enormous for citizens within district boundaries of its decreed augmentation areas needing augmentation to use their wells, surface diversion or ponds.

The value of being able to enroll into the district’s augmentation plan and continue to use one’s well is best quantified by cost savings. Typical residential well augmentation requires a source of fully consumable water, storage, an engineering plan and a water court decree. The typical current cost for such a plan ranges from a low of $80,000 to $150,000 per residence. The cost per residence with the district’s plan is less than $4,500, a savings per residence of $75,000 to more than $145,000.

Presently the district provides augmentation to over 2,000 wells. The vast majority of these are for residential use. This savings expressed in dollars would represent a cost savings to district citizens of as much as $290 million.

The additional and as important benefit is to rivers and streams in the district. Annually more than 700-acre feet of water is released to our streams and available to support water rights and protect them from injury.

Further benefits are the water infrastructure that is maintained and constructed that supports recreation and the environment. Many of the area lakes and reservoirs are filled with district owned and controlled water rights, such as O’Haver Lake.

The studies and watershed health projects the district has undertaken in its 35 years of existence provide a wealth of knowledge and data for present and future understanding of our water resource and a roadmap to future water development.

Ralph “Terry” Scanga is general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

A Century of Watching the #ColoradoRiver: A streamgage at Lees Ferry turns 100 years old — USGS

Here’s the release from the USGS (Elizabeth Goldbaum):

Right where the Colorado River flows into the mouth of the Grand Canyon, an inconspicuous 20-foot-high concrete tower rises from the riverbank.

Inside the tower is a U.S. Geological Survey streamgage that will mark its centennial year of monitoring the river on October 1, 2021. At a time when the Roaring Twenties were in full swing, the streamgage began collecting information about the water’s level and flow. USGS scientists chose the site in 1921 because it was readily accessible and strategically located to study the hydrology of the Colorado River drainage basin.

Now, seven states within the basin depend on the river for water supply and hydropower production. Natural resource managers look to the 100-year-old streamgage to make informed decisions while recreationists and trout seekers check the streamgage’s information before they set off in their boats and scientists use it to study region’s geology and ecology.

The gauge sits right across the river from Lees Ferry, named after John Doyle Lee. In a twist of fate, Lee started the ferry in the late 1800s after John Wesley Powell, the second USGS director, gifted him a boat while he was exploring the Grand Canyon.

Although its equipment has been updated over the last century, the streamgage is not that different from its initial installation a century ago.

“The gauge at Lees Ferry is among the most watched and accurate big-river monitoring locations in the country and is an excellent example of how consistent, long-term scientific information beneficially informs water-management decisions in a changing world,” Jim Leenhouts, the Director of the USGS Arizona Water Science Center, said.

September 21, 1923, 9:00 a.m. — Colorado River at Lees Ferry. From right bank on line with Klohr’s house and gage house. Old “Dugway” or inclined gage shows to left of gage house. Gage height 11.05′, discharge 27,000 cfs. Lens 16, time =1/25, camera supported. Photo by G.C. Stevens of the USGS.
Source: 1921-1937 Surface Water Records File, Colorado R. @ Lees Ferry, Laguna Niguel Federal Records Center, Accession No. 57-78-0006, Box 2 of 2 , Location No. MB053635.

A basin splits into two

One year after the gauge was established, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin negotiated the 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided it into the Upper and Lower Basins. The Lees Ferry gauge as well as a streamgage on the Paria River are used as critical, continuous measurement points to determine how much water passes to the Lower Basin each year.

USGS scientists have collected various data at the site, from streamflow to water quality. The gauge’s longevity means scientists have been able to tease out long-term trends and note how dramatic changes impact the river.

Glen Canyon Dam as seen from an overlook on the south side, downstream of the dam in Page, Arizona. (Public domain.)

In 1963, the basin experienced a particularly dramatic change – the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam 15 miles (24 km) upstream of the streamgage. The gauge recorded the difference between unregulated water flow, prior to the construction of the dam, and regulated flow following the dam’s completion.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation constructed the dam to harness the power of the Colorado River and provide water to millions of people in the West. Glen Canyon Dam impounded 186 miles (300 km) of the Colorado River, creating Lake Powell.

The dam stores water for the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico to ensure those states are able to access the river especially during droughts. Releases from the dam ensure that the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona are able to access these essential water supplies from the Colorado Rivers.

“We built this streamgage in the Middle Ages of gauging,” Daniel Evans, a USGS scientist said. “And yet, it has consistently collected accurate information that accounts for how much water is released by the Glen Canyon Dam and enters the Grand Canyon on its way to Lake Mead,” Evans said.

“Per the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the states of the Upper Division must ensure the flow of the river at Lee Ferry doesn’t deplete below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet for any period of 10 consecutive years,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin hydraulic engineer Heather Patno. “Reclamation works closely with the USGS and utilizes the gauge at Lees Ferry to calculate the flow of the Colorado River at this important measuring point,” Patno said.

When in drought, check the streamgage

Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been in a historic drought. The combined water storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at their lowest levels since Lake Powell initially began to fill in the 1960s.

On August 16, 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the first-ever water shortage declaration for the Lower Basin. Downstream releases from both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be reduced in 2022. The streamgage at Lees Ferry, as well as other streamgages in the area, will be there to capture how changing dam operations affect streamflow.

“Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo in an August 2021 statement. “The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River.”

Lees Ferry streamgage and cableway downstream on the Colorado River, Arizona. (Public domain.)

Once upon a streamgage

The streamgage at Lees Ferry is one of over 8,000 that measure streamflow year-round in every state as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico and Guam.

The gauges are often stored in waterproof boxes perched near flowing water. They contain instruments that measure and record the amount of water in a river or stream approximately every 15 minutes. If there’s a flood, the gauge will collect measurements more frequently.

