#ColoradoRiver pulse flow — one year later

April 16, 2015
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From Arizona Public Media (Vanessa Barchfield):

One year ago the governments of the U.S. and Mexico worked together on a historic project to send water down the parched Colorado River Delta in Mexico…

University of Arizona geoscientist Karl Flessa said Tuesday that the eight-week flooding helped to germinate and establish cottonwoods and willows that will live for up to 50 years, demonstrating that even a small amount of water can have long-lasting effects on an ecosystem.

But, Flessa said, the impact of the water varied.

“In some places the pulse flow did enormous amount of good work in establishing vegetation and sustaining that vegetation. In other parts of the river it didn’t really make that much of a difference,” he said.

He and his team are studying why that was the case.

“So we’re really trying to map out the river and identify those prime restoration sites.”
Future efforts will be targeted in those conservation sites that responded best to the returned flow of water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Swan River restoration

April 6, 2015

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):

If all goes as planned, the Swan River between Frisco and Breckenridge will once again run like it did more than a century ago.

That’s because the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Basin Roundtable have given Summit County a $975,000 grant to restore 19 miles of the river that was drastically changed by mining activity…

The overall plan is restore the part of the river that’s separated by the huge dredge piles – and hopefully bringing back fish and wildlife in the area – returning it to how it was more than a hundred years ago.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


San Miguel River: Restoration project will reverse channelization

April 5, 2015

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org


From The Telluride Daily Planet:

One of the biggest human impacts on the Valley Floor was the channelization of the once-meandering San Miguel River approximately 125 years ago, pushing the waterway into an unnatural straight line on the western edge of the valley. That crime against nature could be reversed in a $1.6 million plan presented to Telluride Town Council on Tuesday.

The ambitious engineering project would focus on a section of the river from the sewer lagoons near Entrada to Boomerang Road, restoring the flow to the historic route of the river — a pathway that can be seen in old photographs and is hinted at in the current topography of the 570-acre green space.

“What we’re doing in this situation is we’re actually moving the flow path of the San Miguel River,” said Dave Blauch, a senior ecologist for Ecological Resource Consultants, Inc., a group that is assisting in the river restoration project. “The concept has been to pull it out on the Valley Floor to function more naturally.”

Blauch told council members of the many environmental benefits that the project would create: the restoration of approximately 5,000 linear feet of aquatic and riparian habitat, the elimination of a highly unnatural water channel, the restoration of natural flood cycles and the improvement of the natural habitat.

The new — but really quite old — river channel would be cut with excavation equipment and the project would be a disruptive sight to see on the protected land while underway.

Hilary Cooper, a member of the committee focused on the river restoration project, told council members that the benefits of the project would far outweigh one season of construction disruption.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meeting recap

March 16, 2015

Kerber Creek

Kerber Creek


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Scars from the San Luis Valley’s mining days are slowly healing.

Kerber Creek in the northern part of the Valley is one of the places where mining provided a temporary income and left a permanent scar on the area’s land and water.

Trout Unlimited and several partnering organizations are gradually working to revive the soil and water along Kerber Creek, which flows through Bonanza and Villa Grove, where mine tailings rendered land and fishing streams lifeless for many years. Yesterday the Valley-wide water organization, Rio Grande Roundtable, approved $30,000 out of its basin funds towards a $277,677 project covering about six acres in the middle portion of the Kerber Creek Restoration Project. Project Manager Jason Willis explained this would tie together restoration efforts already conducted in this section.

There are 13 tailing deposits in this small area alone, Willis explained, seven on one side of the creek and six on the other.

Work will begin in conjunction with 5,900 feet of in-stream improvements by Natural Resources Conservation Service this summer and wrap up this fall to improve vegetation and water quality on this stretch of Kerber Creek.

Willis explained that amendments such as limestone provided by the Bureau of Land Management will be added to the soil in phytostabilization efforts, and metal tolerant native species will be planted. The goal is to create a self-sustaining system similar to the undisturbed landscape that existed before the mining occurred, Willis explained.

