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Colorado River District seminar to focus on dwindling snowpack, state water plan and Lake Powell woes

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North American spring-season snow cover extent has declined steadily in recent decades, according to measurements from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab.

‘Shrinking in supply, growing in demand’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Since the 1980s, warmer spring temperatures in the Rocky Mountain region have been melting the snowpack earlier, with increasing temperatures tabbed as the main factor in the decline, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency carefully tracks streamflows and snowpack measurements, with decades of data now showing clear trends toward shorter winters, earlier spring runoff and an overall 20 percent shrinkage of the snowpack in the mountains of the western U.S.

The researchers say at least part of the changes are due to global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but that natural variability is also a factor. Regardless of the exact cause, the snowpack decline is already causing major headaches for water managers in the region facing dwindling supplies and increased demand.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District will focus on some of the emerging critical water questions during its annual water seminar (Sept. 13, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) in Grand Junction. USGS researcher Greg Pederson, who is the lead author on some of the key snowpack studies, will discuss how spring is killing the Rocky Mountain snowpack, especially at lower elevations, where the effects of warmer temperatures are more pronounced. Continue reading

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Environment: Frogs up and down the Sierra Nevada are tainted with pesticides from the Central Valley

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USGS sampling found that Pacific chorus frogs in many remote Sierra Nevada locations are contaminated by pesticides and fungicides used in agricultural production in California’s Central Valley. Photo courtesy USGS.

Study even finds trace remnants of DDT, banned 40 years ago

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Frogs in remote Sierra Nevada backcountry ponds are contaminated with traces of pesticides, including a byproduct of DDT, which was banned more than 40 years ago, showing how long some pollutants can persist in the environment.

The chemicals are heavily used in California’s Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, and transported via wind, dust and precipitation to the High Sierra. Continue reading

USGS crowdsources data for National Map

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USGS topo maps have come a long way since this 1888 version of the area around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo courtesy USGS.

Volunteers needed in 16 new states

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —The U.S. Geological Survey could use some help in adding more detail to to the National Map database, so the agency is expanding its crowd-sourcing of geographic data and is seeking more volunteers to contribute structures information to 16 more states.

The mapping crowd-sourcing program, known as The National Map Corps  encourages citizens to collect structures data by adding new features and/or correcting existing. Structures being mapped in the project include schools, hospitals, post offices, police stations and other important public buildings. Continue reading

Environment: Water depletion accelerating in key aquifers

Regions where the water level has declined in the period 1980-1995 are shown in yellow and red; regions where it has increased are shown in shades of blue. Data from the USGS

Regions where the water level has declined in the period 1980-1995 are shown in yellow and red; regions where it has increased are shown in shades of blue. Via USGS.

Is the U.S. headed for water bankruptcy?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With many rivers in the western part of the U.S. already tapped out, the pressure on groundwater resources has been increasing, as shown by new U.S. Geological Survey research documenting accelerating depletion of aquifers around the country.

Groundwater depletion in the U.S. was so extensive between 2000 and 2008 that it accounts for 2 percent of the total observed sea level rise during that period, as the water ends up in the ocean as part of the hydrological cycle rather than remaining locked away underground.

Since 1900, the total amount of water depleted from aquifers was equal to more than twice the volume of water in Lake Erie.

Essentially, the country is frittering away its water savings faster than ever, with no idea how to replace them, or what to do when they’re gone.

Just in the eight years between 2001 and 2008, depletion of the Ogalla Aquifer amounted to 32 percent of the total depletion during the entire 20th century. The annual rate of depletion during this recent period averaged about 10.2 cubic kilometers, roughly 2 percent of the volume of water in Lake Erie. Continue reading

Climate: Are Rio Grande cutthroat trout living on the edge?

New study adds wealth of temperature and streamflow data to help guide cutthroat trout management and conservation decisions

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A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Some of southern Colorado’s Rio Grande cutthroat trout are likely living on the edge of the climate cliff and will have a hard time surviving as global temperatures rise.

Flows are already very low in many streams where the rare fish live, so even a small change in flow could push some populations into the abyss. The long-term global warming forecast by most climate models could render many mainstem, connecting habitats unsuitable for the fish, which survive best in a narrow temperature range, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists. Continue reading

Global warming: USGS study shows 20 percent decline in Rocky Mountain snow cover since 1980

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Sparse January snow across the Colorado Plateau in January 2013. Bob Berwyn photo.

Drop linked primarily with warmer spring temperatures

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Long-time skiers often say that skiing was better in the good old days, and new research from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that those claims are based on more than nostalgia — notwithstanding the occasional bumper crop of powder like in 2010-2011.

After taking an in-depth look at snowfall and temperature records, federal scientists said warmer spring temperatures since the 1980s have caused an estimated 20 percent loss of snow cover across the Rocky Mountains of western North America — especially at lower elevations where temperatures have the greatest effect. 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

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