The Grand Canyon survey party at Lees Ferry. Left to right: Leigh Lint, boatman; H.E. Blake, boatman; Frank Word, cook; C.H. Birdseye, expedition leader; R.C. Moore, geologist; R.W. Burchard, topographer; E.C. LaRue, hydraulic engineer; Lewis Freeman, boatman, and Emery Kolb, head boatman. Boatman Leigh Lint, “a beefy athlete who could tear the rowlocks off a boat…absolutely fearless,” later went to college and became an engineer for the USGS. The Grand Canyon survey party at Lees Ferry in 1923. (Public domain.)

Sometimes, as in the case of the streamgage at Lees Ferry, the only way to access the gauge is by boat or cableway. “With a cableway, we basically zipline across the river to the streamgage,” Kurt Schonauer, a USGS scientist, said.

Schonauer visits the gauge about 10 times a year to ensure it’s working properly, do any necessary repairs and soak in its majestic locale. “It may not have a whole lot of fancy instrumentation, but it produces high-quality data,” Schonauer said.

The streamgage at Lees Ferry measures water height using a stilling well. Water from the river enters and leaves the well through underwater pipes, allowing the water surface in the well to be at the same level as the water in the river. The water level is measured inside the well using a float and noted in an electronic data recorder.

To determine how fast the water is flowing, USGS hydrologists and hydrologic technicians take streamflow measurements on the river or stream. Then, they develop a mathematical relation between the streamflow measurement and the water height values that the streamgage regularly collects. They use that mathematical relation to compute streamflow information every 15 minutes.

Anglers on rafts departing the boat dock at Lees Ferry, AZ. v(Credit: Lucas Bair, USGS. )

“This streamgage is at a really beautiful site,” Schonauer said. It’s a popular spot for recreation and a renowned trout fishing area. “A lot of people who go on rafting trips down the Grand Canyon check the gauge to make sure conditions are safe on the river,” Schonauer said.

When he’s not gazing at the beautiful layers of geology, working on the streamgage, or taking a streamflow measurement, Schonauer likes to check in on the local wildlife. “We have a resident beaver that we see from time to time,” Schonauer said.

As scientists, decision makers, recreationalists, fishermen, and, possibly, a beaver or two, celebrate the streamgage’s 100th birthday, they also look forward to 100 more years of robust and reliable information.

What does the term “stream stage” mean? — USGS

Eugene Clyde LaRue measuring the flow in Nankoweap Creek, 1923. Photo credit: USGS via Environment360

From the USGS:

Stream stage is an important concept when analyzing how much water is moving in a stream at any given moment. “Stage” is the water level above some arbitrary point in the river and is commonly measured in feet. For example, on a normal day when no rain has fallen for a while, a river might have a stage of 2 feet. If a big storm hits, the river stage could rise to 15 or 20 feet, sometimes very quickly. This is important because past records might tell us that when the stage hits 21 feet, the water will start flowing over its banks and into the basements of houses along the river — time to tell those people to move out! With modern technology, the USGS can monitor the stage of many streams almost instantly.

Hydrologists are able to convert stage height into streamflow volume by determining a rating curve for each site.

Learn more:

  • Streamgaging Basics
  • National Water Information System (NWIS) Mapper
  • Great Salt Lake Reaches New Historic Low — USGS

    USGS hydrologic technician Travis Gibson confirms Great Salt Lake water levels at the SaltAire gauge.
    (Credit: Andrew Freel, USGS. Public domain.)

    Here’s the release from the USGS (Jennifer LaVista):

    The southern portion of the Great Salt Lake is at a new historic low, with average daily water levels dropping about an inch below the previous record set in 1963, according to U.S. Geological Survey information collected at the SaltAir gauge location.

    “Based on current trends and historical data, the USGS anticipates water levels may decline an additional foot over the next several months,” said USGS Utah Water Science Center data chief Ryan Rowland. “This information is critical in helping resource managers make informed decisions on Great Salt Lake resources. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

    Wind events can cause temporary changes in lake levels. Therefore, the USGS emphasizes that average daily values provide the most representative measurement. The USGS maintains a record of Great Salt Lake elevations dating back to 1847.

    “While the Great Salt Lake has been gradually declining for some time, current drought conditions have accelerated its fall to this new historic low,” said Utah Department of Natural Resources executive director Brian Steed. “We must find ways to balance Utah’s growth with maintaining a healthy lake. Ecological, environmental and economical balance can be found by working together as elected leaders, agencies, industry, stakeholders and citizens working together.”

    Streamflow levels across the state are also being impacted by extreme drought conditions. Currently, 63% (77/122) of streamgages with at least 20 years of record are reporting below-normal flows.

    Current extreme drought conditions, water levels, weather and flood forecasts are available via the USGS National Water Dashboard on your computer, smartphone or other mobile device. This tool provides critical information to decision-makers, emergency managers and the public during flood and drought events, informing decisions that can help protect lives and property.

    A sailboat is removed from the Great Salt Lake Marina due to low lake levels. (Credit: Andrew Freel, USGS. Public domain.)

    USGS Report: Assessment of Streamflow and Water Quality in the Upper #YampaRiver Basin, Colorado, 1992–2018

    Click here to read the report (Natalie K. Day). Here’s the abstract:

    The Upper Yampa River Basin drains approximately 2,100 square miles west of the Continental Divide in north-western Colorado. There is a growing need to understand potential changes in the quantity and quality of water resources as the basin is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with stakeholders in the Upper Yampa River Basin water community, began a study to characterize and identify changes in streamflow and selected water-quality constituents, including suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate, in the basin. This study used streamflow and water-quality data from selected U.S. Geological Survey sites to provide a better understanding of how major factors, including land use, climate change, and geological features, may influence streamflow and water quality.

    Analysis of long-term (1910–2018) and short-term (1992–2018) records of streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and tributary sites indicate downward trends in one or more streamflow statistics, including 1-day maximum, mean, and 7-day minimum. Long-term downward trends in daily mean streamflow in April (22 percent overall) at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, correspond to observed changes in streamflow documented across western North America and the Colorado River Basin that are predominately associated with changes in snowmelt runoff and temperatures. During the short-term period of analysis, decreases in streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and some tributary sites are likely related to changes in consumptive use and reservoir management or, at sites with no upstream flow impoundments, changes in irrigation diversions and climate.

