Showing posts with label water. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water. Show all posts

December 03, 2013

Reading Water Flows with Trees

Via Coyote Gulch, I learned about TreeFlow, a project to reconstruct centuries' worth of river flows in the West through correlating them with tree rings. "A tree-ring reconstruction is a best-estimate of past streamflows, based on the relationship between tree-ring data and observed streamflow over the modern period."

Here, for example, is the reconstruction of the Colorado River's flow at Lees Ferry, Arizona, going back to 750 CE (scroll down for that graph).

Closer to home, the Arkansas River at Cañon City, Colorado, from 1685–1987.

The process correlates tree rings with observed data from the late 19th century to the present, then projects the correlation back over older tree ring samples from cores or archaeological sites. More about the process here.
The persistent drought conditions that emerged across the West in 1999, especially the extreme drought year of 2002, indicated that the observed records of streamflow in the region did not capture the full range of natural hydrologic variability. This drought, along with increasing demands on water supplies led to a need to assess the range of drought conditions that were likely to occur. Tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow, extending several hundred years or longer, provide a more complete representation of past variability. Accordingly, streamflow reconstructions attracted more interest within the water management community as a potentially useful tool for planning.

November 18, 2013

Blog Stew with Sunflower Seeds (You'll Like Them)

¶ You could use this fancy online tool at the Cornell ornithology lab to find the best food for your favorite winter birds. Or you could just put out black oil sunflower seeds because almost all the cold-weather birds like 'em. As one of the local Auduboners once told me, "They're like ice cream for birds."

¶ The US Forest Service takes a step back in its tug-of-war over water rights with ski areas operating on national forest land — which is a lot of them. Durango Herald reporter Joe Hanel writes, "The Forest Service has tried sporadically for years to get legal control over snowmaking water rights, because of worries the rights could be sold to real estate developers or others not interested in using the water for skiing."

That, yes, but also conservation groups like Trout Unlimited have worried about ski areas drying up streams for snow-making.

¶ Workers at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico recently found a large new room. They are calling it Halloween Hall, whether for the date or for the multitude of bat bones in it, I am not sure. Photo at the link.

September 20, 2013

Drought Conditions Improve in Colorado, New Mexico



The strong monsoon season has helped ease the drought. I see that our area has dropped from "severe drought" to "abnormally dry." 

The creek near our house faltered in mid-summer but recovered before going completely dry. A rancher neighbor says that he has been able to irrigate for a few days, although I am sure that he would rather have had that water in June.

Denver Post photo
In northern Colorado, there is no drought at all! That happens when you get a year's worth of precipitation in a few days.

In fact, in some areas, soil moisture has been recharged the old-fashioned way.

Then there is the oil-spill problem.

September 19, 2013

What Kind of Water Year Was It?

Click to enlarge

Hydrologists measure "water years" from October through August, so this diagram shows the year that just ended.

July 21, 2013

Colorado's Redwoods

The Big Stump, a fossilized redwood, was once the pride of a commercial resort at the site. The tree would have been a "little" larger than the ponderosa pines now growing around it.
Taller and faster-growing, Colorado's redwoods were in all respects better than those in California — except for having flourished 34 million years ago, before a series of volcanic eruptions suffocated them.

Flash forward to the 1870s, when residents of Colorado Springs could take an excursion train west into the mountains and wander through the petrified logs exposed on the ground, chipping away bits to take home and place on the mantelpiece or in their flower beds.

Visitors chipped away so industriously that the logs are gone, except for those still buried. A generation later, two adjacent commercial establishments controlled the fossil beds, each one part dude ranch, part museum, and part fresh-air resort.

Only in 1969 did the area become the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which also showcases fossils of quite a few plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates, preserved in volcanic ash.

M. and I stopped by in June 2013 for the first time in (non-geological) ages. We found the new park visitor center and more trails and signage than we remembered.
Too many visitors don't get far from the vistor center. That is actually a stump in the pit, surrounded by a supporting band of steel.

I poop on your signage.
The easy half-mile Ponderosa Loop Trail includes photos of the previous commercial establishments at the fossil bed, as well as a time line of geology and life at the site. Here a modern dinosaur appears to have left some comments on one of the signs.

The monument covers 6,000 acres, and there are 14–15 miles of hiking trails, depending which brochure you read.

We walked another three-mile loop, which crossed the Homestake Pipeline, part of Colorado Springs' water system. The pipeline carries water from a collection system near Aspen, with its flow shared by Aurora and Colorado Springs.

(It's amazing how many Springs residents think their water comes from snow on Pike's Peak, and Aurorans probably don't think at all about it.)

Despite its significance in our hydraulic civilization, the pipeline rates no signage on the hiking trail. Apparently it does not fit the narrative of the fossil beds.

The cleared strip marks the route of the Homestake Pipline through the hills west of Colorado Springs. It was built just before the national monument was created.

