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:: 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

New series of climate studies aim to pinpoint global warming impacts on key natural resources

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Glen Canyon Dam. Photo via U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Arizona researchers to focus on Colorado River flows as feds grant $7 million for 50-plus research projects

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Arizona-based researchers will lead an effort to pinpoint how global warming will affect Colorado River flows in the coming decades, with an eye toward exploring links between Pacific Ocean climate patterns like El Niño/La Niña cycles and the occurrence of extreme wet or dry conditions.

The two-year study will result in a streamflow projection product that better accounts for physical mechanisms of weather and climate on a regional and local scale, that can be directly used by water resource providers.

The research project is one more than 50 studies funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Interior’s regional climate centers as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, move the economy toward clean energy sources and begin to prepare communities for the impacts of climate change. Continue reading

Climate: 4th-driest year on record at Lake Powell

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Lake Powell: Going, going … gone?

High flow experiment planned for early November to restore aquatic and riparian Colorado River ecosystems downstream of Glen Canyon Dam

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even with some bonus inflow in September, the past water year Oct 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013) ended up as the fourth-driest on record for the Colorado River Basin as measured at Lake Powell — the key reservoir on the river that helps balance supply and demand between the upper and lower basins.

Overall water storage in the Colorado River Basin in the last 14 years has ranged from a high of 94 percent of capacity in 2000 to the present low of 50 percent at the start of the 2014 water year.

Continue reading

Feds eye changes to Colorado River endangered fish conservation program

Recovery team eyes White River Basin

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The Colorado pikeminnow is one of four endangered species that could benefit from a proposed new plan to boost flows during critical seasons. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

*More Summit Voice stories on the Colorado River native fish conservation program are online here.

FRISCO — State and federal biologists are considering some changes to the Colorado River Native Fish Recovery Program in the White River Basin after a discussion with stakeholders.

The endangered fish — colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail — are already protected in the White River Basin, according to The Nature Conservancy. The changes would be a firming up of management expectations.

A similar approach has been used in other basins to ensure that current and future water needs are met for people and endangered fish.  The White River management plan aims to:

  • identify existing and some level of future water depletions;
  • develop current hydrology and projected depletions to identify the effects of past and future water development on endangered fish habitat;
  • identify the role of the White River in recovery of endangered fish;
  • identify flow recommendations for endangered fish habitat in the White River; and
  • identify a broad range of recovery actions to be carried out by the Recovery Program to support a recovered endangered fish population in the White River.  Continue reading

Yellow-billed cuckoo may get endangered species status

Native bird has nearly been extirpated from the West

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Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

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Yellow-billed cuckoos are only found in a few isolated locations in Colorado.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The yellow-billed cuckoo, once common along streams throughout the West, may finally get some protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed Endangered Species Act protection  for the brids, following a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species nationwide.

The flashy bird, with a long tail and white markings on it wings, has long been listed as a species of concern by Colorado wildlife biologists, as their numbers have dropped drastically since the early 20th century. Click here to read a Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory report on yellow-billed cuckoos in Colorado. Continue reading

Draft Colorado water plan eyes west slope rivers

Conservation groups concerned about impacts

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A map included in a draft version of a water plan is reason for alarm, according river activist Gary Wockner, with Save the Poudre, who says Front Range providers are targeting additional diversions from West Slope streams.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Front Range alternative for a statewide water plan ordered by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is drawing fire, as watchdog groups charge that the draft version puts too much emphasis upping diversions from Western Slope rivers.

“Just laying out this scheme of diversions and pipelines on a map enflames the political chaos around the Colorado River water supply crisis,” said river activist Gary Wockner director, of Save the Poudre.

According to Wockner, the draft plan being developed by the South Platte, Arkansas and Metro Roundtable could be an effort steer the state water plan toward more dams and diversions, at the expense of losing sight of the need for much more robust conservation measures. Continue reading

Colorado River: New study offers painful details of Glen Canyon Dam impacts to downstream ecosystems

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Glen Canyon Dam has fundamentally altered downstream ecosystems in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

‘A shadow of pre-dam conditions … ‘

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With all the focus on water quantity in the Colorado River Basin, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the installation of massive dams has fundamentally altered the river’s ecosystem.

But an in-depth three-year study done as part of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program offers a stark reminder of the changes wrought by drastically altering the river’s hydrological regime. Continue reading

Is the Colorado River tapped out?

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A NASA satellite image of the Colorado River and Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona.

Federal water agency says it will cut deliveries from Lake Powell next year

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado River water supplies are already stretched dangerously thin, and the faucet is about to get turned down, as federal water managers said they will probably have to curtail downstream deliveries from Lake Powell in 2014.

July inflow into Lake Powell was just 13 percent of average, following a spring runoff season during whic the river delivered only about a third of the average amount of water. Continue reading

Environment: Lawsuit challenges federal study on oil shale and tar sands development in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming

Oil shale tar sands map Green River formation

Potential oil shale and tar sands development areas in the Green River formation of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Conservation groups say BLM missed key step in environmental study

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A federal plan to develop oil shale and tar sands across about 800,000 acres of public lands in the West is missing a key piece, according to conservation groups, who say the Bureau of Land Management should have consulted with federal wildlife biologists before finalizing a major environmental study.

At issue are 9 BLM resource management plans in the Green River Formation of the Colorado River Basin, spread across parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Several months ago, the BLM approved changes in those plans with a single programmatic environmental impact statement. The changes make 687,600 acres available for oil shale leasing and 132,100 acres available for tar sands leasing. Continue reading

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