Showing posts with label Colorado River. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Colorado River. Show all posts

October 05, 2017

Make It Snow Make It Snow Make It Snow

1920s rain dance, probably at the Prairie Band Potawatomi agency in Kanas (WIkipedia).
Colorado ski areas and water managers keep employing rain-makers, but of the mechanical cloud-seeding variety, not the ritual variety, reports the Summit Daily.
The concept of cloud seeding has been around since the 1940s, when Bernard Vonnegut (brother of author Kurt) discovered that silver iodide could produce ice crystals when introduced into cloud chambers.

In those heady days, cloud seeding was heralded as a way to produce rain where there was none, boosting crop yields and filling reservoirs to the brim.

That was a wild overstatement, and cloud seeding's reputation suffered for it.
 • • •

Western Weather Consultants claims that its two seeding operations in the High Country generate between 180,00 and 300,000 added acre-feet of water per year, and that has been backed up by independent studies.
That's pretty impressive. Read the whole thing.

April 06, 2016

The National Monument that I Avoided for No Reason

Colorado National Monument's Window Rock with Grand Junction sprawl in the background.
I have not been everywhere, but I have visited many of the famous spots of the Colorado Plateau, from Mesa Verde and Hovenweep to Wupatki and Chaco, to Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods and Comb Ridge, Goosenecks State Park and the San Juan River, Canyonlands, Moab, Arches, and Natural Bridges.

I once performed emergency repairs on a '69 VW bus after chocking its wheels with rocks partway up the Moki Dugway.

But never Colorado National Monument. Superstition? I would be driving on I-70 or riding the California Zephyr, look south as I left Grand Junction, westward bound, and think "Oh yeah, got to go there some time."

Maybe it's my uneasy relationship with Grand Junction. It's twenty miles across and one story tall, all highways and arterial roads so that least you can get through it quickly.  A once-small town has spread like a quart of oil spilled on the garage floor.

It's a place where I occasionally rent a motel room — once  M. and I, younger and poorer, rented a room in a now-vanished SRO hotel — probably the only overnight guests they had had in a long time — and someone coughed himself to death all night in the adjoining room.

I was covering some off-road race for a start-up car-racing mag (The Whitewater 200? Something like that.) and had an expense account of about $20. The magazine folded. Now "off-road race" is more likely to refer to a contest of Spandex-clad bro-cyclists.

And there is a the family angle. I can walk down Main Street and see where my maternal grandfather and his brother ran variously a furniture store, a rod-and-gun shop, and the Personal Loan Company. The house on North 7th Street where my grandparents lived until their divorce still stands.

(In addition, one of my older sisters was born in GJ, and the other lived here for some time when first married.)

So maybe it is my feeling of estrangement from that older side of the family (with a couple of exceptions) that makes me feel twice a stranger here, where I sit typing in a tiny studio apartment rented on Airbnb.com. At times I keep imagining that the Jeep has an out-of-state license plate, which is a sort of cognitive hallucination. It's been years since Colorado stopped coding license plates to county of issuance. You can't tell who is local and who is not from their plates anymore.

We have spent two days hiking in Colorado National Monument — back to red sandstone, screaming flocks of scrub jays, and the bitter, resiny taste of ephedra leaves in my mouth — self-medication for spring allergies. Gambel's quail dart along the road and bighorn ewes and lambs cause "critter jams" on Rim Rock Drive.

Back on the Colorado Plateau, and why didn't we come here sooner? Spring is the best time.

August 10, 2015

The Machine That Must Run Forever

Leadville Mining District (Bureau of Reclamation).
This is the website for the "10,000 Year Clock" proposal, also known as the Long Now.
There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years.
Very nice, but we already have a "10,000-year clock." Several of them, in fact.

They do not tell time, but they must run forever. As in forever, as long as people live downstream from Colorado mine pollution.

Or until there is some major geological change, a technological breakthrough, or society devolves into some kind of Max Max, The Dog Stars, or World Made by Hand kind of future.

In that case, cadmium and other heavy metals in your drinking water and a lack of trout in the river might be lower down your list of problems. Who can say?

