Click here to go to the USGS website with links to their publications about hydraulic fracturing since 2012.
Fourteen monitoring wells were sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, to better understand the chemistry and age of groundwater in the Piceance structural basin in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, and how they may relate to the development of underlying natural-gas reservoirs. Natural gas extraction in the area has been ongoing since at least the 1950s, and the area contains about 960 producing, shut-in, and abandoned natural-gas wells.
Here’s the release from the USGS (Jon Campbell/Leonard Konikow):
A new U.S. Geological Survey study documents that the Nation’s aquifers are being drawn down at an accelerating rate.
Groundwater Depletion in the United States (1900-2008) comprehensively evaluates long-term cumulative depletion volumes in 40 separate aquifers (distinct underground water storage areas) in the United States, bringing together reliable information from previous references and from new analyses.
“Groundwater is one of the Nation’s most important natural resources. It provides drinking water in both rural and urban communities. It supports irrigation and industry, sustains the flow of streams and rivers, and maintains ecosystems,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director. “Because groundwater systems typically respond slowly to human actions, a long-term perspective is vital to manage this valuable resource in sustainable ways.”
To outline the scale of groundwater depletion across the country, here are two startling facts drawn from the study’s wealth of statistics. First, from 1900 to 2008, the Nation’s aquifers, the natural stocks of water found under the land, decreased (were depleted) by more than twice the volume of water found in Lake Erie. Second, groundwater depletion in the U.S. in the years 2000-2008 can explain more than 2 percent of the observed global sea-level rise during that period.
Since 1950, the use of groundwater resources for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes has greatly expanded in the United States. When groundwater is withdrawn from subsurface storage faster than it is recharged by precipitation or other water sources, the result is groundwater depletion. The depletion of groundwater has many negative consequences, including land subsidence, reduced well yields, and diminished spring and stream flows.
While the rate of groundwater depletion across the country has increased markedly since about 1950, the maximum rates have occurred during the most recent period of the study (2000–2008), when the depletion rate averaged almost 25 cubic kilometers per year. For comparison, 9.2 cubic kilometers per year is the historical average calculated over the 1900–2008 timespan of the study.
One of the best known and most investigated aquifers in the U.S. is the High Plains (or Ogallala) aquifer. It underlies more than 170,000 square miles of the Nation’s midsection and represents the principal source of water for irrigation and drinking in this major agricultural area. Substantial pumping of the High Plains aquifer for irrigation since the 1940s has resulted in large water-table declines that exceed 160 feet in places.
The study shows that, since 2000, depletion of the High Plains aquifer appears to be continuing at a high rate. The depletion during the last 8 years of record (2001–2008, inclusive) is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion in this aquifer 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.
More USGS coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Wells in the Arkansas Valley protected the agriculture economy in 2012, but reduced pumping levels this year are likely to hurt farming if weather conditions don’t improve. “Wells provided a one-year hedge against drought,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday. “To quote Dale Mauch (a Lamar-area farmer quoted in The Pueblo Chieftain last summer): ‘If you’ve got a well, you’ve got a crop.’ ” This year, the situation is worse for farmers who rely on wells. Because of in-state shortfalls, pumping levels have been curtailed for most farmers. Unless farmers use their own surface rights to augment wells, pumping levels will be at only 10 to 30 percent of normal, with many farmers forced to shut off the pumps completely.
Last year, farmers pumped about 110,000 acrefeet of water (36 billion gallons), which was roughly three-fourths of the historical average prior to restrictions. The farm economy suffered much more, however, because of other factors.
During the drought of 2011-12, soil moisture plummeted, a trend that has continued since 2000. There also was less water available to surface ditches in both years.
Another problem for farmers will be increased transit loss as water from storage is released to headgates downstream. Normal loss from Pueblo Dam to the Rocky Ford area would be about 12 percent, but with river levels lower, it increases to 50 percent, Witte said.
One ray of hope offered at the meeting is a steadily increasing snowpack that is approaching nearly normal levels at a few sites in the mountains. Statewide, snowpack was about 82 percent of normal Wednesday, 73 percent in the Arkansas River basin, but 94 percent in the Upper Colorado basin, which provides supplemental water to Arkansas River users.
However, snowpack in the Purgatoire River basin, which helps farmers below John Martin Dam, is far below average.
Reservoir levels are well below 2012, and at 2003 levels for Turquoise and Twin Lakes. Lake Pueblo is at 88 percent of normal, better than it was in 2003, after drought had tapped out water supplies.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A water quality study spawned 10 years ago is focusing on finding causes for sedimentation and loading of harmful elements like selenium and uranium into the Arkansas River. “The real desire is to assist resource managers to find the source of a problem and attack it there, rather than put an ineffective plan in place,” said David Mau, head of the U.S. Geological Survey Pueblo office. He spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
The study began through a 2003 agreement among Aurora, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.
The water resources group also includes Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Lower Ark district. Aurora provided the initial funding.
The purpose of the study was to establish a water quality baseline before large projects like the Preferred Storage Options Plan, Southern Delivery System and Arkansas Valley Conduit went online. The USGS cataloged existing data on the river.
A 2009-11 study looked at two threatened reaches of the Arkansas River: from Canon City to Lake Pueblo, and from Lake Pueblo to La Junta. Loading of solids and uranium were found in both reaches, while heavy loading of selenium from Fountain Creek was prevalent downstream.
Mau said studies will continue to pinpoint sources of the pollution to help minimize the impact on water quality as projects continue.