    Concentrations of water-quality constituents were typically highest in spring (March, April, and May) during the early snowmelt runoff period as material that is washed off the land surface drains into streams. Highest concentrations occurred slightly later, in May, June, and July, at Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir, Colo., and slightly earlier, in February and March at Yampa River at Milner, Colo., indicating that these sites may have different or additional sources of phosphorus from upstream inputs. Yampa River at Milner, Colo., and Yampa River above Elkhead Creek, Colo., had the highest net yields of suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus, and are likely influenced by land use and erosion as the basins of both of these sites are underlain by highly erodible Cretaceous shales.

    Upward trends in estimated Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and loads were found at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colo. From 1999 to 2018, the Kjeldahl nitrogen concentration increased by 10 percent or 0.035 milligram per liter, and load increased by 22 percent or 26 tons. Total phosphorus concentration increased by 20 percent or 0.0081 milligram per liter, and loads increased by 41 percent or 6.2 tons. Decreases in streamflow and changes in land use may contribute to these trends.

    During multiple summer sampling events at Stagecoach Reservoir, the physical and chemical factors indicated conditions conducive to cyanobacterial blooms, including surface-water temperatures greater than 20 degrees Celsius and total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in exceedance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment interim concentrations for water-quality standards. Local geological features (predominately sandstones and shales) and additional inputs from upstream land use likely contribute to the elevated nutrient conditions in Stagecoach Reservoir.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    Webinar: Gunnison State of the River meeting, June 10, 2021 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gunnison River in Colorado. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation

    Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

    Join the Colorado River District for the Gunnison State of the River webinar on Thursday, June 10 at 6 pm! Our experts and special guests will be presenting on river forecasts, landmark accomplishments, project opportunities, and the impacts of and on recreation for the Gunnison.

    One of the major tributaries of the Colorado River, your Gunnison River provides the life force for local West Slope communities. Learn more about the river’s hydrology and water supply as we enter another drought year, celebrate a Lower Gunnison victory that’s been years in the making, and hear from David Dragoo, founder of Mayfly, about the West Slope recreation economy and its impacts.

    You’ll also receive information on exciting new funding for Gunnison River Basin water projects and plans to sustain flows throughout the basin as conditions shift to hotter, drier seasons.

    If you cannot attend the webinar live, register to receive an emailed webinar recording for later viewing!

    Agenda:

    Welcome – Marielle Cowdin & Zane Kessler, Director of Public Relations and Director of Government Relations, Colorado River District (CRD)

    Your Gunnison River, a Water Supply Update – Bob Hurford, Division 4 Engineer, Colorado Department of Natural Resources

    The Lower Gunnison Project: Modernization in Action – Dave “DK” Kanzer, Director of Science and Interstate Matters, CRD

    A Victory for the Lower Gunnison – Raquel Flinker, Sr. Water Resources Engineer/Project Manager, CRD and Ken Leib, Office Chief of the Colorado Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey

    Rivers on the Fly, Recreation Economy and Impacts – David Dragoo, Founder of Mayfly

    Community Funding Partnership – Amy Moyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships, CRD

    Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    Large Decreases in Upper Colorado River Salinity Since 1929 — @USGS

    Here’s the release from the USGS (Heidi Koontz):

    Salinity levels in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which covers portions of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, have steadily decreased since 1929, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study analyzing decades of water-quality measurements.

    Photo credit: USGS

    Salinity is the concentration of dissolved salt in water. High salinity levels in the Colorado River Basin cause an estimated $300-400 million per year in economic damages across U.S. agricultural, municipal and industrial sectors, as well as negatively impact municipal and agricultural users in Mexico. Reducing high salinity levels can benefit crop production, and decrease water treatment costs and damage to water supply infrastructure.

    Findings indicate that large, widespread and sustained downward trends in salinity occurred over the last 50 to 90 years, with salinity levels decreasing by as much as 50% at some locations. The timing and amount of salinity reductions suggest that changes in land cover, land use and climate, in addition to salinity-control measures, substantially affect how dissolved salts find their way into streams that feed the basin.

    “Identifying the causes of dropping salinity levels will be important for water managers in the basin so they can anticipate future changes in salinity and optimize salinity-control practices going forward,” said Christine Rumsey, USGS scientist and lead author of the study.

    Results show the steepest rates of decline in salinity occurred from 1980 to 2000, coincident with the initiation of salinity-control efforts in the 1980s. However, there has been a consistent slowing of downward trends after 2000 even though salinity-control efforts continued. Significant decreases in salinity occurred as early as the 1940s in some streams, indicating that, in addition to salinity-control projects, other watershed factors are important drivers of salinity change.

    “Having access to almost a century’s worth of salinity data provides greater insight to the water-quality changes that occurred prior to the implementation of salinity-control projects,” said Don Barnett, Executive Director of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum. “These findings are key in helping us understand the processes that cause and reduce salinity and assist us in our goal of protecting water quality in the Colorado River.”

    Salinity occurs naturally in water due to weathering and the breaking down of minerals in soils and rock. The same process occurs in areas with irrigated agriculture, when irrigation water flows through soils and dissolves salts which eventually travel into streams. Irrigated areas contribute significantly more to stream salinity compared to areas without irrigated agriculture. Other factors known to affect salinity include geology, land cover, land-use practices, precipitation and climate.

    “These findings indicate the issue of salinity in the Colorado River Basin is very complex,” said Rumsey. “Further work is needed to better understand the roles that climate change, land-use, reservoirs, population dynamics and irrigation practices play in salinity issues, which impact the economic well-being of the West and are important to U.S. relations with Mexico.”