June 16, 2013

Blog Stew, a Little Burnt

Items that might deserve longer individual posts but will not get them. . .

Speculation about the closure of the Royal Gorge Bridge and park (now reduced to the bridge and a tollbooth, as in 1929) and its effect on southern Colorado tourism, with a telling photograph.

Unlike Bloomberg, I would not all the American Prairie Preserve project a "land grab." Its rich backers are buying the land. But true, once the number of cattle and/or sheep ranchers falls below some critical point, there might be domino effect on the rest.

• A piece from the Nature Conservancy magazine on "water wars" in the San Luis Valley. Speaking of rich guys buying up big chunks of the West, I don't care how many monks his wife brought in, I never trusted Maurice Strong at all. This was the issue that dominated the 1990s there and led, ultimately to a new map of the valley's west side.

June 09, 2013

News from Magdalena

New Mexico blogger Steve Bodio details what happens when the village well runs dry — or collapses, actually.  Water is being trucked in — how long can that last?

At the macro level, I wonder if there is a connection with this headline.

Nevertheless, the Magdalena blogging gang alerted me to the threatened secession of a number of northeastern counties from the state of Colorado. 
We are a band of brothers and native to the soil,
Fighting for the property we gained by honest toil;
 
Hurrah! Hurrah!
For [northeastern Colorado] rights, hurrah!

June 03, 2013

High Plains Aquifers, Crop Changes, and the 'Secret Government'

I posted recently about the galloping depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer ("We're on the last kick," he said. "The bulk water is gone").

Chad Love explains how modern agricultural methods also make it harder for the aquifer to recharge itself: "The Ogallala is Ogaleavin' "

Here in Colorado, agriculture traditionally takes about 80 percent of the water and municipalities 20 percent, but that balance is changing as farmers sell or lease water to cities. Consequence: A shift to dryland crops, just as will probably happen on the High Plains where groundwater has been going to corn crops for ethanol, feedlots, and hog barns.

John Orr at Coyote Gulch links to a Greeley Tribune story on how winter wheat is supplanting other thirstier crops.

Back on my last newspaper job, my beat included the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. I always felt that "the water beat" was like being asked to cover the secret government — where decisions are made and court cases are fought that, years down the road, constrain what more visible government bodies can do.

Coyote Gulch is my go-to blog for secret-government news these days.

May 23, 2013

“We’re on the last kick,” he said. “The bulk water is gone.”

All my adult life, I have been hearing predictions that the Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains Aquifer by people unsure how to pronounce "Ogallala"), a huge sponge of water under the High Plains, was dropping . . . dropping . . . dropping.

Fly east out of Colorado Springs and look at all the irrigated circles from center-pivot irrigation. They are growing corn, mostly.

Corn to feed to cattle in High Plains stockyards. Corn for ethanol (it's patriotic!) to make us energy independent so we won't be sending money to the Middle East.

All those wells pumping groundwater have led to this result.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers. . . . .

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.  
From a US Geological Survey report, quoted at Coyote Gulch, the water blog:
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.
Maybe we will see more grass-fed beef (or buffalo?)  and more winter wheat in on the High Plains in the future. That's the optimistic outlook. But that slogan from the 1970s and 1980s, "A bushel of wheat for a barrel of oil!" is still just chest-thumping nonsense.

April 05, 2013

Antero Reservoir to Close, Other Drought-Related News

Antero Reservoir (Photo: Denver Water)
UPDATE 4/22. Apparently this is not happening. Bag limits remain as before.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be draining Antero Reservoir in South Park (again), this time due to drought.

Full news release here—draining starts May 1st. The limit for fish has temporarily been raised to eight.

A little history on the reservoir, part of the Denver Water system.

January 21, 2013

Mountain Snowpack for January 2013


The Southern Rockies are not doing so well, and the Black Hills look really dry. 

Some of us were down at the fire station on Saturday, testing the new floating pump (assuming that there might be a stream to float it in), all the other pumps, chainsaws, etc., checking hoses, organizing the various items of gear on the engines. Oh for the days when I could look forward to summer. Now I would just as soon see winter last longer.


Meanwhile, it is the height of the fire season in Australia, where in some parts of the country, the debate over environment, fire, and cultural desires continues.

January 01, 2013

Waiting for Spring Snow in the Arkansas River Basin

From KRCC in Colorado Springs, a report (one of a series) on snow pack, water, and drought in the Arkansas River Basin, with photos and graphics.
Typically the snow to water equivalency in the Arkansas River basin approaches around 5 inches by mid-December. Right now it’s only 57% of average. With so much riding on this year’s snow pack – the numbers are disturbing for farmers downstream who depend on the river for irrigation.