Here’s Circular 1384 from the United States Geological Service. Here’s the introduction to the report (Alley, W.M./Evenson, E.J./Barber, N.L./Bruce, B.W./Dennehy, K.F./Freeman, M.C./Freeman, W.O./Fischer, J.M./Hughes, W.B./Kennen, J.G./Kiang, J.E./Maloney, K.O./Musgrove, MaryLynn/Ralston, Barbara/Tessler, Steven/Verdin, J.P):
The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-11) was passed into law on March 30, 2009. Subtitle F, also known as the SECURE Water Act, calls for the establishment of a “national water availability and use assessment program” within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A major driver for this recommendation was that national water availability and use have not been comprehensively assessed since 1978.
This report fulfills a requirement to report to Congress on progress in implementing the national water availability and use assessment program, also referred to as the National Water Census. The SECURE Water Act authorized $20 million for each of fiscal years (FY) 2009 through 2023 for assessment of national water availability and use. The first appropriation for this effort was $4 million in FY 2011, followed by an appropriation of $6 million in FY 2012.
The National Water Census synthesizes and reports information at the regional and national scales, with an emphasis on compiling and reporting the information in a way that is useful to states and others responsible for water management and natural-resource issues. The USGS works with Federal and non-Federal agencies, universities, and other organizations to ensure that the information can be aggregated with other types of water-availability and socioeconomic information, such as data on food and energy production. To maximize the utility of the information, the USGS coordinates the design and development of the effort through the Federal Advisory Committee on Water Information.
A National Water Census is a complex undertaking, particularly because there are major gaps in the information needed to conduct such an assessment. To maximize progress, the USGS engaged stakeholders in a discussion of priorities and leveraged existing studies and program activities to enhance efforts toward the development of a National Water Census.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
The census is being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and will provide additional tools for water planners to use in making projections. The survey will look at competing demands for water resources and supply scenarios.
Water planning of this type already is occurring in water-short areas.
The Bureau of Reclamation last year completed an assessment on the Colorado River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has developed decision-support systems for the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins and is working on similar models for the South Platte and Arkansas river basins.
Here’s a report about the recent USGS assessment of water quality at Lake Mead, from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:
Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said that Lake Mead’s water quality is good and that fish populations are holding their own. Lake Mead is even providing habitat for an increasing number of birds. But the report also acknowledges that invasive quagga mussels have become the dominant lake-bottom organism, posing significant threat to the Lake Mojave and Lake Mead ecosystems. The report also acknowledges the long-term threat of climate change, which will bring reduced water supplies to the entire Colorado River Basin.
“While the Lake Mead ecosystem is generally healthy and robust, the minor problems documented in the report are all being addressed by the appropriate agencies, and are showing substantial improvement since the mid 1990′s,” said U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Michael Rosen.
Major findings detailed in the report include the following:
Basic water-quality parameters are within good ranges of Nevada and Arizona standards and EPA lake criteria. Potential problems with nutrient balance, algae, and dissolved oxygen can occur at times and in some areas of Lake Mead. The Lake Mead-wide scope of monitoring provides a solid baseline to characterize water quality now and in the future. Legacy contaminants are declining due to regulations and mitigation efforts in Las Vegas Wash. Emerging contaminants, including endocrine disrupting compounds, are present in low concentrations. While emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, or plasticizers have been documented to cause a number of health effects to individual fish, they are not seen at concentrations currently known to pose a threat to human health. In comparison to other reservoirs studied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Mead is well within the highest or ‘good’ category for recreation and aquatic health. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave continue to provide habitat conditions that support a rich diversity of species within the water, along shorelines, and in adjacent drainage areas, including organisms that are both native and non-native to the Colorado River drainage. Sport fish populations appear stable and have reached a balance with reservoir operations over the past 20 years and are sufficient to support important recreational fishing opportunities. Native fish populations within Lake Mohave are declining, but the small native fish populations in Lake Mead are, stable without any artificial replenishment. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave provide important migration and wintering habitat for birds. Trends include increasing numbers of wintering bald eagles and nesting peregrine falcons. Lake Mead water-level fluctuations have produced a variety of shorebird habitats, but songbird habitats are limited. Although some contaminants have been documented in birds and eggs in Las Vegas Wash, mitigation efforts are making a positive change. Invasive quagga mussels have become the dominant lake-bottom organism and are a significant threat to the ecosystems of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave because they have potential to alter water quality and food-web dynamics. Although they increase water clarity, they can degrade recreational settings. Climate models developed for the Colorado River watershed indicate a high probability for longer periods of reduced snowpack and therefore water availability for the Lake Mead in the future. Federal, state and local agencies, and individuals and organizations interested the future of the water supply and demand imbalance are working together to examine strategies to mitigate future conditions.
‘Climate change is forcing plants and animals to shift where they live and grow more quickly’ — Bobby MagillDecember 18, 2012
One measure of Climate Change — constantly shifting vegetation — is the subject of a new report from the United States Geological Service, the National Wildlife Service and Arizona State University. Here’s the release.
Plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events – such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating – at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.
The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the
scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University in Tempe, authored the assessment.
“These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven’t previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.
Grimm explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species’ survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food.
“The impact of climate change on ecosystems has important implications for people and communities,” said Amanda Staudt, a NWF climate scientist and a lead author on the report. “Shifting climate conditions are affecting valuable ecosystem services, such as the role that coastal habitats play in dampening storm surge or the ability of our forests to provide timber and help filter our drinking water.”