    Funding for this study was provided by the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management. In 1974, Congress enacted the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act, which directed the Secretary of the Interior to proceed with a program to enhance and protect the quality of water available in the Colorado River for use in the U. S. and Republic of Mexico. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program implements and manages programs to reduce salinity loads, investing millions of dollars per year in irrigation upgrades, canal projects and other mitigation strategies.

    The USGS is the primary scientific agency for collecting data on water quality and flow in the nation’s rivers, with more than 13,500 real-time stream, lake and reservoir, precipitation and groundwater data stations across the country. The USGS also conducts analyses of these data to evaluate the status and trends of water-quality conditions.

    The new study was published in the journal Water Resources Research.

    Landscape view of the San Rafael River in Utah.
    Courtesy: Wyatt Brown. Public Domain.
    White salts covers the surface of the San Rafael Swell, Utah.
    ​​​​​​​Credit: USGS. Public domain.

    Invasive Zebra Mussels Found in Pet Stores in 21 States — @USGS

    Here’s the release from the USGS:

    A citizen’s report of an invasive zebra mussel found in an aquarium moss package found in a pet store prompted a U.S. Geological Survey expert on invasive aquatic species to trigger nationwide alerts that have led to the discovery of the destructive shellfish in pet stores in at least 21 states from Alaska to Florida.

    A moss ball sold in pet stores containing an invasive zebra mussel. USGS photo.

    Amid concerns that the ornamental aquarium moss balls containing zebra mussels may have accidentally spread the pest to areas where it has not been seen before, federal agencies, states, and the pet store industry are working together to remove the moss balls from pet store shelves nationwide. They have also drawn up instructions for people who bought the moss balls or have them in aquariums to carefully decontaminate them, destroying any zebra mussels and larvae they contain using one of these methods: freezing them for at least 24 hours, placing them in boiling water for at least one minute, placing them in diluted chlorine bleach, or submerging them in undiluted white vinegar for at least 20 minutes. The decontamination instructions were developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS and representatives of the pet industry.

    Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk native to freshwaters in Eurasia. They clog water intakes for power and water plants, block water control structures, and damage fishing and boating equipment, at great cost. The federal government, state agencies, fishing and boating groups and others have worked extensively to control their spread.

    In 1990, in response to the first wave of zebra mussel invasions, the USGS set up its Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, which tracks sightings of about 1,270 non-native aquatic plants and animals nationwide, including zebra mussels. State and local wildlife managers use the database to find and eliminate or control potentially harmful species.

    The coordinator of the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, USGS fisheries biologist Wesley Daniel, learned about the presence of zebra mussels in moss balls on March 2 and alerted others nationwide about the issue. Moss balls are ornamental plants imported from Ukraine that are often added to aquariums.

    “The issue is that somebody who purchased the moss ball and then disposed of them could end up introducing zebra mussels into an environment where they weren’t present before,” Daniel said. “We’ve been working with many agencies on boat inspections and gear inspections, but this was not a pathway we’d been aware of until now.”

    On February 25, an employee of a pet store in Seattle, Washington, filed a report to the database that the employee had recently recognized a zebra mussel in a moss ball. Daniel requested confirming information and a photograph and received it a few days later.

    Daniel immediately notified the aquatic invasive species coordinator for Washington State and contacted invasive species managers at the USGS and USFWS. He visited a pet store in Gainesville, Florida, and found a zebra mussel in a moss ball there. At that point federal non-indigenous species experts realized the issue was extensive.

    The USFWS is coordinating the response along with the USGS. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, several state wildlife agencies and an industry group, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, are also taking steps to mitigate the problem. National alerts have gone out from the USFWS, the federal Aquatic Nuisance Task and regional aquatic invasive species management groups. Reports of zebra mussels in moss balls have come from Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington and Wyoming.

    “I think this was a great test of the rapid-response network that we have been building,” Daniel said. “In two days, we had a coordinated state, federal and industry response.”

    The USGS is also studying potential methods to help control zebra mussels that are already established in the environment, such as low-dose copper applications, carbon dioxide and microparticle delivery of toxicants.

    To report a suspected sighting of a zebra mussel or another non-indigenous aquatic plant or animal, go to https://nas.er.usgs.gov/SightingReport.aspx.

    In May of 2018, USGS Hydrologic Technician Dave Knauer found a batch of zebra mussels attached to the boat anchor in the St. Lawrence River in New York. (Credit: John Byrnes, USGS. Public domain.)

    The geomorphology of #FountainCreek: Life in the Watershed — Fountain Creek Watershed and Greenway District

    Elevation (2015, 2019) and Elevation-Change (2015−19) Maps—Study Area 01 By Laura A. Hempel 2020 via USGS

    From The Fountain Creek Watershed and Greenway District (Bill Banks) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    If you catch glimpses of Fountain Creek while driving, biking or walking along the creek, you know it tends to be relatively inactive. You might notice cloudy water due to suspended sediment, or you might spot new underwater sandbars. Most likely, you won’t see major changes. But guess what? Fountain Creek is always changing.

    Every year, Laura Hempel PhD and a team of USGS scientists investigate how our creek is changing. Dr. Hempel is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado Water Science Center, located in Pueblo. She explains that fluvial geomorphology is the study of how rivers shape the landscape — and are shaped by the landscape. This broad definition includes the concepts of hydrology (where the water is, how it gets there, where it’s going) and sedimentation transport. It also encompasses ecology, since vegetation influences how rivers behave.

    The USGS began monitoring the geomorphology of Fountain Creek in 2012, and Dr. Hempel joined the team in 2018. Currently, the team measures elevation and elevation change in 10 study areas annually, between January and April. This “leaf-off” season improves the GPS signals. (GPS enables the team to identify exact locations.) Plus, the low flow rate during winter makes it easier to wade in and collect data in the wetted channel. This annual monitoring effort is conducted in cooperation with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    In the past, the team used manual survey methods — a time-intensive “boots on the ground” approach. Covering the nearly 400 acres was a monumental effort! This year, the team will begin using LiDAR, an aerial-based mapping technology. “We can collect orders of magnitude more data points with LiDAR,” Dr. Hempel says. “Those data will allow us to produce much higher-resolution maps, which is really exciting.”

