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Toxic legacy of acid rain lingers in Canadian lakes

Calcium loss turning lakes to ‘jelly’

Even high mountain lakes are feeling the sting of nitrogen pollution.

Acid rain has fundamentally changed the chemistry and biology of some lakes.

Michael Arts, Canada Centre for Inland Waters

Tiny jelly covered plankton are displacing other organisms in some Canadian lakes to the detriment of fisheries and public water supplies. Photo courtesy Michael Arts, Canada Centre for Inland Waters.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The toxic legacy of acid rain lives on in lakes in Canada, and possibly other places around the world, according scientists who say they’ve traced a trend of reduced calcium levels leading to a “jellification” of some lakes.

Specifically, the changes in water chemistry have reduced populations of  calcium-rich plankton such as Daphnia — water fleas that dominate these ecosystems. Falling calcium levels mean Daphnia cannot get the nutrients they need to survive and reproduce, leading to a rise in other plankton species, including small jelly-clad organisms.

According to the new research, populations of those organisms has exploded in lakes across eastern Canada in the past 30 years. The average  population of these small invertebrate jellies in many Ontario lakes doubled between the mid-1980s and the mid-2000s. Continue reading

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Climate: Groundwater temps also going up

Runoff in North Tenmile Creek, Summit County Colorado.

Runoff in North Tenmile Creek, Summit County Colorado.

Rise in groundwater temps reflects surface temperature record

Staff Report

FRISCO — Decades of detailed temperature measurements from around the globe show how the thickening blanket of heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollutants is steadily raising surface and water temperatures, but until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of information about ground water. Now, scientists with ETH Zurich say groundwater temperature profiles echo those of the atmosphere, albeit damped and delayed.

For their study, the researchers used uninterrupted long-term temperature measurements of groundwater flows around the cities of Cologne and Karlsruhe, where the operators of the local waterworks have been measuring the temperature of the groundwater for 40 years. Continue reading

Report: U.S. water use drops 13 percent

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An irrigated hay field in western Colorado.

Per capita water usage drops 11 percent from 2005-2010

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that overall water use in the U.S. dropped to its lowest level in 45 years. The USGS has tracked national water use since 1950.

The new report shows that total daily withdrawals dropped about 13 percent, from about 410 billion gallons per day in 2005, to 355 billion gallons per day in 2010, mainly from improvements in water-use technologies and management.

“Even as the U.S. population continues to grow, people are learning to be more water conscious and do their part to help sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior.  Continue reading

Environment: Tracking pharmaceutical pollutants up the food chain

Fish-eating ospreys not showing signs of contamination

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Ospreys so far are not picking up significant amounts of pharmaceutical pollution found in many streams and rivers around the world. bberwyn photo

Staff Report

FRISCO — Pharmaceutical compounds from makeup and drugs are turning up in streams and rivers all over the world, even in remote Yucatan cenotes, but for now, they don’t seem to be working their way up the food chain.

The chemicals have been finding their way into the environment, primarily through wastewater, urban runoff and even biosolids applied to agricultural lands, but he impact on wildlife is unknown, so researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and Baylor University teamed up to try and track the pollutants through the food chain by testing ospreys. Continue reading

Environment: Bulkhead a big step in Peru Creek cleanup

All-out remediation effort targets acid mine drainage near Keystone Ski Area

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For decades, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine has been oozing heavy metals — zinc, manganese, cadmium, lead and and arsenic — into the waters of Peru Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River near Keystone, Colorado. The site has been the focus of intensive study during the past 15 years with the goal of improving water quality downstream.

Last week, engineers and environmental experts took a big step toward trying to staunch that flow by blocking one of the mine tunnels. If all goes well, the new bulkhead could reduce the direct discharge from the mine by about two-thirds, said Jeff Graves, a remediation expert with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

Graves explained that the new plug should force the water back into its natural underground pathways, trickling and percolating down through layers of rock and earth, and not as prone to the oxidation that’s key in the formation of acid mine drainage. Essentially, the work will restore the groundwater flow to more natural, pre-mining conditions, he said. Continue reading

Colorado River flows about average for 2014 water year

Storage still near all-time lows

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A 2014 water year map shows the continuing drought conditions in California, as well as dry patches from Texas, extending north into Oklahoma.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Near-average inflow to Lake Powell the past 12 months helped maintain storage at a similar level to last year in the key Colorado River reservoir. According to the Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

Microclimates may buffer some streams from global warming

Low flows in high country streams this summer. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Microclimates may partially buffer some streams, at least temporarily, from warming air temperatures. bberwyn photo

‘The one constant is that a healthy watershed will be more resilient to climate change than one that isn’t healthy …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Global warming is all but sure to raise stream temperatures in many areas, but it turns out that changes in air temperatures don’t offer a reliable proxy for projecting those changes.

Eapecially in the mountains streams of the West, topography and riparian conditions are huge factors in regulating stream temperatures.

The correlation between air temperature and stream temperature is surprisingly tenuous, according to stream ecologists at Oregon State University, who examined historic stream temperature data over a period of one to four decades from 25 sites in the western United States. Continue reading

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