Another key finding is the mounting evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change. The most vulnerable species are those already degraded by other human-caused stressors such as pollution or exploitation, unable to shift their geographic range or timing of key life events, or that have narrow environmental or ecological tolerance. For example, species that must live at high altitudes or live in cold water with a narrow temperature range, such as salmon, face an even greater risk due to climate change.
“The report clearly indicates that as climate change continues to impact ecological systems, a net loss of global species’ diversity, as well as major shifts in the provision of ecosystem services, are quite likely,” said Michelle Staudinger, a lead author of the report and a USGS and University of Missouri scientist.
For example, she added, climate change is already causing shifts in the abundance and geographic range of economically important marine fish. “These changes will almost certainly continue, resulting in some local fisheries declining or disappearing while others may grow and become more valuable if fishing communities can find socially and economically viable ways to adapt to these changes.”
Natural resource managers are already contending with what climate change means for the way they approach conservation. For example, the report stated, land managers are now more focused on the connectivity of protected habitats, which can improve a species’ ability to shift its geographic range to follow optimal conditions for survival.
“The conservation community is grappling with how we manage our natural resources in the face of climate change, so that we can help our ecosystems to continue meeting the needs of both people and wildlife,” said Bruce Stein, a lead author of the report and director of climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.
Other key findings of the report include:
Changes in precipitation and extreme weather events can overwhelm the ability of natural systems to reduce or prevent harm to people from these events. For example, more frequent heavy rainfall events increase the movement of nutrients and pollutants to downstream ecosystems, likely resulting not only in ecosystem change, but also in adverse changes in the quality of drinking water and a greater risk of waterborne-disease outbreaks.
Changes in winter have big and surprising effects on ecosystems and their services. Changes in soil freezing, snow cover and air temperature affect the ability of ecosystems to store carbon, which, in turn, influences agricultural and forest production. Seasonally snow-covered regions are especially susceptible to climate change because small precipitation or temperature shifts can cause large ecosystem changes. Longer growing seasons and warmer winters are already increasing the likelihood of pest outbreaks, leading to tree mortality and more intense, extensive fires. Decreased or unreliable snowfall for winter sports and recreation will likely cause high future economic losses.
The ecosystem services provided by coastal habitats are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise and more severe storms. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are most vulnerable to the loss of coastal protection services provided by wetlands and coral reefs. Along the Pacific coast, long-term dune erosion caused by increasing wave heights is projected to cause problems for communities and for recreational beach activities. However, other kinds of recreation will probably improve due to better weather, with the net effect being that visitors and tourism dollars will shift away from some communities in favor of others.
Climate change adaptation strategies are vital for the conservation of diverse species and effective natural resource policy and management. As more adaptive management approaches are developed, resource managers can enhance the country’s ability to respond to the impacts of climate change through forward-looking and climate science-informed goals and actions.
Ecological monitoring needs to be improved and better coordinated among federal and state agencies to ensure the impacts of climate change are adequately monitored and to support ecological research, management, assessment and policy. Existing tracking networks in the United States will need to improve coverage through time and in geographic area to detect and track climate-induced shifts in ecosystems and species.
Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books – such as this report — underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013. This technical report is available at the USGCRP website, as are other completed technical reports. Additional lead authors of this report include Shawn Carter, USGS: F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy; and Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
A changing climate is stressing out plants, animals and the ecosystems they inhabit to a greater degree than at any other period in human history, according to a U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Federation and University of Arizona report released Tuesday. The report will be part of the federal government’s 2013 National Climate Assessment.
Climate change is forcing plants and animals to shift where they live and grow more quickly than expected, the report concludes. Mountain species are moving upward in elevation at rates up to three times greater than scientists estimated because of a warming climate.
Biological diversity across the planet is expected to decline while extreme weather could mean heavy rains in places that aren’t accustomed to them.
More USGS coverage here.
What does 42,300 CFS look like? River-level view from this week’s high-flow experiment at Glen Canyon DamNovember 21, 2012
Recreation Industry Praises High Flow Release at Glen Canyon: Target maximum release is 42,300 cfs #CORiverNovember 20, 2012
Protect The Flows (@ProtectFlows) November 19, 2012
Reclamation (@usbr) November 20, 2012
Here’s the release from Protect the Flows (Molly Mugglestone):
Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior triggered the first “high-flow experimental release” at Glen Canyon Dam since 2008.
According to Interior, the release, which will last nearly five days, is part of a new long-term protocol to meet water and power needs, allow better conservation of sediment downstream, and better control the non-native fish population from preying on other species. The high release flows are geared to mimic historical pre-dam spring floods and runoffs.
Protect the Flows member George Wendt, President and CEO of OARS Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, which has been providing Grand Canyon rafting experiences since 1969, made the following statement in response:
“The water released this week is the first in a long term plan that will help to build new camping beaches in the Grand Canyon, and ultimately, will improve the canyon experience for boaters supporting a $26 billion recreation economy that depends on the Colorado River. We applaud the Department of Interior for taking these important steps that take into consideration the long term use of the canyon by boaters. This release shows an attempt at good stewardship of the area and is an example of how the conservation community and those who love to recreate on the river worked together with the Department of Interior on a solution that both fish and rafters will benefit from for years to come.”
Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Blake Androff/Lisa Iams):
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today triggered the first “high-flow experimental release” at Glen Canyon Dam, under a new experimental long-term protocol to better distribute sediment to conserve downstream resources, while meeting water and power needs and allowing continued scientific experimentation, data collection, and monitoring on the Colorado River.
