USGS: Analysis of Water Quality in the Blue River Watershed, Colorado, 1984 through 2007

August 26, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Service (Nancy J. Bauch, Lisa D. Miller, and Sharon Yacob):

Water quality of streams, reservoirs, and groundwater in the Blue River watershed in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado has been affected by local geologic conditions, historical hard-rock metal mining, and recent urban development. With these considerations, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Summit Water Quality Committee, conducted a study to compile historical water-quality data and assess water-quality conditions in the watershed. To assess water-quality conditions, stream data were primarily analyzed from October 1995 through December 2006, groundwater data from May 1996 through September 2004, and reservoir data from May 1984 through November 2007. Stream data for the Snake River, upper Blue River, and Tenmile Creek subwatersheds upstream from Dillon Reservoir and the lower Blue River watershed downstream from Dillon Reservoir were analyzed separately. (The complete abstract is provided in the report)

Click here to read the report.

More USGS coverage here.


GPS is Tracking West’s Vanishing Water, Scientists Surprised to Learn — National Geographic

August 22, 2014
Western US

Western US

From National Geographic (Michelle Nijhuis):

Throughout the western United States, a network of Global Positioning System (GPS) stations has been monitoring tiny movements in the Earth’s crust, collecting data that can warn of developing earthquakes.

To their surprise, researchers have discovered that the GPS network has also been recording an entirely different phenomenon: the massive drying of the landscape caused by the drought that has intensified over much of the region since last year.

Geophysicist Adrian Borsa of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his colleagues report in this week’s Science that, based on the GPS measurements, the loss of water from lakes, streams, snowpack, and groundwater totals some 240 billion metric tons—equivalent, they say, to a four-inch-deep layer of water covering the entire western U.S. from the Rockies to the Pacific. (Related: “Water’s Hidden Crisis”

The principle behind the new measurements is simple. The weight of surface water and groundwater deforms Earth’s elastic crust, much as a sleeper’s body deforms a mattress. Remove the water, and the crust rebounds.

As the amount of water varies cyclically with the seasons, the crust moves up and down imperceptibly, by fractions of an inch—but GPS can measure such small shifts.

Borsa knew all this when he started to study the GPS data. He wasn’t interested in the water cycle at first, and for him the seasonal fluctuations it produced in the data were just noise: They obscured the much longer-term geological changes he wanted to study, such as the rise of mountain ranges.

When he removed that noise from some recent station data, however, he noticed what he describes as a “tremendous uplift signal”—a distinct rise in the crust—since the beginning of 2013. He showed his findings to his Scripps colleague Duncan Agnew.

“I told him, ‘I think we’re looking at the effect of drought,'” Borsa remembers. “He didn’t believe me.”

But Borsa was right. As he, Agnew, and Daniel Cayan of Scripps report in Science, the recent uplift spike is consistent across the U.S. West, and consistent with recent declines in precipitation, streamflow, and groundwater levels. With a great weight of water removed, the crust is rebounding elastically across the whole region.

The median rise across all the western GPS stations has been four millimeters, just under a sixth of an inch. But the Sierra Nevada mountains, which have lost most of their snowpack, have risen 15 millimeters—nearly six-tenths of an inch.


USGS: Streamflow Increasing in Eastern #MissouriRiver Basin, Decreasing Elsewhere

July 29, 2014
Missouri River Basin

Missouri River Basin

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Parker Norton/Marisa Lubeck):

Video footage of an interview with lead USGS scientist Parker Norton is available online.

Streamflow in the eastern portions of the Missouri River watershed has increased over the past 52 years, whereas other parts have seen downward trends.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently studied data from 227 streamgages in the Missouri River watershed that had continuous records for 1960 through 2011. The scientists found that almost half of the streamgages showed either an upward or downward trend in mean annual flow since 1960, while the rest showed no trend.

The study is relevant on a large scale because the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, with a watershed that includes mountainous to prairie topography in all or parts of 10 states and small parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.

“The Missouri River and its tributaries are valuable for agriculture, energy, recreation and municipal water supplies,” said USGS hydrologist Parker Norton. “Understanding streamflow throughout the watershed can help guide management of these critical water resources.”

According to the study, streamflow has increased in the eastern part of the watershed, including eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. Annual flows have decreased in the western headwaters area of the Missouri River in Montana and Wyoming, and in the southern part of the basin associated with the Kansas River watershed.

Climate changes that affect how and where moisture is delivered to the continent may be causing some of these trends in the Missouri River Basin. Although the USGS scientists did not conduct a complete analysis of the causes, they noted that increased streamflow over broad regions occurred despite the increasing use of water. Decreased streamflow in some areas could also be related to climate change factors, or to groundwater pumping.

The USGS report can be accessed online.

More Missouri River Basin coverage here.


Environment: USGS study shows neonicotinoid pesticide pollution common in Midwest streams

July 27, 2014

Coyote Gulch:

Donate to Bob’s crowd funded father-son journalism project here.

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

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Bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides widespread in Midwest streams, USGS study finds. bberwyn photo.

Concentrations in some streams are high enough to kill aquatic organisms

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey studying streams in the Midwest have found levels of neonicotinoid insecticides at up to 20 times the concentrations deemed toxic to aquatic organisms. The systemic pesticides have raised concerns because they’ve been linked with honey bee declines.

Traces of the chemicals were widespread in streams throughout the region — not surprising in the heart of the country’s agricultural belt. In all, nine rivers and streams, including the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, were included in the study. The rivers studied drain most of Iowa, and parts of Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These states have the highest use of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Nation, and the chemicals were found in all nine rivers…

View original 452 more words


USGS Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Water Resources Research Act

July 17, 2014

USGS: What lies beneath #Yellowstone

July 11, 2014

More USGS coverage here.


Collbran mudslide remains under watchful eye of experts — The Denver Post

June 29, 2014
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

Trash trucks are once again picking up the garbage on West Salt Creek Road near Collbran — one of the best signs, residents say, that some sense of normalcy is returning to those living under the threat of more movement from a giant mudslide.

“We feel very comfortable now. We feel like there is so much intelligence coming in now and that they are really watching that mountain,” said Celia Eklund, who lives along lower West Salt Creek Road.

The residents there are still on alert from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office since the mountain above them slid on May 25 and buried three local men who had gone up to check on a smaller slide that occurred earlier that day…

Dozens of experts from local, state and federal agencies have studied the slide that is now being called a “debris avalanche” or a “rapid earthflow” by geologists. They have used high-tech aerial imaging, GPS and water flow meters and have installed monitors that can detect even slight movements in the slide.

They now have a more accurate size on the slide, which is smaller than originally estimated.

The latest information from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the slide stretches for 2.5 miles and covers 550 acres…

The slide contains a pool of water at the top behind a large block of earth that broke off from the Grand Mesa where the slide originated. Geologists now estimate that pool will hold about 245 acre feet of water before it could reach an outlet and spill over. A gauge has been installed by the USGS Colorado Water Science Center just below the toe of the landslide to measure any flow from the slide.

Heather Benjamin with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said the Army Corps of Engineers joined the geologists from the USGS and the Colorado Geological Survey this week. The entire group of geologists and emergency management personnel from the Colorado Department of Public Safety have been holding nightly briefings since the slide occurred.


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