Twin storms boost Colorado’s January snowpack

Entire state blanketed with snow in early Feburary

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Mid-winter, and nearly all of Colorado has snow on the ground.

Staff Report

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Snowpack is at or above average in all of Colorado’s river basins.

A pair of storms that bookended January helped raise the statewide snowpack level to 111 percent of average as of Feb. 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Survey.

Satellite images and other remote sensors operation by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center storms left nearly the entire state blanketed in snow. Without those two storms, January snowfall would only have been about 70 percent of average for the month, said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor with the NRCS.

Snowfall continued through February 3, which increased snowpack totals to as high as 117 percent of normal as of Feb 4. The mountains of Southern Colorado saw the greatest increase in snow-water equivalent. From January 28 to February 3. total snowpack depth increased as much as 30 inches at the Cumbres Trestle SNOTEL in the San Juan Mountain range.

As of February 1, the snowpack was below average in only a handful of minor watersheds. All other drainages were above to well above normal. While the late January storms benefitted the entire state, January precipitation as a whole was particularly slim in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins and storms only amounted to about 75 percent of normal monthly snowpack accumulation.

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Environment: Congress passes plastic microbead ban

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Microplastic pollution from the Rhine River. Photo courtesy University of Basel.

New law seen as big win for aquatic environments

Staff Report

After years of studies showing how plastic microbeads are polluting streams, lakes and oceans, the U.S. is set to adopt a new law that will phase out the manufacture of plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017 and the sale of beauty products containing plastic microbeads by July 1, 2018.

Similar to California’s historic microbead ban signed into law earlier this year, the Microbead Free Waters Act (H.R. 1321) bans all plastic microbeads, including those made from so-called “biodegradable plastics,” the majority of which do not biodegrade in marine environments.

The law is a big win for the environment, where the microbeads have been found in birds, crabs and fish, making their way through the food chain.

One recent study found that up to 90 percent of all seabirds have ingested plastic microparticles. In Australia, researchers say that plastic pollution adds insult to injury for already stressed corals along the Great Barrier Reef. And the problem won’t disappear with a ban — the plastic particles are also building up in ocean sediments. Continue reading

USGS study finds high prevalence of intersex bass in Northeastern U.S. wildlife refuges

Smallmouth bass illegally introduced to Colorado waters threaten native fish.

Bass in and near wildlife refuges in the Northeastern U.S. are gender-confused.

Are endocrine disrupting chemicals to blame?

Staff Report

US Geological Survey researchers say they’re not 100 percent sure if endocrine-disrupting chemicals are to blame, but they’ve found that a full 85  percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass tested in waters in or near 19 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast U.S. were intersex.

Intersex is when one sex develops characteristics of the opposite sex. It is tied to the exposure of fish to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can affect the reproductive system and cause the development of characteristics of the opposite sex, such as immature eggs in the testes of male fish. Continue reading

Environment: EPA extends comment period on new rule to cut pharmaceutical pollution

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Water pollution from waste pharmaceuticals is becoming ubiquitous, to the detriment of the environment. @bberwyn photo.

Watchdogs offer suggestions to beef up regulation

Staff Report

After years of studies showing how pharmaceutical wastes are polluting streams and lakes, the EPA has finally proposed a modest rule to start curbing the contaminants.

A proposed rule published in August would create new standards for  healthcare facilities (including pharmacies) and reverse distributors. According to the agency, the rule would prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually by banning healthcare facilities from flushing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the sink and toilet.

More Summit Voice stories on pharmaceutical pollution:

Continue reading

New NASA study tracks world’s warming lakes

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Austria’s Neusiedler See is one of many lakes facing a serious global warming threat. @bberwyn photo.

Profound ecosystem changes expected

Staff Report

The world’s lakes are rapidly warming under a blanket of man-made greenhouse gases, threatening freshwater supplies and ecosystems, according to scientists who studied 25 years of satellite data and measurements from 235 lakes on six continents.

The findings show that lakes are warming far faster than either the oceans or the atmosphere — at a rate of 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. The warming is projected to have profound impacts, including a 20 percent increase in algal blooms that can rob lakes of oxygen and kill fish. Continue reading

Rhine River plastic pollution is the highest measured

3.9 million plastic items per square kilometer …

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A sample from the Rhine near Duisburg shows the variety of plastic pollution found in the water. Photo courtesy University of Basel.

Staff Report

Given the fact that microplastic debris is so widespread, it’s probably no surprise that the Rhine — Europe’s workhorse river — has been found to be among the most polluted by plastic.

The Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area has the highest concentration, at about 2,333,665 particles per square kilometer, with a peak at Rees on the Nederhijn, where 3.9 million plastic items per square kilometer (or 21,839 particles per 1000 cubic meters) were found in a single water sample. In general, extreme peaks may be reached after heavy rain or accidents. Continue reading

How does pharmaceutical pollution affect fish?

The Snake River courses through a boulder field near Keystone. Colorado.

Traces of medicine in freshwater streams have a wide range of impacts on fish.

New study documents wide range of impacts

Staff Report

Fish exposed to remnant traces of medicines, including pain relievers, muscle relaxants and antidepressants, grow more slowly and have a harder time escaping predators, say scientists who carefully studied the effects of pharmaceutical pollutants.

The study analyzed effects from nine individual pharmaceuticals, as well as varying mixtures of these chemicals, on both juvenile and adult fathead minnows. It was conducted by the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory at St. Cloud State University and the U.S. Geological Survey, with the findings published in a special edition of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry. Continue reading

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