The new protocol calls for experimental releases from the dam through 2020 to send sediment downstream to rebuild sandbars, beaches, and backwaters. The rebuilt areas will provide key wildlife habitat, enhance the aquatic food base, protect archeological sites, and create additional camping opportunities in the canyon.
“This is truly an historic milestone for the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, and the United States Bureau of Reclamation,” said Salazar. “It was an honor to open the door to a new era for Glen Canyon Dam operations and the ecology of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park – a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River.”
The new protocol is built on more than 16 years of scientific research and experimentation conducted under the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. The Department translated the research into a flexible framework that enables scientists to determine, based on the best available science, when the conditions are right to conduct these releases to maximize the ecosystem benefits along the Colorado River corridor in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park.
With the Glen Canyon Powerplant running at full capacity, Secretary Salazar opened the river outlet tubes at noon, releasing additional flows that will increase throughout the day until a maximum release of approximately 42,300 cubic-feet-per-second is reached. These releases will continue for nearly five days based on the parameters specified in the protocol and the volume of sediment deposited by the Paria River since late July, which scientists estimate is approximately 500,000 metric tons, enough to fill a football field 230 feet deep.
Through the foundation laid by the protocol, annual experiments can be conducted through 2020 to evaluate the effectiveness of multiple high flow experimental (HFE) releases in rebuilding and conserving sandbars, beaches, and associated backwater habitats that have been lost or depleted since the dam’s construction and operation. The protocol identifies the conditions under which a high flow release will likely yield the greatest conservation and beneficial use of sediment deposited by inflows from Colorado River tributaries as a result of rainstorms, monsoons, and snowmelt.
“Favorable sediment conditions in the system only occur periodically, so the ability to respond quickly and make the best use of those deposits when the time is right is essential,” said Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. “Today’s experimental release under the new protocol represents a significant milestone in our collective ability to be nimble and responsive to on-the-ground conditions for the benefit of downstream resources.”
HFE releases simulate natural flood conditions that suspend and redeposit sand stored in the river channel to provide key wildlife habitat—including habitat for the endangered humpback chub, protect archaeological sites, enhance riparian vegetation, maintain or increase recreation opportunities, and improve the wilderness experience along the Colorado River in Glen and Grand canyons. Single experimental releases were conducted in 1996, 2004, and 2008, and included extensive scientific research, monitoring, and data collection by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
“These high-flow releases, a new paradigm in water management, recognize that there are hugely beneficial impacts to river ecology from releasing the requisite water needed downstream in large pulses, rather than uniformly throughout the year,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “In the arid West, non-uniform flow better mimics the natural environment in which the plants and animals flourished.”
This scientific process will continue and the knowledge gained from today’s experimental high flow will be used to make further refinements in determining the optimal timing, duration, frequency, and conditions for future releases as well as to inform other management actions on the river.
“As the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act emphasizes, the resources of the Grand Canyon are fragile, and conservation of those resources can only be achieved through wise management by today’s leaders,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Today’s event marks the beginning of the next generation of wisdom for managing this special place. We have only one Grand Canyon. We want to thank the Secretary for his leadership and conservation of this special place now and into the future.”
The protocol represents one of two important milestones in the history of the Colorado River. The second, a program to control non-native fish species, provides a framework for actions and research to protect native endangered fish in the river downstream of the dam. The finalization of both efforts involved extensive government-to-government consultation with Native American tribes to ensure implementation of the programs in a manner that respects tribal perspectives.
“The Bureau of Indian Affairs supports the cooperating tribes’ active involvement in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “Many of their insights were incorporated into the process leading to the HFE event. Their strong connections to the Grand Canyon, including their cultural, historic and religious ties, give them a unique perspective on this national treasure. I want to thank the tribes for their long stewardship and their full participation in this important effort to conserve and protect the Colorado River ecosystem.”
The additional water released as part of the HFE is part of the annual water delivery to the Lake Mead. “The volume of water we are releasing during this high flow experiment does not change the overall volume of water delivery in the 2013 water year,” said Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. “The current operations plan based on forecast data calls for releasing 8.23 million acre-feet of water from the dam to meet delivery obligations to the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico. The experimental flows are included in that total annual volume and will be offset by adjustments to the monthly release volumes throughout the rest of the water year.”
“This new protocol developed by Reclamation will protect both the Grand Canyon and the delivery of water for communities, agriculture and industry,” Salazar noted. “We are taking a practical approach. If, for any reason, the new high-flow experiments do not yield the positive results we anticipate, we have the ability to change and adjust future flows.”
In addition to the opportunities for HFE releases made possible under the protocol, Secretary Salazar has initiated the first comprehensive analysis of Glen Canyon Dam operations since 1996. The Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement will build on information obtained through the Adaptive Management Program and activities conducted under the protocol to analyze a broad scope of dam operations and other related activities. The goal is to determine specific alternatives that could be implemented to improve and protect downstream resources while adhering to applicable laws. Reclamation and the National Park Service are jointly developing the LTEMP EIS, which will ultimately integrate and further refine actions conducted under the protocol.
