@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.