    In addition to measuring elevation and elevation change, annual monitoring of Fountain Creek’s topography will allow the team to study a variety of geomorphic metrics in the future. “For example, examining changes in the streambed’s elevation can indicate whether a reach is aggrading due to sedimentation or degrading due to erosion,” Dr. Hempel notes. “We also have the ability to measure the width and depth of the active stream channel and document specific changes in geomorphology. For example, is the channel cross-section smooth and U-shaped or is it complex and braided? Is the channel migrating laterally or straightening? These are some examples of metrics we can measure from this long-term monitoring data to quantify the river’s changing geomorphology.”

    Why monitor the geomorphology of Fountain Creek?

    Dr. Hempel explains that measuring changes in river geomorphology can lead to understanding WHY a change is happening. Specifically, what is causing the change? “Here’s the tricky thing,” she notes. “Rivers are dynamic. For example, river meandering is a natural process. Rivers are constantly evolving, so it’s difficult to disentangle natural geomorphic change and evolution from change that is outside of the river’s natural variability. Taking a step back even further, long-term monitoring tells us whether observed geomorphic changes are — or are not — outside of the river’s natural variability.”

    What might indicate an anomalous change from natural variability? “The long-term dataset can give us clues,” Dr. Hempel explains, adding a hypothetical example. “Let’s say that in the historic past, a particular meander bend grew at a rate of ½ foot per year, but for the last 10 years that same meander bend grew at a rate of five feet per year. This could indicate a fundamental change in the behavior of the river. The long-term datasets are incredibly important to document the baseline condition and, subsequently, determine whether a river has changed in a way that is outside of its natural variability.”

    Active monitoring gives us an understanding of the long-term picture, particularly when a river’s behavior impacts us. “If a river is migrating laterally at a faster rate and this reduces a farmer’s acreage or threatens I-25, that’s a problem,” Dr. Hempel notes. “Managers in the basin could address this one-off problem by installing riprap, for example, but that might not resolve the long-term issue. By identifying the cause, the long-term issue becomes solvable. That’s why monitoring Fountain Creek’s geomorphology is so important.”

    An engaged and informed public is a vital piece of the puzzle

    Dr. Hempel encourages residents of Fountain Creek watershed to learn more about our creek. “A river reflects all the changes upstream of it,” she says. “Hydrologists call it the ‘pour point.’ Our creek literally integrates everything that is happening upstream: water, erosion, sediment and people. It’s possible that Fountain Creek can be a healthy, ‘well-behaved’ river. Or it’s possible that it won’t be healthy and well-behaved. When we have an informed public, with their voice and votes, residents can better understand our creek. They can say what they want Fountain Creek to be and, if needed, support and implement measures to improve it.”

    Check out interactive maps of Fountain Creek!

    If a picture’s worth a thousand words, an interactive map may be worth 10 times more. Take a few minutes to review a brief report titled “Elevation and Elevation-Change Maps of Fountain Creek, Southeastern Colorado, 2015-19,” authored by Dr. Hempel. And don’t miss the 10 interactive maps that accompany the report, illustrating elevation changes for each of the 10 Fountain Creek study areas.

    For example, Study Area 1’s map layers show that the meander bend in this reach migrated toward the west and became more exaggerated between 2015 and 2019. Click the elevation-change map button, and you’ll notice that its lateral migration resulted in deposition (an increase in elevation) on the east side of the main channel and erosion (a decrease in elevation) on the west side.

    To access the maps’ interactive layers, you’ll need to download the PDF files and view them in Adobe Acrobat DC — or use Adobe Reader DC, which is free to download. Find the report and maps here: http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sim3456.

    Bill Banks is the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The District was established in 2009, to manage, administer and fund capital improvements necessary to maintain critical infrastructure and improve the watershed for the benefit of everyone in the Fountain Creek watershed.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    Flooding events a major concern for Grand County following #EastTroublesomFire — The Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The map above displays estimates of the likelihood of debris flow (in %), potential volume of debris flow (in m3), and combined relative debris flow hazard. These predictions are made at the scale of the drainage basin, and at the scale of the individual stream segment. Estimates of probability, volume, and combined hazard are based upon a design storm with a peak 15-minute rainfall intensity of 24 millimeters per hour (mm/h). Predictions may be viewed interactively by clicking on the button at the top right corner of the map displayed above. Map credit: USGS

    From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Amy Golden):

    One of the biggest concerns following the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County is flooding risk, specifically flooding that picks up debris to create mudflows. Local and national officials are working to get the word out about this new risk and prepare Grand County for a changed landscape this summer…

    A number of watersheds were burned in the East Troublesome Fire, including 94% of the Willow Creek Watershed, 90% of the Stillwater Creek Watershed, 42% of the North Inlet Watershed and 29% of the Colorado River Watershed.

    Projections have found that water flow from snowmelt and weather events on the burn scar could be 14 times higher than before. According to Grand County Emergency Manager Joel Cochran, the National Weather Service will be monitoring rainstorms that produce even a little bit of rain…

    The US Geological Survey has also produced preliminary hazard assessment across the East Troublesome burn scar. The assessment found that most of the water basins in the burn scar present a moderate risk of debris flow hazards with a high risk in certain areas.

    County officials have been working to identify specific risks to property and life.

    The first part of that included field surveys for damage assessments, which were completed last week. Using additional modeling, risk for various structures have been further assessed and officials are working to communicate that hazard to land owners.

    In her Tuesday update to commissioners, Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris added that some narrow canyons and roads near flowing water would likely need formal evacuation plans.