Here’s a technical description of what the USGS hopes to accomplish (Jack Schmidt/Barbara Wilcox). Here’s an excerpt:
“Throughout summer and fall 2012, the USGS research team developed, and continually revised, estimates of the total amount of sand and of mud delivered by the Paria River, as well as estimating the fate of that fine sediment as it was transported further downstream through the Grand Canyon,” said Jack Schmidt, chief of the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “These data are the scientific foundation on which the planned high-flow experiment is based. Without the estimates of the amount of sand and mud delivered from tributaries, it would not have been possible to implement the Protocol for these high flow experiments. The entire program of utilizing small controlled floods to rehabilitate the Grand Canyon ecosystem depends on state-of-the-science monitoring efforts by the USGS to measure sediment transport rates in real time and to provide those data to the Bureau of Reclamation and to other agencies.
“The USGS program of measuring and reporting sand and mud transport in real time and in such a challenging environment is unprecedented in the scientific management of rivers,” Schmidt said.
USGS data show that the Paria River delivered at least 593,000 tons of sand to the Colorado River between late July and the end of October 2012 – enough to fill a building the size of a 100-yard NFL football field about 24 stories high. Long-term measurements show that this amount is about 26 percent less than delivered by the Paria in an average year, but is still sufficient to trigger a small controlled flood intended to rehabilitate the downstream ecosystem.
From the Associated Press via Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opened the river outlet tubes at noon and called it “an historic milestone” and “a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River.” The peak flow will last 24 hours from Monday night into Tuesday, and the river will run high for five days…
The experiment could hurt next year’s fishing – and complicate hydropower production and water storage – in the name of a more environmentally correct river…
Previous experiments in 1996, 2004 and 2008 were one-time fact-finding missions instead of fundamental shifts in river management.
“This (Obama) administration can be patted on the back and thanked for doing what we’ve been trying to do, seriously, for 15 years,” Lash added.
The previous experiments yielded mixed results, partly because a return to up-and-down flows timed partly to regional summer hydropower needs wiped out many of the new beaches and sandbars.
Advocates hope the effects will be longer lasting if these floods come more regularly and if a longer-term Interior Department planning effort leads to steadier flows through the summers.
But critics say that there’s little environmental benefit and that it comes at a cost.
In comments submitted to the Interior Department before the decision to go forward with regular flushes, the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, a group of nonprofit energy utilities, noted that previous springtime flood experiments helped boost the population of non-native trout that feed on the endangered humpback chub.
It’s no surprise that people settle near surface water. Here’s the release from the United States Geological Service (James Coles/Kara Capelli):
The loss of sensitive species in streams begins to occur at the initial stages of urban development, according to a new study by the USGS. The study found that streams are more sensitive to development than previously understood.
“We tend not to think of waterways as fragile organisms, and yet that is exactly what the results of this scientific investigation appear to be telling us,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Streams are more than water, but rather communities of interdependent aquatic life, the most sensitive of which are easily disrupted by urbanization.”
Contaminants, habitat destruction, and increasing streamflow flashiness resulting from urban development can degrade stream ecosystems and cause degradation downstream with adverse effects on biological communities and on economically valuable resources, such as fisheries and tourism.
For example, by the time urban development had approached 20 percent in watersheds in the New England area, the aquatic invertebrate community had undergone a change in species composition of about 25 percent.
The study also found that the health of highly-degraded streams can be improved by implementing management actions that are designed to reduce specific stressors.
“Biological communities were not resistant to even low levels of urban development. In the study sensitive invertebrate species were being lost over the initial stages of development in relatively undisturbed watersheds,” said Dr. Gerard McMahon, lead scientist on the study. “Understanding how stream ecosystems are impacted by urban development can assist in the development of management actions to protect and rehabilitate urban stream ecosystems.”
Multiple streams in nine metropolitan areas across the continental U.S. were sampled to assess the effects of urban development on stream ecosystems. Study areas include Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Boston, Mass., Dallas, Texas, Denver, Colo., Milwaukee, Wis., Portland, Ore., Raleigh, N.C., and Salt Lake City, Utah.
The study also found that the effects of urbanization on the biological community vary geographically depending on the predominant land cover and the health of the community prior to urban development. In the study, the greatest loss of sensitive species occurred in Boston, Portland, Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Raleigh metropolitan areas, where the predominant land cover was forested prior to urban development. The smallest loss of sensitive species occurred in Denver, Dallas, and Milwaukee metropolitan areas where land cover was primarily agriculture before urban development.
“The reason for this difference was not because biological communities in the Denver, Dallas, and Milwaukee areas are more resilient to stressors from urban development, but because the biological communities had already lost sensitive species to stressors from pre-urban agricultural land use activities,” said McMahon.
Although urban development creates multiple stressors, such as an increase in concentrations of insecticides, chlorides, and nutrients, that can degrade stream health—no single factor was universally important in explaining the effects of urban development on stream ecosystems. The USGS developed an innovative modeling tool to predict how different combinations of urban-related stressors affect stream health. This tool, initially developed for the New England area, can provide insights on how watershed management actions to improve one or more of these stressors may increase the likelihood of obtaining a desired biological condition.
The effects of urbanization on streams, including information about this and past studies, as well as graphics and maps, and videos can be online.
Results of this nationwide study and details about the effects of urbanization on the nine metropolitan areas can be found in a new USGS publication titled, “Effects of urban development on stream ecosystems in nine metropolitan study areas across the United States.”
Management strategies used throughout the U.S. to reduce the impacts of urban development on stream ecosystems are described in a new USGS report written in partnership with the Center for Watershed Protection in Maryland titled, “Strategies for Managing the Effects of Urban Development on Streams.”
This study was done by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which conducts regional and national assessments of the nation’s water quality to provide an understanding of water-quality conditions, whether conditions are getting better or worse over time, and how natural features and human activities affect those conditions.