April 05, 2012

Western Snowpack Map, April 2012


I wonder how much difference Tuesday's snow made along the southern Colorado mountains. Ten inches fell at our foothills location, with twice that up higher, according to a friend on the county road crew. All maps from the National Water and Climate Center.

December 09, 2011

Colorado Approves New Natural Areas

Colorado will have three new designated "natural areas" following action by the Colorado Wildlife and Parks Commission yesterday.
The 2,529-acre Miramonte Natural Area is located within the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area at Miramonte Reservoir in San Miguel County. Renowned for its excellent recreational opportunities and remarkably diverse rare plant habitats, this area also serves as an indicator of healthy sagebrush communities and provides some of the best habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse in the county.

• North of Durango in La Plata County, 125 acres of the Haviland Lake State Wildlife Area have become the new Haviland Lake Natural Area. Plant communities common to the southern Rockies meet with Four Corners communities in interesting and unique assemblage of species. Riparian shrub lands and robust wetland vegetation at the site provide habitat for sensitive wildlife species such as the osprey and the Northern leopard frog.

• In eastern Colorado north of Idalia, the 2,240-acre Arikaree River Natural Area is part of the largest remaining naturally functioning Great Plains river system in the state. Several native and uncommon species of amphibians, fish and reptiles reside in a mature riparian corridor that includes high-quality native prairie and streamside plant communities. The area, owned by the Colorado Land Board, is a meeting ground for many bird species from the eastern and western United States and is one of the best birding areas in Colorado.
I'd like to get out to the Arikaree area before the weather gets too hot. To the south, I assume that there is still accessible state land along the Republican River, even with Bonny Reservoir lost. (I am glad that Dad is not around to see Bonny drained; it was one of his favorite getaway spots when he needed a little prairie time.)

September 09, 2011

What the Flaming Gorge Pipeline Would Wreck

Durango writer Dave Petersen lays it out. The proposed pipeline to bring water from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado's Front Range would be devastating to northeast Utah's fish and wildlife:

We are lucky to have a world-class fishery in our own extended backyard, on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Unfortunately, this great run of river is now threatened by a monumental boondoggle that could destroy one of the finest fishing destinations on the planet. Aaron Million's proposed water pipeline would stretch from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah, some 560 miles to the massive population centers of Colorado's Front Range. After all, why should we worry about preserving what little is left in America of wild nature when water board members believe the river's flows would be better used to maintain wasteful blue-grass lawns, golf courses, swimming pools and car washes around the Denver area?

In addition to the obvious self-centeredness and amorality of Million's outrageous proposal, consider the construction cost, currently estimated by state agencies to run as high as $9 billion, with another $123 million per year, in perpetuity, required to operate and maintain the pipeline. Just what we need in a strapped economy! Nor would it be a bargain for Front Range residents, requiring farmers and homeowners to pay the highest fees ever for water.
Read the rest.

August 25, 2011

Western Vocabulary Quiz: Drainages

Californian reacts to the place name "Schoolmarm Draw" in Colorado
The following terms are listed in alphabetical order. Re-arrange them in order from smallest to largest. Support your conclusions with examples or arguments.
  • Arroyo
  • Canyon
  • Coulee
  • Draw
  • Gorge
  • Gulch
  • Gully
  • Ravine
  • Valley

June 30, 2011

Fire, Bears, and a Dry Hole

That reddish dust in the air is ground-up Fountain Formation sandstone.
FIRE: I was all packed to go fishing two days ago—a friend and I planned to hit a small, warmwater lake at the end of the day. The Porta-Bote was strapped to the roof of the car, rod and tackle box inside. Then the telephone rang.

A new fire was burning inside the perimeter of the Sand Gulch Fire, the one that chased us from our home at the end of April. There had been some lightning that afternoon, but opinion now leans to the possibility that a tree root smoldered underground for almost two months before starting a new surface fire.

The new fire was at the bottom of a north-facing slope, a mix of burned, live, and scorched ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.  We arrived in force—12 or 14 volunteers plus the brush truck and water tender. I know that I myself went through two backpack loads of water on what was only a quarter-acre fire, but with the wind and the heat and the fuel dryness, we had a few anxious minutes at the beginning.

We have two classes of volunteers: some are really motivated to learn more on every fire. Others—and do they all come from the old ranching families?—work hard at the beginning, then step back and start telling stories: ". . . so-and-so's dad built a cabin up that crick. That's why that fence runs over . . . "

Eventually a half dozen Forest Service guys arrived, and we turned the final mop-up and observation over to them and headed down the hill. Bad news: the little country store, the only place to buy beer within 15 miles, had closed for the night twenty minutes earlier. (Calling ahead would not have worked, since we were in a cell phone dead zone.)

DRY HOLE:  Our guest cabin shares an old, hand-dug well with three other houses—all this relic of the 1960s when the county had no zoning. It has its problems, especially from the perspective of the full-time residents, including one whose house is for sale. So they all wanted to dig a new well.

