Colorado wetlands to regain federal protection

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High alpine wetlands that aren’t directly connected with larger rivers will regain more protection under a proposed new federal rule. bberwyn photo.

New rule aims to clear up regulatory limbo for seasonal streams and isolated wetlands

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A proposed federal rule would restore protection to hundreds of Colorado streams and big swaths of wetlands, including beloved alpine creeks and the sandy washes of the Front Range that only hold water seasonally.

The seasonal streams and disconnected wetlands long were covered under the Clean Water Act, but a pair of complex U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 opened some loopholes the regulations. At the least, the legal limbo caused headaches for scientists and regulators trying to assess impacts of housing developments and new roads. In some cases, they weren’t sure if they even had authority to regulate filling or draining of some wetlands. Continue reading

Environment: USGS study measures success of abandoned mine cleanups in Montana

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Abandoned mine cleanups can help clean up polluted streams, a new USGS study in Montana finds. 

Water quality improving in Upper Clark Fork Basin

Staff Report

FRISCO — There are hopeful signs that the ongoing cleanup of abandoned mines around the West will pay off.

The U.S. Geological Survey, reported decreased levels  of toxic heavy metals in the streams of Montana’s Upper Clark Fork Basin that have been targeted by remediation efforts. Continue reading

Environment: Does coalbed methane development in Wyoming affect water quality?

Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

FRISCO — Some Wyoming watersheds may be showing signs of wear and tear due to coalbed methane development, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study done on the Powder and Tongue river basins in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.

According to the USGS, three sites on the Powder River show a difference in water quality between the time before coalbed methane development and during the production period. But thirteen other sites, including mainstem and tributaries to the Tongue and Powder Rivers in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, showed few substantial differences in water quality between the two time periods. Continue reading

Climate: USGS says most California streams flowing at less than 10 percent of normal

Widespread western drought continues

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Much of the West has been very dry during the first four months of the 2014 water year.

By Summit Voice

As California experiences its worst drought in more than a century, it’s probably not surprising that some stream gages in the northern part of the state are showing all-time record low readings, with 2013 in the record books as the driest calendar year in the state’s 119-year recorded history.

Low streamflow affects water availability for agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses, water quality, water temperature, recreational opportunities, and the maintenance of fish populations.

Recent precipitation has resulted in some increases in streamflow, snowpack, and reservoir levels, but severe drought conditions remain. Without significant additional precipitation, prior conditions will quickly return leaving most streams in the state at less than 10 percent of normal for this time of year. Continue reading

Environment: Ambitious Swan River restoration project near Breckenridge could benefit cutthroat trout

Forest Service wants to reconnect an aquatic ecosystem that was sliced apart by dredges in the mining era

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the gold Summit County’s old-timers managed to pull from local mountains and rivers, they left behind quite a mess. Along with toxic pollution oozing into rivers from some abandoned mines, other streams were turned completely inside-out, buried under tons of gravel.

That includes the Swan River, near Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service now hopes to reverse some of the damage with an ambitious five- to 10-year restoration project.

The Forest Service aims to recreate of two miles of stream, riparian, and restore uplands that were all destroyed by the dredge boats. The agency also wants to decommission some roads in the area, build a new road and trail, all within a mix ownership of private, county, town, and national forest lands. Another element of the project would create fish barriers to protect populations of cutthroat trout. Continue reading

Environment:: Some good news for endangered Colorado River fish

Recovery stakeholders find permanent sources of water to sustain needed late summer and autumn flows

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Endangered Colorado River Fish will benefit from permanent sources of water earmarked for a collaborative recovery effort. Click on the image to visit the recovery project website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Four endangered native fish species in the Upper Colorado River may have a little better chance a long-term survival, as stakeholders in a collaborative recovery program found permanent sources of water needed to protect aquatic habitat for the the fish.

Water previously provided from Williams Fork and Wolford reservoirs to benefit endangered fish recovery has been replaced with permanent sources at a cost of about $25 million. The water will come from Ruedi Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet) and  from Granby Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet). The releases from Granby Reservoir will also benefit flow conditions and water quality upstream of endangered fish habitat. Continue reading

Biodiversity: USGS study shows how streamflow variations affect fish diversity in Tennessee River Basin

Small changes from norm can have big impacts

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New research to help inform river management.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An in-depth U.S. Geological Survey study in the Tennessee River basin may help quantify how streamflow alteration changes aquatic ecosystems.

The research is based on community data collected by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and predictions of streamflow characteristics at more than 600 locations — and the findings indicate that even small deviations from natural streamflows can reduce fish diversity.

The  study highlights the importance of the timing, magnitude, and variability of low streamflows and the frequency and magnitude of high streamflows as key characteristics critical to assessing how fish communities change in response to streamflow alteration. Continue reading

Climate: Colorado snowpack tracking near average

Above-average precipitation in October and November give state a headstart to the runoff season

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Colorado snowpack is tracking very near average for the winter so far.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The snowpack in nearly every river basin in Colorado is at or above normal, federal watchers said this week.

This year’s January 1 snowpack readings are at 103 percent of median statewide, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist with the NRCS.

“This is a great start to the 2014 water year. As we saw in 2012 and 2013, early seasons deficits are difficult to make up later in the season … so being right where we should be this time of year gives us a head start compared to the past couple of years,” Philipps said. Continue reading

Global warming: Parts of Upper Rio Grande Basin could see water supply dwindle by 25 percent

Climate projections include more droughts and floods

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In the summer of 2013, New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir dwindled to its lowest level in forty years. By late July, despite the arrival of monsoon rains, the reservoir was still virtually empty. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory. Click on the image for more information.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Warmer temperatures and earlier spring runoff will cut water supplies by 25 percent in some key parts of the Upper Rio Grande Basin, according to a new report by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

According to the projections used by the agency, temperatures will rise about 4 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century and even though there won’t be a big change in total annual precipitation, the snowpack and runoff will shrink, and there will be more frequent and intense droughts and floods.

“This report uses the most current information and state of the art scientific methodology to project a range of future supply scenarios in the upper Rio Grande basin,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “It is a great first step and a call to action for water managers and users in the basin and the partner federal agencies to move forward and develop adaptation to the challenges this study brings to light.” Continue reading

House GOP tries to heist federal water rights

Radical anti-environmental GOP leaders seek to privatize water

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Tenmile Creek flows through the White River National Forest near Frisco, Colorado, helping to sustain aquatic ecosystems. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Anti-environmental House Republicans are at it again, this time trying to pull of one of the greatest heists of all time by passing a law that would ban agencies like the National Park Service and the Forest Service from exerting any control over water flowing off federal lands.

House Resolution 3189, the so-called Water Rights Protection Act, wouldn’t actually protect any water; instead, it would open the door for more private development of water for fracking and urban development by prohibiting “the conditioning of any permit, lease or any other use agreement on the transfer, relinquishment, or other impairment of any water right to the United States by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture.” Continue reading

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