More USGS coverage here.
Snake River: USGS — Warmer Temperatures Likely Driving Increase of Metal Concentrations in Rocky Mountain WatershedSeptember 13, 2012
Here’s the release the United States Geological Survey (Heidi Koontz/Jim Scott):
Warmer air temperatures since the 1980s may explain significant increases in zinc and other metal concentrations of ecological concern in a Rocky Mountain watershed, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Rising concentrations of zinc and other metals in the upper Snake River just west of the Continental Divide near Keystone, Colo., may be the result of falling water tables, melting permafrost, and accelerating mineral weathering rates, all driven by warmer air temperatures in the watershed. Researchers observed a fourfold increase in dissolved zinc over the last 30 years during the month of September.
“This study provides another fascinating, and troubling, example of a cascading impact from climate warming as the rate of temperature-dependent chemical reactions accelerate in the environment, leaching metals into streams,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The same concentration of metals in the mountains that drew prospectors to the Rockies more than a century ago are now the source of toxic trace elements that are harming the environment as the planet warms.”
Increases in metals were seen in other months as well, with lesser increases seen during the high-flow snowmelt period. During the study period, local mean annual and mean summer air temperatures increased at a rate of 0.2-1.2 degrees Celsius per decade.
Generally, high concentrations of dissolved metals in the upper Snake River watershed are the result of acid rock drainage, or ARD, formed by natural weathering of pyrite and other metal-rich sulfide minerals in the bedrock. Weathering of pyrite forms sulfuric acid through a series of chemical reactions, and mobilizes metals like zinc from minerals in the rock and carries these metals into streams.
Increased sulfate and calcium concentrations observed over the study period lend weight to the hypothesis that the increased zinc concentrations are due to acceleration of pyrite weathering. The potential for comparable increases in metals in similar Western watersheds is a concern because of impacts on water resources, fisheries and stream ecosystems. Trout populations in the lower Snake River, for example, appear to be limited by the metal concentrations in the water, said USGS scientist Andrew Todd, lead researcher on the project.
“Acid rock drainage is a significant water quality problem facing much of the Western United States,” Todd said. “It is now clear that we need to better understand the relationship between climate and ARD as we consider the management of these watersheds moving forward.”
In cases where ARD is linked directly with past and present mining activities it is called acid mine drainage, or AMD. Another Snake River tributary, Peru Creek, is largely devoid of life due to AMD generated from the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine and smaller mines upstream, and has become a target for potential remediation efforts.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, in conjunction with other local, state and federal partners, is conducting underground exploration work at the mine to investigate the sources of heavy metals-laden water draining from the adit. The study conducted by Todd and colleagues has implications in such efforts because it suggests that establishing attainable clean-up objectives could be difficult if natural background metal concentrations are a “moving target.”
Collaborators include USGS, CU Boulder and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). The data analyzed for the study came from INSTAAR, the USGS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):
Rising concentrations of zinc and other metals in the upper Snake River west of the Continental Divide near Keystone may be the result of falling water tables, melting permafrost and accelerating mineral- weathering rates — all driven by warmer air temperatures in the watershed…
High concentrations of dissolved metals in the upper Snake River watershed are the result of acid rock drainage, according to the research. The drainage is a result from past and present mining activities.
More water pollution coverage here.
Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Keelin R. Schaffrath):
Elevated levels of dissolved solids in water (salinity) can result in numerous and costly issues for agricultural, industrial, and municipal water users. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act of 1974 (Public Law 93–320) authorized planning and construction of salinity-control projects in the Colorado River Basin. One of the first projects was the Lower Gunnison Unit, a project to mitigate salinity in the Lower Gunnison and Uncompahgre River Basins.
In cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study to quantify changes in salinity in the Gunnison River Basin. Trends in salinity concentration and load during the period water years (WY) 1989 through 2004 (1989–2004) were determined for 15 selected streamflow-gaging stations in the Gunnison River Basin. Additionally, trends in salinity concentration and load during the period WY1989 through 2007 (1989–2007) were determined for 5 of the 15 sites for which sufficient data were available. Trend results also were used to identify regions in the Lower Gunnison River Basin (downstream from the Gunnison Tunnel) where the largest changes in salinity loads occur. Additional sources of salinity, including residential development (urbanization), changes in land cover, and natural sources, were estimated within the context of the trend results. The trend results and salinity loads estimated from trends testing also were compared to USBR and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates of off-farm and on-farm salinity reduction from salinity-control projects in the basin. Finally, salinity from six additional sites in basins that are not affected by irrigated agriculture or urbanization was monitored from WY 2008 to 2010 to quantify what portion of salinity may be from nonagricultural or natural sources.
In the Upper Gunnison area, which refers to Gunnison River Basin above the site located on the Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel, estimated mean annual salinity load was 110,000 tons during WY 1989–2004. Analysis of both study periods (WY 1989–2004 and WY 1989–2007) showed an initial decrease in salinity load with a minimum in 1997. The net change over either study period was only significant during WY 1989–2007. Salinity load significantly decreased at the Gunnison River near Delta by 179,000 tons during WY 1989–2004. Just downstream, the Uncompahgre River enters the Gunnison River where there also was a highly significant decrease in salinity load of 55,500 tons. The site that is located at the mouth of the study area is the Gunnison River near Grand Junction where the decrease was the largest. Salinity loads decreased by 247,000 tons during WY 1989–2004 at this site though the decrease attenuated by 2007 and the net change was a decrease of 207,000 tons.
