Category: water

Groundwater a huge factor in sustaining Colorado River flows

New study helps resource managers plan for climate change

Evening clouds along the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado.
Groundwater is a huge factor in assessing climate change impacts on the Colorado River. @bberwyn photo.
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Resource managers need as much information as possible about Colorado River flows to make sustainable management decisions.

Staff Report

Resource managers grappling with the vexing question of how to allocate Colorado River water to the thirsty cities, ranches and farms of the Southwest have some new food for thought. A new U.S. Geological Survey study published this week in the journal Water Resources Research shows that more than half the streamflow in Upper Colorado River Basin originates as groundwater.

The information is especially important in the context of how climate change — through increased temperatures and evaporation, as well as changing precipitation patterns — will affect the river. One recent study, for example, showed that warmer spring temperatures are reducing flows independently of winter precipitation. In 2014, another study found that groundwater depletion threatens the sustainability of the Colorado River. Continue reading “Groundwater a huge factor in sustaining Colorado River flows”

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April storms boost Colorado snowpack

Much of West reports record-fast meltdown under El Niño heat

Colorado snowpack May 1 2016
April storms boosted Colorado’s snowpack, with near average runoff and river flows expected during the spring and summer in most parts of the state.
Colorado snowpack map
Southern parts of Colorado have not had above average snowpack readings for several years in a row, which could be part of the “new normal” in the global warming era

Staff Report

April storms helped boost Colorado’s statewide snowpack to above average, but two river basins in the southern part of the state continue to report below normal readings.

The state’s mountain areas benefited the most from a series of wet, El Niño-fueled storms, bringing precipitation for the water year to average, according to Brian Domonkos, the Colorado snow survey supervisor for the USDA Natural Resources conservation service.

“At this time last year the water supply outlook was grim at best,” Domonkos said. “Colorado’s current snowpack and precipitation levels are right where we want to be this time of year. Elsewhere in the Western United States seasonal snowpack during 2016 succumbed to early spring warming and did not recover as Colorado did from recent storms,” he added. Continue reading “April storms boost Colorado snowpack”

Denver authorizes gray water program

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A new gray water program in Denver could help temper demand for new water development projects in Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

City takes big step toward more sustainable water use

Staff Report

Denver, Colorado took a big step toward meeting an ambitious 20 percent water conservation target by passing an ordinance authorizing the use of gray water for residential, commercial and industrial purposes. The city hopes to cut per capita use of potable water by 20 percent by 2020.

Enabling large water users like hotels, multi-family residential complexes and dormitories, as well as industrial facilities, to use gray water will not only help conserve a valuable resource, it will help those facilities save money. Continue reading “Denver authorizes gray water program”

Environment: Can dams be operated without killing rivers?

Glen Canyon Dam. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.
Glen Canyon Dam. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

New study eyes impacts to aquatic insects

Staff Report

Using a vast sample of data collected in a citizen science project, researchers say they’ve been able to discern how hydropeaking affects aquatic insects that form the base of river food chains. The information could help resource managers develop alternative hydropower practices that aren’t as harmful to ecosystems, according to a new study published in the journal BioScience.

Hydropeaking refers to the practice of increasing river flows at times of peak demand, generally during the day. This study shows how abrupt water level changes affect aquatic insects in every stage of life. The research was done by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, Utah State University and Idaho State University. Continue reading “Environment: Can dams be operated without killing rivers?”

Global warming to cut water yield from forests and grasslands

Forests will grow faster, suck up more moisture

Forests will produce less water as global temperatures warm.
Forests may grow faster but will produce less water as global temperatures warm. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

After taking a big-picture look at the water cycle, U.S. Forest Service researchers say global warming may decrease the amount of water produced by forests and grasslands across the country — even with increases in precipitation.

National forests and grasslands contribute about 14 percent of the national water supply. Global warming may spur growth on those lands, while water yield simultaneously decreases, as forest water use (through evaporation and transpiration) increases dramatically with higher air temperatures, according to a new study. Continue reading “Global warming to cut water yield from forests and grasslands”

Study says high mountain streams serve as ‘climate refuge’

There’s hope for coldwater fish in the West, especially if resource managers are able to plan and implement conservation measures

CDOW Aquatic biologist Jon Ewert holds a rainbow trout for measurement while sampling fish populations in the Blue River in Silverthorne, Colorado.
CDOW Aquatic biologist Jon Ewert holds a rainbow trout for measurement while sampling fish populations in the Blue River in Silverthorne, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Global warming is hitting the high mountain world especially hard, with records from recent decades showing temperatures above 13,000 feet increasing 75 percent faster than at lower elevations in some regions. But for a while at least, the high country may end up being a last-ditch climate refuge for many species, including cold-water fish.

A recent study suggests that water temperatures in mountain streams aren’t going up as fast as previously projected. That means there’s time to survey ecological communities and plan conservation strategies, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading “Study says high mountain streams serve as ‘climate refuge’”

Blue River loses gold medal trout stream designation

Low flows, habitat destruction degrade fishery

Summit County Colorado photography
Sunrise along the Blue River in Summit County, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
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Biologists and volunteers count trout in the Blue River just below Dillon Reservoir and the Dillon Dam. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Colorado’s continued unsustainable use water has taken a toll on trout in the Blue River, where Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists have decided to remove the gold medal designation from a 19-mile reach stretching from just north of Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir.

According to CPW aquatic biologist Jon Ewert, unnatural stream flows, sparse aquatic invertebrate populations, low nutrient content and degraded habitat all contributed to the decline of the fishery. The agency said that stretch of the river hasn’t met the Gold Medal standard for about 15 years.

There’s better news farther downstream, where CPW designated a 24-mile reach of the Colorado River, from Canyon Creek, at the mouth of Gore Canyon, to the confluence of Rock Creek, near the town of McCoy, as a new gold medal fishery. In Colorado, Gold Medal status is reserved for state waters that produce a minimum of 60-pounds of trout per acre and 12 trout measuring 14-inches or longer per acre. Continue reading “Blue River loses gold medal trout stream designation”