Maybe you heard about how work by the Environmental Protection Agency to remedy mine-drainage pollution in a tributary of the Animas River in SW Colorado went horrible wrong.

A toxic slug is flowing downstream into New Mexico and eventually to the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

Some people just want to use this incident to beat up on the EPA. Others worry about the effects on people dependent on the river and on its aquatic life.

My point is, this is not unique. Colorado, "mother of rivers," (South Platte, North Platte, Rio Grande, Arkasas, Colorado) is also a state built on mining.

Take the headwaters of the Arkansas River — the mining area around Leadville. It boomed on silver, but in the 1940s, the call was for zinc — zinc to make brass — brass for all the cartridge cases and artillery shells of World War Two.

But the mines filled with water as they went deeper, water percolating from rain and snow melt. So miners drilled a long, long tunnel to drain them, routing it into the river.
Leadville Mine Drain — the "floor" is water.

The metals that the tunnel picked up killed the river. So in 1991, the Bureau of Reclamation opened a treatment plant to neutralize the drainage. It's simple chemistry really.

When I co-taught an environmenal writing class at Colorado State University-Pueblo, my colleague and I used to take students up there on a field trip. We would rent some vans — it is about 160 miles one way, and many students had never been that far up the river that feeds their city.

We would tour the treatment plant and also drive past  the similar Yak Drainage Tunnel.

As some who read the old Whole Earth Review and CoEvolution Quarterly, I know about the "Long Now" project. I was interested, but I wanted to bring those Bay Area techno-hippies up to Leadville.

"Look here," I would say. "It's already running. Just add the chimes."

Because this "machine" has to run forever.

Forever.

Forever.

In the words of that old treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy in New York, "as long as the waters flow."

We all know how that worked out.

March 22, 2015

On the Road – The Arizona Jinx

Colorado River floodplain with the uncharacteristically misty Chocolate Mountains in the distance.
Another visit to Arizona is winding down, and again it seems like there is something here that wants to frustrate it.

The family-visit part was good; it is the hiking-and-birding parts that always go off the tracks.

Our 2006 trip took a sudden detour to the E.R. at St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson, as detailed in
"A Misadventure in Crotalia."

In 2010, a ranger-guided hike to the Bétatakin Ruin (you can't go on your own) at Navajo National Monument was aborted when another hiker injured herself, stopping the trip for everyone.

Last Tuesday, we drove our rented car into Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (named for the King of Arizona mine), bumped along some miles of gravel road, and finally found a pullout to park in. All ready to go hiking, I glanced at the left rear tire. It was flat.

The next ugly surprise was in the trunk. Of course there was no full-size spare tire, but Hyundai does not even give you a short-range "donut" spare. Instead, they provide a canister of tire sealant that attaches to a 12-volt electric air pump, complete with warning not to drive the repaired tire more than 10 km. or six miles. Right. There's a tire shop just down the hill, past the big saguaro.

So I pumped up the bad tire and, keeping it to 15–20 mph, drove carefully down to U.S. 95 (more than six miles), then dialed the car rental company's roadside-assistance number. I got through to a human being on the third try, and he was trying to locate us by triangulating my cell phone or something, because "Highway 95 north of Yuma, milepost ••" was too simple for him.

And then to wait, as a military blimp hovered overhead, a drone buzzed in the distance, and artillery thumped. Yes, we were now by the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, where "in a typical year, over 500,000 artillery, mortar and missile rounds are fired, 36,000 parachute drops take place, 200,000 miles (320,000 km) are driven on military vehicles, and over 4000 air sorties are flown."

When the tow truck showed up, about two hours after the original incident, the driver said that he had been given a location ten miles way, but he knew to call us himself.

By the time we had obtained a new car, it was tequila time.

• • • 
Muddy rental car.
Re-equipped with a Ford Focus, M., my sister, and I went to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday. This riparian refuge along the Colorado River is mainly about birds, with interior roads, overlooks, and hiking trails.