The trend results presented in this study indicate that the effect of urbanization on salinity loads is difficult to discern from the effects of irrigated agriculture and that natural sources contribute a fraction of the total salinity load for the entire basin. Based on the calculated yields and geology, 23–63 percent of the estimated annual salinity load was from natural sources at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction during WY 1989–2007. The largest changes in salinity load occurred at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction as well as the two sites located in Delta: the Gunnison River at Delta and the Uncompahgre River at Delta. Those three sites, especially the two sites at Delta, were the most affected by irrigated agriculture, which was observed in the estimated mean annual loads. Irrigated acreage, especially acreage underlain by Mancos Shale, is the target of salinity-control projects intended to decrease salinity loads.
The NRCS and the USBR have done the majority of salinity control work in the Lower Gunnison area of the Gunnison River Basin, and the focus has been in the Uncompahgre River Basin and in portions of the Lower Gunnison River Basin (downstream from the Gunnison Tunnel). According to the estimates from the USBR and NRCS, salinity-control projects may be responsible for a reduction of 117,300 tons of salinity as of 2004 and 142,000 tons as of 2007 at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colo. (streamflow-gaging station 09152500). USBR and NRCS estimates account for all but 130,000 tons in 2004 and 65,000 tons in 2007 of salinity load reduction. The additional reduction could be a reduction in natural salt loading to the streams because of land-cover changes during the study period. It is possible also that the USBR and NRCS have underestimated changes in salinity loads as a result of the implementation of salinity-control projects.
Click here to download the report.
Remember all the way back to water year 2011 when Colorado’s reservoirs mostly filled to the brim? Here’s the Streamflow of 2011 — Water Year Summary from the United States Geological Survey (Xiaodong Jian/David M. Wolock/Harry F. Lins/Steve Brady).
For you numbers junkies the document should be a great read to take along next time you’re sitting under the cottonwoods by your favorite stream.
Here’s the introduction:
The maps and graph in this summary describe streamflow conditions for water year 2011 (October 1, 2010, to September 30, 2011) in the context of the 82-year period from 1930 through 2011, unless otherwise noted. The illustrations are based on observed data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Streamflow Information Program (http://water.usgs.gov/nsip/). The period 1930–2010 was used because, prior to 1930, the number of streamgages was too small to provide representative data for computing statistics for most regions of the country.
In the summary, reference is made to the term “runoff,” which is the depth to which a river basin, State, or other geographic area would be covered with water if all the streamflow within the area during a single year was uniformly distributed upon it. Runoff quantifies the magnitude of water flowing through the Nation’s rivers and streams in measurement units that can be compared from one area to another. Each of the maps and graphs can be expanded to a larger view by clicking on the image. In all of the graphics, a rank of 1 indicates the highest flow of all years analyzed.
More USGS coverage here.
Update: It was early this morning when I first posted this and I neglected to point out that they have mapped selected stream gages as well.
Sometimes it’s nice to look at the calls on the river graphically. Thanks to the United Water and Sanitation District you don’t have to haul out your straight line diagram for the South Platte Basin. They’ve built an online map with current river calls.
Click on the thumbnail graphic for a screen shot of this morning’s map.
Here’s the release from United Water and Sanitation:
United Water and Sanitation District has unveiled a first-of-its-kind South Platte River Basin map that allows water users and providers throughout the Front Range to get real-time, visual information about the status of the South Platte River and its tributaries.
The map (http://map.unitedwaterdistrict.com/”>) aggregates hourly data from a variety of sources, including the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Colorado Division of Water Resources, providing comprehensive streamflow information from the South Platte River Basin. Map users can scroll over dozens of river locations to get valuable and timely information, including:
- River height (ft)
- Streamflow rates in cubic feet per second(cfs)
- Active calls on the river
- Apparent dry-up points
“This map allows users to see the supply side along with the demand side of the river basin as conditions change,” said Josh Shipman, asset manager for United Water and Sanitation District. “We have taken a tremendous amount of data and put it in a visual, interactive format, making it easier for water users and providers to quickly and easily get information. It now only takes a few seconds to get information on the river that previously took hours to compile and compare.”
With numerous water rights and supply interests along the South Platte River basin, United Water anticipates a variety of interest in the map – from ditch companies and water districts to farmers and municipalities – particularly in a dry year like one we are currently experiencing.
“Ultimately this map allows any interested party to monitor real time, stream conditions to ensure they are receiving the full allocation of their call on the river,” said Ron von Lembke, chief of staff at United Water and Sanitation District. “But it can also be useful for water recreationalists such as kayakers and fishermen who are interested in water conditions related to their activities.”
The map encompasses all of the South Platte River basin – including each of the 16 Districts included in Water Division 1 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources(http://water.state.co.us/DWRIPub/DWR Maps/ColoradoRiverBasins.pdf) While there is potential to expand the map to other divisions throughout the state, United Water’s immediate focus will be on adding streamflow monitoring stations and select weather stations in these districts to further enhance its current functionality.
Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (J.V. Loperfido/D.M. Hogan):
Urbanization results in elevated stormwater runoff, greater and more intense streamflow, and increased delivery of pollutants to local streams and downstream aquatic systems such as the Chesapeake Bay. Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) are used to mitigate these effects of urban land use by retaining large volumes of stormwater runoff (water quantity) and removing pollutants in the runoff (water quality). Current USGS research aims to understand how the spatial pattern and connectivity of stormwater BMPs affect water quantity and water quality in urban areas.
