USGS study finds widespread stream degradation

Streamflow modifications, pollution impacts affect majority of waterways in urban and agricultural areas

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Pristine streams like Meadow Creek, which flows out of a wilderness area, are hard to find.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — More than 80 percent of streams in urban and agricultural areas show signs of reduced stream health, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A new report from the agency documents how stream health is being degraded by streamflow modifications and elevated levels of nutrients and pesticides.

The national assessment of stream health was unprecedented. Instead of just measuring chemical or physical properties of water, the study took a more comprehensive look at entire biological communities, as well as measurements of more than 100 chemical constituents in water and streambed sediments. Continue reading

Colorado: Sequestration threatens more stream gages

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A gage along Straight Creek, near Dillon, Colorado.

More cuts possible for critical stream monitoring efforts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s hard enough to make water management decisions if you have all the information at your fingertips, but the job is about to get even more difficult for resource managers.

The U.S.Geological Survey recently announce it will discontinue operation of up to 375 streamgages nationwide due to budget cuts as a result of sequestration. Additional streamgages may be affected if partners reduce their funding to support USGS streamgages.

Currently, the USGS is looking at shutting down three gages in Colorado: on Halfmoon Creek, near Malta, on the Arkansas River below John Martin Reservoir and along the Gunnison River, near Grand Junction. Continue reading

Cocktail of pharmaceuticals affecting basic stream health

Antihistimines are drying up rock-coating algae

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Research shows that pharmaceutical waste is affecting basic stream ecology.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Antihistimines used to treat allergies do more than dry up runny noses. Remnant traces of the pharmaceuticals, now commonly found in many streams and rivers, are having a significant effect on basic biological processes, with as-yet unknown impacts on aquatic life and water quality.

“Pharmaceutical pollution is now detected in waters throughout the world. Causes include aging infrastructure, sewage overflows, and agricultural runoff, said Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, lead author of a study that examined how common pharmaceuticals influenced similar-sized streams in New York, Maryland, and Indiana.

The study looked for traces of Caffeine, the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, the antidiabetic metformin, two antihistimines used to treat heartburn (cimetidine and ranitidine), and one antihistamine used to treat allergies (diphenhydramine). Continue reading

Morning photo: Water!

“By the waterside I will rest my head … “

A peaceful autumn scene along Peru Creek, near Keystone, Colorado, but there's more to the picture than meets the eye. Peru Creek is heavily polluted by toxic heavy metals, present in concentrations that kill fish in a few days. Click on the picture to learn more.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Every river has a story to tell, and the streams in the high country of Colorado more than most. Some local streams were literally turned inside-out by the dredgeboats, as miners intensified their search for gold. Some have been heavily polluted by the after-effects of hard-rock mining, as weathered rock leaches zinc, arsenic, cadmium and other metals into the water. Other streams are drained down to a sad trickle in the fall, as ski resorts divert more water than they really need for snowmaking. Check out the photoblog to learn a bit more about our local waters and water around the world.  All photos by Bob Berwyn. Continue reading

Morning photo: A year of wetlands

12 months in the Meadow Creek wetlands, Frisco, Colorado

The Meadow Creek wetlands in between seasons on May 15, 2010.

SUMMIT COUNTY — I live on Lagoon Drive in Frisco, Colorado, right along the banks of Meadow Creek, one of the smaller local tributaries that flows down out of the Eagles Nest Wilderness. If you’ve ever hiked the Lily Pad Lake trail, then you’ve seen the little stream as it wends through quiet aspen groves and tumbles down over boulders in the dense lodgepole pine stands on the lower flanks of the Gore Range. Meadow Creek may be small, but it’s more or less an intact stream, with no major diversions that I’ve able to find. There are definitely some historic agricultural diversions, though they seem to be inactive most of the year. I’m pretty sure there may be a diversion that leads over to the Giberson Ranch, but most of the water ends up flowing through Frisco and into the pond that’s part of the Lagoon townhome complex before it nourishes a broad swath of wetlands along the shore of Dillon Reservoir.

What has always amazed me is how well the stream functions, despite the fact that it’s almost completely channelized along it’s passage through town. The channelization starts quite near the Lily Pad Lake trailhead, where it flows into a pipe to go beneath I-70. Then it spreads out again to irrigate the big patch of willows behind Safeway and Wal-Mart before it’s captured again to create park area around Meadow Creek Pond (right behind Wal-mart). From there, it flows through a series of aqueducts through (or beneath) the commercial/light industrial zone along Ten Mile Boulevard, near Meadow Creek Tires and Alpine Bank before it finally flows out on to Denver Water land just below the Lagoon neighborhood, filling several acres of marshes and ponds that provide rich habitat for birds, small mammals and young fish. View the slideshow after the break to see the wetlands change throughout the year. Continue reading

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