    Decreased flow projected for Southwest streams by end of century — @USGS #ColoradoRiver #COriver #RioGrande #aridification

    Graphs showing water-year time series of basin-mean, annual-mean (A) precipitation (millimeters per year), (B) temperature (degrees Celsius), (C) April 1 snow water equivalent (millimeters), (D) surface albedo, (E) surface net radiation (watts per square meter), (F) evapotranspiration (millimeters per year), and (G) discharge per unit area (millimeters per year). Blue curves represent estimates from observations, and grey bands represent ensemble range of model outputs. Black line represents least-squares linear fit.(Credit: Paul (Chris) Milly, USGS)

    Here’s the release from the USGS:

    Streamflow in the Southwestern U.S. is projected to decrease by as much as 36–80% by the end of this century, reports a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. Decreases of this magnitude would challenge our ability to meet future water demand in this region and could jeopardize compliance with interstate and international water-sharing agreements.

    The study projects streamflow for the seven major river basins that comprise the U.S. Southwest, including the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins. Projections were done for three 30-year intervals starting in 2020 using seven different climate models, two greenhouse gas concentration scenarios, and a streamflow model. The maximum projected decreases for the river basins range from 36 to 80%. Some increases are projected as well, mostly during the next 30 years. However, most models suggest that substantial water stresses in the region are likely by about 2060.

    Streams in the region provide water for drinking, agriculture, hydroelectric power, recreation, and ecosystems. Water-supply shortages would affect all uses and would affect interstate and international water-sharing agreements. Decreases in streamflow in key areas for interstate and international water sharing agreements show potential declines up to 62%, putting agreement compliance at risk.

    The results of this study, reached using an entirely different approach, are consistent with and support those of a recent USGS study that investigates how declining snow cover is playing a key role in decreasing the flow of the Colorado River.

    Citation: Miller, O.L., Putman, A.L., Alder, J., Miller, M., Jones, D.K., Wise, D.R., 2021. Changing climate drives future streamflow declines and challenges in meeting water demand across the southwestern United States. Journal of Hydrology X, 11: 100074. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hydroa.2021.100074

    The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers: “Geology is geology…We can’t do anything about that” (Michelle Sneed) — Wired

    Types of ground subsidence. Graphic credit: By Mpetty1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14698311

    From Wired (Matt Simon):

    When humans over-exploit underground water supplies, the ground collapses like a huge empty water bottle. It’s called subsidence, and it could affect 1.6 billion people by 2040.

    AS CALIFORNIA’S ECONOMY skyrocketed during the 20th century, its land headed in the opposite direction. A booming agricultural industry in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with punishing droughts, led to the over-extraction of water from aquifers. Like huge, empty water bottles, the aquifers crumpled, a phenomenon geologists call subsidence. By 1970, the land had sunk as much as 28 feet in the valley, with less-than-ideal consequences for the humans and infrastructure above the aquifers.

    San Joaquin Valley Subsidence. Photo credit: USGS

    The San Joaquin Valley was geologically primed for collapse, but its plight is not unique. All over the world—from the Netherlands to Indonesia to Mexico City—geology is conspiring with climate change to sink the ground under humanity’s feet. More punishing droughts mean the increased draining of aquifers, and rising seas make sinking land all the more vulnerable to flooding. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, in the next two decades, 1.6 billion people could be affected by subsidence, with potential loses in the trillions of dollars.

    “Subsidence has been neglected in a lot of ways because it is slow moving. You don’t recognize it until you start seeing damage,” says Michelle Sneed, a land subsidence specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey and coauthor on the paper. “The land sinking itself is not a problem. But if you’re on the coast, it’s a big problem. If you have infrastructure that crosses long areas, it’s a big problem. If you have deep wells, they’re collapsing because of subsidence. That’s a problem.”

    For subsidence to become a problem, you need two things: The right kind of land, and an over-exploited aquifer. Aquifers hold water in between bits of sand, gravel, or clay. When the amount of clay in an aquifer is particularly high, the grains arrange themselves like plates thrown haphazardly in a sink—they’ve basically got random orientations, and the water fills in the spaces between the grains. But if you start extracting water from an aquifer, those spaces collapse and the grains draw closer together. “Those plates rearrange themselves into more like a stack of dinner plates that you put in your cupboard,” says Sneed. “It takes a lot less space, obviously, to stack the plates that way. And so that’s the compaction of the aquifer system that then results in land subsidence at the surface.”

    But wouldn’t pumping more water back into the aquifer force the clay plates back to their random, spacey orientations? Unfortunately, no. “It’ll press those grains apart a little bit—you’ll get a little bit of expansion in the aquifer system represented as uplift on the land surface. But it’s a tiny amount,” says Sneed. We’re talking maybe three quarters of an inch of movement. “They’re still stacked like the plates in your cupboard,” she continues.

    So at this point you’ve got a double-barreled problem: The land has sunk and it won’t reinflate, and the aquifers won’t hold as much water as they once did, because they’ve compressed. “And that’s an important point,” says Sneed. “As places around the world, including California, are starting to use aquifer systems as managed reservoirs, the compaction of them prior to now has reduced their ability to store water.”

    […]

    But scientists haven’t modeled global risks of subsidence—until now. To build their model, Sneed and her colleagues scoured the existing literature on land subsidence in 200 locations worldwide. They considered those geological factors (high clay content), as well as topology, as subsidence is more likely to happen on flat land. They factored in population and economic growth, data on water use, and climate variables.

    The researchers found that, planet-wide, subsidence could threaten 4.6 million square miles of land in the next two decades. While that’s just 8 percent of Earth’s land, humanity tends to build big cities in coastal areas, which are prone to subsidence. So they estimate that, in the end, 1.6 billion people could be affected. The modeling further found that worldwide, subsidence exposes assets totaling a gross domestic product of $8.19 trillion, or 12 percent of global GDP.

    True, gradual subsidence isn’t as destructive as a sudden earthquake or volcanic eruption. “But it will cause these indirect effects or impacts that, in the long term, can produce either damages to structures or infrastructure, or increase floodable areas in these river basins or coastal areas,” says geoscientist Gerardo Herrera-García of the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, lead author on the paper.