The driller came, dowsed, and drilled next to the existing well. Down 200 feet. Nothing. Down 400 feet (the depth of a nearby well). Nothing. By that time he was well into the Fountain Formation, the same reddish sandstone that forms the Boulder Flatirons, Red Rocks Park, and parts of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, only here it is not tilted up but lies not far underground.

The Fountain Formation is quite thick: as much as 4,000 feet. So we stopped throwing money down the hole at that point. Apparently the old well just taps gravel on top of it, and as for the neighbor with the 400-foot well, maybe he got lucky and hit some sort of seam.

Now the plan is to once more attack the old well with high-pressure water jets and suction, try to clean the mud out, and re-case it. Meanwhile, I owe $1,600 for my share of the dry hole.

BEARS: Garbage pickup is on Tuesdays, so one neighbor, who has lived here at least thirty years and ought to know better, put her garbage can out by the road on Monday evening. I set out with the dogs on their Tuesday morning walk, when suddenly they went tearing off through the trees and oak brush. They had found a prize! Garbage was everywhere! Shelby found something stinky to roll in, while Fisher looked hard for overlooked tidbits that the bear might have missed.

This bear was hanging around near the house that evening, probably hoping to find a new garbage can.

Summer is such a lazy, relaxing season.

May 04, 2011

76 Trombones—and a Nuclear Reactor

When we evacuated our house last Friday afternoon, M. scooped some new sequined, strappy dress sandals that she had not yet worn outside the store.

She is not big on "retail therapy," but these were purchased partly to celebrate the denial of a zoning request in Pueblo County for a vaguely proposed nuclear power plant—or something.

Although the proposer, lawyer Don Banner, was not from out of town, the whole scenario kind of reminded me of the Broadway musical (and later movie) The Music Man.

The film's protagonist travels from town to town, telling the residents that he will organize a boys' marching band. Then he takes the money meant for instruments and uniforms and catches the next train to Somewhere Else.

Banner wanted the county to give him a planned unit development zoning on land he did not own (although he had some options), to build a nuclear power plant with financing and partners that did not yet exist, said power plant to be cooled with water to which he did not have any rights.

And this is Colorado, where water rights are everything.

Oh, and his proposal went before the Board of Commissioners right when the nuclear-plant disaster in Japan was at the top of the news.

But he promised jobs. And you could just imagine a zombie-fied board of commissioners shuffling forward mumbling, "Jobs ... jobs....jobs." Right here in River City, as the song goes.

But then, in the words of the Pueblo Chieftain, it all "melted down."
For themselves, the commissioners expected to hear a bitter argument over the safety of nuclear power. Where the ground shifted away from Banner was on the fundamental questions of why was he asking the county to fast-track his project by considering it as a request for a simple planned-unit development instead of a more comprehensive review?

Also, how could he ask the county to approve zoning for a nuclear plant when Banner had no actual power plant for consideration? The controversial details of size, water use and waste storage all would be delayed for future consideration if Banner could find a developer. . . .
For his part, Banner acknowledged that there were many unknowns in his proposal. He was trying to get a site zoned for a power plant without having a utility interested in building it. It was a "build it and they will come" approach that he justified with his enthusiasm for nuclear power.
No water, no land, no partners, no plan. As The Denver Post put it,
But here's the hitch, one that Banner freely concedes: There is no money, developer, committed transmission line or customer for the nuclear power plant.
But he's a visionary!
Banner, who has described himself as "overly zealous" on occasion, accepted the verdict with the same certainty that made him champion the power plant in the first place.
"This was a short-sighted decision," he told The Chieftain after the vote. "And I am a visionary."
Xcel Energy has a coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, and Black Hills Energy is building a natural gas-fired plant as well. So it was not like the area needed a power plant; this was strictly for export, so to speak.

In the end, the commissioners cited the lack of water as perhaps the least-controversial way of saying no to Banner's request. Nuclear reactors require a huge amount of cooling water, which is why they are often located next to rivers or oceans.

Banner is not an out-and-out con man like "the professor" in The Music Man, but his approach likewise was based on telling people down in Pueblo that they had a problem that he could cure. All they had to do was believe in him.

Blog Stew with Kittens

• Science writer Emily Anthes on how it is impossible to be logically consistent about animals—especially cats.

• There is lots of snow in northern Colorado. Coyote Gulch has the roundup. Not so much here. The southwest part of the state is doing OK.

• Federal district court awards damages in suit against US Forest Service over bear attack in Utah campground.

• Chad Love remembers a hard-ass Chesapeake Bay retriever. Chessies are not the smartest dogs, not the biggest, not the fastest, not the most glamorous—but they yield to none in terms of attitude and stubbornness. ("Fisher, no! I mean it! I'm talking to you, buster.")