Did I mention that it was raining? Yes, in the area that get about three inches a year, it was raining. We ducked into the visitor center, where upon hearing M.'s question about a hummingbird seen outside,the staffer on duty immediately had his Sibley guide open to the hummer pages.

Phainopepla (Cornell Ornithology Lab)
It cleared off enough for us to walk a couple of miles, although the skeeters was fierce. And then we relocated to the Rio Loco Bar on the river at nearby Martinez Lake, where we could check out a few birds through the plate glass windows behind the bar.

We decided that that was a pretty nice place, so much so that we drove back out there after supper — because I had left my Sibley bird guide lying on the bar that afternoon.

One other question. The Phainopepla has no common name? Really??

March 17, 2015

On the Road — By the Lower Colorado River (2)

YumaLanding1885.jpg
"Yuma Landing 1885" by George Rothrock (Wikimedia Commons).
The Colorado River today is not big enough for steamboats at Yuma, Arizona.
Today's walk came courtesy of an article in Orion, "Down by the River," written by Rowan Jacobsen.

M. and I were headed here anyway to visit my sister and brother-in-law, but we did not know that Yuma, Arizona, is a place where the tamarisk (salt cedar) invasion has been driven back significantly.
Few areas were hit harder [by tamarisk[ than Yuma, and the calamity went beyond the tremendous loss of biodiversity. In 1999, community developer Charlie Flynn took the helm of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which is part of the National Park Service’s program to foster community-driven stewardship of important natural or cultural landscapes. His task was to bring the riverfront back to life, but he found the area so overgrown with invasive tamarisk thickets that no one could get near the water, and in the few places where people could, they didn’t dare because of drug smugglers who used the abandoned waterway as a thoroughfare. “Once all the non-native vegetation grew up, it was the perfect breeding ground for drug traffic, meth labs, hobo camps, trash dumps,” Flynn explained to me. “You name it, it was down there. It was a no man’s land. People just didn’t go to the river. They were afraid to. Even the police hated going down there. You couldn’t see two feet ahead of you.”
Now you have people like us walking around with binoculars, excited to see birds that are probably commonplace here but not in so much southern Colorado — black phoebe, great-tailed grackles — and American coots, which are common enough in, for instance, the San Luis Valley, but I am not used to seeing little flocks of them walking around in city parks.

At least one of those hobos, whose road name was Lucky, gets his own interpretive sign. Found camping in the thickets, he took a job on the restoration crew and is credited with planting 5,000 trees.
Leveled and diked, some areas can be flooded with water pumped from the river.

Instant cottonwood grove, with drip irrigation.
Built in 1915, closed in the 1980s, reopened in 2002, the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge is the near one.
The farther bridge carries the railroad (BNSF and Amtrak).







On the Road: By the Lower Colorado River

(Credit: Cornell University)
Two Eurasian collared doves are having hot dove sex on a roof across the street — feathers float down — while others provide a raucous chorus. And there are mockingbirds. I must be back in southern Arizona.

Next: a trip to a historic battlefield in the War Against Tamarisk.

February 06, 2015

Waiting for Some Snow

Click to embiggen.
Put this snowpack map together with this news release (PDF) from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service: "Snowpack Percentages Decline throughout Abnormally Dry January," and you will see why we are hoping that the predictions for a wetter spring come true.
January is an important month for mountain precipitation over the course of the average year.The month of Apriltypically provides the most mountain precipitation at 3.6 inches, followed by March at 3.4 inches, and January coming in the third highest at 3.2 inches. This January provided only 1.47 inches of mountain precipitation, 45% of the average. The South Platte saw the greatest precipitation totals compared to normal at 62% of average. 
Here in the foothills, I have had my snowblower out only three times, and the deepest snow was only seven inches. (Via Coyote Gulch, the go-to Colorado water blog.)

April 23, 2014

Getting More Water — by Magic?

Arrow #14 should be pointing into (2) Arkansas River, I think, as it is part of Colorado Springs' system. Maybe that part of the map was just too crowded. (Colorado State Engineer, via Coyote Gulch blog.)