    Subsidence is uniquely sensitive to climate change—at least indirectly. On a warmer planet, droughts are longer and more intense. “This is very important,” says Herrera-García. “Because no matter the amount of annual rainfall you have, the most important issue is that you have a prolonged drought period.” Dry reservoirs will lead cities to pump even more water out of their aquifers, and once you collapse the structure of an aquifer by neatly stacking those plates of clay grains, there’s no going back. For the 1.6 billion people potentially affected by subsidence—and that’s just by the year 2040—the consequences could be dire, leading to both water shortages and the flooding of low-lying land…

    At the end of the day, subsiding cities are up against unstoppable physical forces. “Geology is geology,” says Sneed. “We can’t do anything about that.”

    Why understanding #snowpack could help the overworked #ColoradoRiver — The Deseret News #COriver #aridification

    Horseshoe Bend.

    From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    The U.S. Geological Survey is in the beginning stages of learning more about this river via an expanded and more sophisticated monitoring system that aims to study details about the snowpack that feeds the river basin, droughts and flooding, and how streamflow supports groundwater, or vice versa.

    Begun earlier this year, the probe is part of a larger effort by the federal agency to study 10 critical watersheds throughout the country by expanding its monitoring capabilities.

    According to the research agency, it maintains real-time monitors that provide data on the nation’s water resources, including more than 11,300 stream gauges that measure surface-water flow and/or levels; 2,100 water-quality stations; 17,000 wells that monitor groundwater levels; and 1,000 precipitation stations.

    While that may seem like a lot, the network falls short of meeting the demands of modern-day analysis. The monitors in place cover less than 1% of the nation’s streams and groundwater aquifers and were designed to meet the needs of the past, according to the agency.

    The USGS will be installing new monitoring equipment and enhancing existing streamgages in the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin (Upper Colorado River Basin) beginning in 2020, subject to availability of funding. Credit: USGS

    Because of this, the agency is investing in the Next Generation Water Observing System, which will tap sophisticated new monitoring capabilities resulting from recent advances in water science.

    The effort will also bring together the knowledge and expertise of agency scientists, resource managers and other stakeholders to determine water information needs not only now, but into the future.

    The system will use both fixed and mobile equipment — including drones — to collect data on streamflow, evapotranspiration, snowpack, soil moisture, water quality, groundwater/surface-water connections, stream velocity distribution, sediment transport and water use.

    When it comes to the Colorado, understanding snowpack is critical because the Upper Colorado River Basin supplies about 90% of the water for the entire Colorado River Basin — with about 85% of the river flow originating as snowmelt from about 15% of the basin at the highest altitudes.

    The lower basin is arid and depends upon that managed use of the Colorado River system to make the surrounding land habitable and productive.

    “New monitoring technology is essential to addressing many issues associated with our annual water balance in the Upper Colorado River Basin,” said Dave “DK” Kanzer, who is deputy chief engineer at Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    Next Generation Water Observing System: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin — @USGS #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River. Photo credit: USGS

    Here’s the release from the USGS (Chad Wagner):

    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 will be installing new monitoring equipment and enhancing existing streamgages in the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin (Upper Colorado River Basin) beginning in 2020, subject to availability of funding. Credit: USGS

    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.

    NGWOS Characteristics

  • 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
  • Briefing sheet

    The USGS Next Generation Water Observing System Upper Colorado & Gunnison River Basin: Briefing sheet

    #Snowpack in the #ColoradoRiver basin (in #Colorado) plummeted to half its peak by May 14, 2020 #runoff

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 15, 2020 via the NRCS.

    Here’s a screenshot of the USGS Water Watch website showing Colorado streamflow conditions today.

    USGS Water Watch May 15, 2020.

    What is the difference between a confined and an unconfined (water-table) aquifer? — @USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    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.

    Learn more:

  • Aquifers and Groundwater
  • Aquifer Basics
  • Credit: National Atlas of the U.S.

    #Groundwater True/False Quiz: @USGS Water #Science School

    Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Click here to take the quiz.

    @USGS: Next Generation Water Observing System: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

    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 will be installing new monitoring equipment and enhancing existing streamgages in the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin (Upper Colorado River Basin) beginning in 2020, subject to availability of funding. Credit: USGS

    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.

    NGWOS Characteristics

  • 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
  • Aquifers: Map of the Principal Aquifers of the United States — @USGS

    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.)

    Principal aquifers of the United States (modified from Principal Aquifers, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003)

    @USGS: Numerical Model Simulations of Potential Changes in Water Levels and Capture of Natural Discharge From Groundwater Withdrawals in Snake Valley and Adjacent Areas, Utah and Nevada

    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.

    July 31, 1976 Big Thompson Flood — @USGS

    Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.
    Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.

    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.

    Powell Expedition—What did the Powell expedition members eat? Then and Now. — @USGS #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    The camp and cooking setup for the second expedition (pictured) was likely very similar to the first expedition and consisted of a few pots and pans to cook over a fire. May 4, 1871. (Credit: E.O. Beaman. Public domain.)

    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.

    Austin Alvarado cracks eggs into a sizzling pan for breakfast sandwiches. (Public domain.)

    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.

    Powell 150 Expedition – sandwich
    Lunch was usually a sandwich packed in the morning, but with great scenery. Photo credit: USGS

    #Runoff news: The #ArkansasRiver is still running low as compared to average, along with many #Colorado streams

    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 on the graphic for the USGS Water Watch interactive map for Colorado.

    @USGS explainer, “Base Flow in Rivers”

    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.

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    @USBR bug flows show promise in the #GrandCanyon #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Glen Canyon Dam

    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.

    @USGS: Significant Milestone in Whooping Crane Recovery

    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.

    Whooping crane adult and chick. Credit: USGS (public domain)

    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 scientist training whooping crane chicks to follow an ultralight aircraft. Credit: USGS (public domain)

    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.