More stormwater coverage here.
The United States Geological Service is modeling the effects of climate change on various basins around the U.S. Here’s a release from the agency (Kara Capelli):
“We are unlikely to see a ‘water-as-usual’ future.” – Marcia McNutt, USGS Director
Arguably, the most important impacts of climate change – including those to ecosystems, agriculture, energy, and industry – will be tied to changes in water availability, especially as the world becomes increasingly water-stressed. It’s crucial that water managers understand the likely impacts of climate change, so that they can plan for new conditions and challenges.
How will your water be affected?
Understanding the impacts that climate change will have on water availability in specific regions and communities is a mammoth task. Water availability in every region, basin, and watershed will be affected differently, depending on the specific precipitation and hydrologic conditions in that area.
Also, for all of the models and technology we have available at our 21st century finger tips, weather patterns are still notoriously unpredictable. Forecasting future precipitation conditions is even more difficult, especially under new climate scenarios, and changes to weather patterns will vary across the country.
Complicating water availability predictions further, each basin has its own unique set of hydrologic and geologic features that affect how much water is available, where that water comes from, and how it flows through a system.
Little by little, though, scientists are beginning to build the information and tools to understand the nuanced effects of climate change to the Nation’s water resources.
USGS predicting changes to water availability in 14 basins across the Nation
In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists from the USGS have predicted changes to water resources for 14 different basins across the country.
First, the scientists downscaled vast climate models, in order to understand changes in temperature and precipitation specific to the 14 study basins. They then used USGS hydrologic models and streamgage information to project how water resources will be impacted by the changing weather patterns, taking into account specific hydrologic and geologic features in each basin, such as snowpack, drought, and groundwater conditions.
For example, the USGS models project that changes to snowpack in the Sprague River Basin in Oregon could cause annual peak streamflows to occur earlier in the spring as overall basin storage decreases. This means that managers may be forced to modify storage operation and reprioritize water delivery for environmental and human needs.
In many areas the biggest impacts to water resources will be a factor of reduced snowpack. For example snowpack in the headwaters of the Colorado River could affect the amount and timing of streamflow to the Colorado River and also impact important recreation areas.
Portions of Maine may see higher streamflows, which could affect populations of endangered Atlantic salmon. On the other hand, areas of the already drought-stressed Flint River Basin, one of Atlanta’s primary drinking water supplies, are projected to become even drier.
More USGS coverage here.
Routt County, et.al., are teaming with the USGS to monitor water quality in the upper Yampa River basinMarch 29, 2012
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
Joining the county and Steamboat Springs in the local funding are the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Mount Werner Water District and Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District. Like the county, the city and the Conservancy District will contribute $9,071. Mount Werner Water and Morrison Creek Water each will contribute $2,268.
The new water-quality monitoring sites are in addition to the water-quality measuring site maintained by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment at the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat since 2007. Now, samples at five sites will be tested for chemical content, nutrients, E. coli and alkalinity, among other properties…
[Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf] added that he expects to receive recommendations in the near future from the U.S. Geological Survey about a program to monitor water quality in aquifers in the valley, which could lead to monitoring groundwater quality, as well as surface-water quality.
Click here for the publication from the United States Geological Survey. Here’s an excerpt:
The most common method used by the USGS for mea- suring velocity is with a current meter. However, a variety of advanced equipment can also be used to sense stage and measure streamflow. In the simplest method, a current meter turns with the flow of the river or stream. The current meter is used to measure water velocity at predetermined points (sub- sections) along a marked line, suspended cableway, or bridge across a river or stream. The depth of the water is also measured at each point. These velocity and depth measurements are used to compute the total volume of water flowing past the line dur- ing a specific interval of time. Usually a river or stream will be measured at 25 to 30 regularly spaced locations across the river or stream.
Here’s the link to the USGS Water Watch website.
More USGS coverage here.
The United States Geological Survey was established on March 3, 1879, just a few hours before the mandatory close of the final session of the 45th Congress, when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the bill appropriating money for sundry civil expenses of the Federal Government for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1879. The sundry civil expenses bill included a brief section establishing a new agency, the United States Geological Survey, placing it in the Department of the Interior, and charging it with a unique combination of responsibilities: “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.” The legislation stemmed from a report of the National Academy of Sciences, which in June 1878 had been asked by Congress to provide a plan for surveying the Territories of the United States that would secure the best possible results at the least possible cost. Its roots, however, went far back into the Nation’s history.
The first duty enjoined upon the Geological Survey by the Congress, the classification of the public lands, originated in the Land Ordinance of 1785. The original public lands were the lands west of the Allegheny Mountains claimed by some of the colonies, which became a source of contention in writing the Articles of Confederation until 1781 when the States agreed to cede their western lands to Congress. The extent of the public lands was enormously increased by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and later territorial acquisitions.
At the beginning of Confederation, the decision was made not to hold the public lands as a capital asset, but to dispose of them for revenue and to encourage settlement. The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided the method of surveying and a plan for disposal of the lands, but also reserved “one-third part of all gold, silver, lead, and copper mines to be sold or otherwise disposed of, as Congress shall thereafter direct,” thus implicitly requiring classification of the lands into mineral and nonmineral. Mapping of the public lands was begun under the direction of the Surveyor-General, but no special provision was made for classification of the public lands, and it thus became the responsibility of the surveyor. There was,of course, no thought in 1785 or for many years thereafter of employing geologists to make the classification of the mineral lands, for geology was then only in its infancy.
More USGS coverage here.