Category: water

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”

Climate: Warmer springtime temps cut Colorado River flows

A wintry icescape along the Blue River north of Silverthorne, Colorado.
A wintry icescape along the Blue River north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

It’s not just the snowpack

Staff Report

A new study showing the link between warmer spring temperatures and decreased river flows could spell more challenges for water managers trying to stretch supplies from major western rivers.

The research suggests that warmer-than-average spring temperatures may have a bigger effect on upper Colorado River flows than expected.

“Forecasts of stream flow are largely based on precipitation,” said University of Arizona professor Connie Woodhouse. “What we’re seeing since the 1980s is that temperature plays a larger role in stream flow and in exacerbating drought, said Wodehouse. Continue reading “Climate: Warmer springtime temps cut Colorado River flows”

Algal toxins found in many streams in the Southeast

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How safe is your local stream? @bberwyn photo.

Scientists gain better understanding of health risks associated with microsystins

Staff Report

Taking a swim in a cool, clear stream on a hot summer day always seems like a good idea, but if you’re in the southeastern U.S., you may want to stop and think. According to a new U.S. Geological Survey study, close to 40 percent of the streams in the region may be contaminated by algal toxins known as microsystins.

Public health practitioners and medical researchers have observed a range of symptoms in humans after exposure to microcystins.  Symptoms can include nausea, dermatitis and, in severe cases, liver failure.  Toxicity issues have been reported for humans, companion animals, livestock and wildlife. Continue reading “Algal toxins found in many streams in the Southeast”

Twin storms boost Colorado’s January snowpack

Entire state blanketed with snow in early Feburary

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Mid-winter, and nearly all of Colorado has snow on the ground.

Staff Report

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Snowpack is at or above average in all of Colorado’s river basins.

A pair of storms that bookended January helped raise the statewide snowpack level to 111 percent of average as of Feb. 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Survey.

Satellite images and other remote sensors operation by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center storms left nearly the entire state blanketed in snow. Without those two storms, January snowfall would only have been about 70 percent of average for the month, said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor with the NRCS.

Snowfall continued through February 3, which increased snowpack totals to as high as 117 percent of normal as of Feb 4. The mountains of Southern Colorado saw the greatest increase in snow-water equivalent. From January 28 to February 3. total snowpack depth increased as much as 30 inches at the Cumbres Trestle SNOTEL in the San Juan Mountain range.

As of February 1, the snowpack was below average in only a handful of minor watersheds. All other drainages were above to well above normal. While the late January storms benefitted the entire state, January precipitation as a whole was particularly slim in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins and storms only amounted to about 75 percent of normal monthly snowpack accumulation.

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