    USGS scientists use a whooping crane puppet to train a newly hatched chick to eat. Credit: Jonathan Fiely, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (public domain)

    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.

    More Information

    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

    Whooping crane standing in shallow water. Credit: Randolph Femmer, USGS (public domain)
    Young whooping crane and costumed USGS caretakers at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Credit: Jonathan L. Fiely, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (public domain)

    @USGS and Colorado School of Mines announce long-term partnership

    Junior environmental engineering students measure water quality parameters for their field session client, Clear Creek Watershed Foundation. (Credit: Deirdre O. Keating)

    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.

    @USGS Crews Work Fast to Capture Evidence of Devastating Carolina Floods

    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.

    Double-checking a high water mark on a church door near Maxton, NC September 2018 via USGS.

    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.

    USGS hydrologic technician Rob Forde flags a high water mark above the eaves at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Spring Hill, NC in the wake of flooding brought on by Hurricane Florence. Credit: Kagho Asongu, USGS. Public domain.

    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.

    This flood event viewer, dated Oct. 3, 2018, shows the extent and type of information collected by USGS hydrologists in North and South Carolina in the wake of historic flooding brought on by Hurricane Florence. Credit: USGS. Public domain.

    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.

    Can steadier releases from Glen Canyon Dam make #ColoradoRiver ‘buggy’ enough for fish and wildlife? #COriver

    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.

    It turns out that streamflow in the #AnimasRiver near Farmington was a monster 5 CFS rather than the 0 CFS reported

    West Drought Monitor July 3, 2018.

    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.

    @USGS: Water Use Across the United States Declines to Levels Not Seen Since 1970

    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.”

    Total water withdrawals by State, 2015 [1 Bgal/d = 1,000 million gallons per day].

    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.

    Total water withdrawals by category and by State from west to east, 2015 [1 Bgal/d = 1,000 million gallons per day].

    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.

    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.

    Variability of hydrological #droughts in the conterminous United States, 1951 through 2014

    Click here to go to the USGS website to read the report. Here’s the abstract:

    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.

    @USGS: Browse/download 38,000+ historic photos on our USGS Photographic Library website

    Long bar with multiplex projectors. Photogrammetry, Topographic Division, U.S. Geological Survey. Denver, Colorado. 1955. Photo credit: USGS

    Click here to access the site. (Not safe for work unless you are a historian.)

    White River algae mitigation update

    Bloom on the White River.
    Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

    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.

    Deep in the Grand Canyon, @USGS Scientists Struggle to Bring Back the Bugs — UNDARK

    Via the USGS

    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.

    Crystal Rapid via HPS.com

    Raton Basin Earthquakes Linked to Oil and Gas Fluid Injections — @CIRESnews

    Raton Basin map via the USGS.

    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.

    @USGS: Water-level and recoverable water in storage changes, High Plains aquifer, predevelopment to 2015 and 2013–15

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the release from the US Geological Survey:

    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.”

    @USGS: Landsat live

    Screen shot of the LandSat live feed June 3, 2017 over Russia.

    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!.

    @USGS Monthly Groundwater News and Highlights: May 1, 2017

    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.

    @USGS: National Hydrography Dataset / Watershed Boundary Dataset Map Service Improvement

    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.

    Summary of changes to National Map Hydrography service endpoints

    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 (atdoumbouya@usgs.gov).

    Webcast: Stormwater Contaminants of Emerging Concern — @theCWPInc

    Emerging contaminant transport. Graphic via the USGS.

    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.

    @USGS: Assessment of Moderate- and High-Temperature Geothermal Resources of the United States

    Map showing the location of identified moderate-temperature and high-temperature geothermal systems in the United States. Each system is represented by a black dot. Credit USGS.
    Map showing the location of identified moderate-temperature and high-temperature geothermal systems in the United States. Each system is represented by a black dot. Credit USGS.

    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.

    @USGS: Characterization and relation of precipitation, streamflow, and water-quality data at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado, water years 2013–14

    fortcarsonpinoncanyonusgs

    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.

    What different types of aerial photographs are available through the USGS?

    Landsat view of Colorado via the USGS.
    Landsat view of Colorado via the USGS.

    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.

    Learn more:

    Maps, Imagery, and Publications

    National Aerial Photography Provgram

    National High Altitude Photography Program
    EROS (Find Data)

    LandsatLook Viewer

    Earth Observing-1 (EO-1)

    @USGS: Groundwater Discharge to Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Varies in Response to #Drought #COriver

    Spring sampling location along Little Sandy River in southern Wyoming. Photo credit: Chris Shope, USGSPublic domain
    Spring sampling location along Little Sandy River in southern Wyoming. Photo credit: Chris Shope, USGSPublic domain

    Here’s the release from the USGS:

    USGS scientist collects noble gas sample from spring site near Roaring Judy, Colorado. Photo credit: Bert Stolp, USGS. Public domain
    USGS scientist collects noble gas sample from spring site near Roaring Judy, Colorado. Photo credit: Bert Stolp, USGS. Public domain

    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.

    Water quality and sampling equipment deployed at spring site near Roaring Judy, Colorado. Public domain
    Water quality and sampling equipment deployed at spring site near Roaring Judy, Colorado. Public domain

    New Study Quantifies Benefits of Agricultural Conservation in Upper Mississippi River Basin

    A harvested field in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Credit: USGS.
    A harvested field in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Credit: USGS.

    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.

    Fountain Creek District board meeting recap

    <a href="https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20145019">Report</a>: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013 -- USGS.
    Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013 — USGS.

    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.

    USGS: From aquifer to zooplankton – your source for water resource glossaries

    Click here to go to the USGS Water Glossaries webpage. (You know you want to spend most of the afternoon there.)

    USGS: Carbon in Water must be Accounted for in Projections of Future Climate

    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.

    Aerial view of Beaver Creek, Alaska. Credit: Mark Dornblaser, USGS.
    Aerial view of Beaver Creek, Alaska. Credit: Mark Dornblaser, USGS.