I found this graphic at Coyote Gulch as part of a post about further planning by Front Range cities to get more water out of the Colorado — the already over-allocated Colorado River.

The graphic is helpful in explaining that much of the water used from Colorado Springs north to the Wyoming border is "transmountain" water.

Note that Denver is outside the gray area—the upper Colorado River watershed.

I still meet people from Colorado Springs who think that their water comes from the snow on Pike's Peak. For the Denver-plex, would that be the snow on Mount Evans?

Reading that piece, I can't help but think that a magic wand is being waved. The Front Range cities still think that there will be more water available when they want it  . . . somehow.

March 26, 2013

Blog Stew on the Rio Grande

Image from EarthSky.org
• Prof. Margaret Soltan on the Jane Goodall (yes, that Jane Goodall) plagiarism case:
I wonder how many trees have had to die so that Goodall could shred hundreds of thousands of Seeds of Hope: Wisdom, Wonder, and Plagiarism from the World of Plants.
• In the Denver Post, Colorado environmental journalist praises outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for protecting open spaces: 
Salazar also has a large legacy in the Colorado River, where again, this work in Washington flowed from his prior experience as a water attorney and then administrator in Colorado government. Under his supervision, a broader, forward-looking vision for the Colorado River has been shaped.

"What I think he brought was the need to look at the river as a full and complete system, from top to bottom, instead of its component parts." says Chris Treese, external affairs director for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District.
• The New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is happy about designation of the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. 
"There are many great public lands to hunt in New Mexico, but what makes the Rio Grande del Norte unique is the wide variety of wildlife that it offers, combined with the area's overwhelming natural beauty. It truly is some remarkable country and fishing in the spectacular Rio Grande Box is a special experience" said Laddie Mills, a longtime New Mexican hunter and angler.
 Further comment from Indian County:
“I applaud President Obama protecting Rio Grande del Norte National Monument because many of the wildlife species that live in that corridor come in and out of this area.  Left unprotected, there may be very few animals available that the Native American people of Taos Pueblo depend on for food, clothing and shelter," says Benito Sandoval, Taos Pueblo War Chief.

December 03, 2008

What East Coast Pundits Miss about Oil Shale

Have you noticed how most of the pundits touting Colorado oil shale as our energy salvation live east of the Mississippi River?

I'm talking about you, Glenn Reynolds, there in soggy Tennessee.

They just do not understand the water issues wrapped up with the shale issues. You can't just snap your fingers and create more than 300,000 acre-feet of water in the over-appropriated upper Colorado River basin, as the Colorado Independent explains.

“A dominant finding is oil shale development, along with its associated power production, could require tremendous amounts of water, up to 378,300 acre-feet annually,” concludes the Energy Development Water Needs Assessment, which was funded by grants from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

So if you take the water for shale development, which ox gets gored? Denver? Las Vegas? Los Angeles? Phoenix?

UPDATE: Welcome, View from the Porch readers. For more education on Western water issues, visit Coyote Gulch. To see what we mean by "river" in the Southwest, go here.

July 22, 2008

How Oil Shale is like Argentina

Senator Ken Salazar's recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post about oil shale reminds me of the cynical old saying about Argentina: It will always be a country with a brilliant future.

I am still waiting for some bright (or Bright) person to re-invent Project Rulison and apply it to oil shale.

For an interesting rant on energy issues, go here. As LabRat, the writer, makes clear, the big problem (in rhetorical jargon) is that we have not "achieved stasis." There is no agreement on what the argument is actually about.

March 16, 2008

Blog Stew -- Lunch Special with Mashed Potatoes

Classic diners of Colorado. I have eaten in two of them.

¶ Testing continues at the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel treatment plant in anticipation of handing the backed-up polluted water.

¶ Chris Wemmer is still trying to squirrel-proof an owl nest box. The squirrels are winning. And he has some new bobcat photos as well.

¶ A white-water rafting guide critiques the recent Grand Canyon "flood," and compares it to the Salmon River's flow regime.

¶ While walking the dogs this morning, M. heard sandhill cranes overhead for the first time this spring, although thick cloud cover kept her from seeing them.