He shared videotaped comments of landowner Carol Wagner who has owned a ranch along Kerber Creek since 1986. She explained how the quality of water in the creek had improved from extremely poor and unable to support fish habitat when she bought the property to a much more vibrant and beautiful state since restoration efforts began. Landowners such as Wagner contribute towards the restoration project , which includes several partners such as BLM, NRCS and the Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

In addition to providing funds for the ongoing Kerber Creek restoration, the Roundtable yesterday heard a preliminary funding request , which will be brought back next month for formal action, from Judy Lopez for $45,300 over a three-year period from the basin account for education and outreach efforts such as newspaper articles, radio shows, educational videos, web page updates, project tours and administration. The roundtable also voted to establish an executive committee to help manage roundtable business such as planning the meetings, agendas and speakers and reviewing applications. The committee will consist of the three officers, who until the end of the calendar year will continue to be Chairman Mike Gibson, Vice Chairman Rio de la Vista and Secretary Cindy Medina, as well as roundtable members Peter Clark, Ron Brink, Judy Lopez , Heather Dutton, Steve Vandiver, Charlie Spielman, Nathan Coombs and Karla Shriver. Also during their meeting on Tuesday the roundtable members heard a presentation on geophysical and hydrophysical logging tools and techniques by Greg Bauer of COLOG who shared various tools to learn what’s going on beneath the surface. He said many of these tools could be used for well logging that could be accurate and cost effective. Theroundtablealso heard a report from Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten that the snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin is now up to 87 percent of average, about where the basin has been at this time of year for the past couple of years. The National Weather Service forecast through the summer calls for above-average precipitation.


Workshop to focus on Big Thompson River restoration — @coloradoan

February 26, 2015


Circle of Blue: Of new water projects Congress authorized last year, ecosystem restoration fared best in Obama budget

February 23, 2015


@USGS: Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History Scientifically Characterized

February 17, 2015

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survery:

The effects of dam removal are better known as a result of several new studies released this week by government, tribal and university researchers. The scientists worked together to characterize the effects of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history occurring on the Elwha River of Washington State. New findings suggest that dam removal can change landscape features of river and coasts, which have ecological implications downstream of former dam sites.

“These studies not only give us a better understanding of the effects of dam removal, but show the importance of collaborative science across disciplines and institutions,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Five peer-reviewed papers, with authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, Reclamation, National Park Service, Washington Sea Grant, NOAA Fisheries, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and the University of Washington, provide detailed observations and insights about the changes in the river’s landforms, waters and coastal zone during the first two years of dam removal. During this time, massive amounts of sediment were eroded from the drained reservoirs and transported downstream through the river and to the coast.

One finding that intrigued scientists was how efficiently the river eroded and moved sediment from the former reservoirs; over a third of the 27 million cubic yards of reservoir sediment, equivalent to about 3000 Olympic swimming pools filled with sediment, was eroded into the river during the first two years even though the river’s water discharge and peak flows were moderate compared to historical gaging records.

This sediment release altered the river’s clarity and reshaped the river channel while adding new habitats in the river and at the coast. In fact, the vast majority of the new sediment was discharged into the coastal waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the river mouth delta expanded seaward by hundreds of feet.

“The expansion of the river mouth delta is very exciting, because we are seeing the rebuilding of an estuary and coast that were rapidly eroding prior to dam removal,” said USGS research scientist and lead author of the synthesis paper, Dr. Jonathan Warrick.

Although the primary goal of the dam removal project is to reintroduce spawning salmon runs to the pristine upper reaches of the Elwha River within Olympic National Park, the new studies suggest that dam removal can also have ecological implications downstream of the former dam sites. These implications include a renewal of the sand, gravel and wood supplies to the river and to the coast, restoring critical processes for maintaining salmon habitat to river, estuarine and coastal ecosystems.

“These changes to sediment and wood supplies are important to understand because they affect the river channel form, and the channel form provides important habitat to numerous species of the region,” stated USGS research scientist and river study lead author, Dr. Amy East.

The final stages of dam removal occurred during the summer of 2014. Some sediment erosion from the former reservoirs will likely continue. The Elwha Project and research teams are continuing to monitor how quickly the river returns to its long-term restored condition.

“We look forward to seeing when the sediment supplies approach background levels,” said Reclamation engineer and co-author, Jennifer Bountry, “because this will help us understand the length of time that dam removal effects will occur.”

The five new papers can be found in Elsevier’s peer-reviewed journal, Geomorphology, and they focus on the following topics of the large-scale dam removal on the Elwha River, Washington (web-based publication links using digital object identifiers, doi, are provided in parentheses):

  • Erosion of reservoir sediment
  • Fluvial sediment load
  • River channel and floodplain geomorphic change
  • Coastal geomorphic change
  • Source-to-sink sediment budget and synthesis
  • More USGS coverage here.


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