Category Archives: Water Quality

The 2 Year Anniversary of the Gold King Mine Spill

 

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The Gold King Mine Spill released heavy metals to the Animas River. Photo courtesy of the EPA

The Gold King Mine spill occurred two years ago on Aug. 5, 2015 in Silverton, Colorado. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was investigating the release of water from the mine and was hoping to remove material that had collapsed at the mine’s entrance. During removal, the loose material gave way, opening the mine tunnel and causing thousands of gallons of pressurized water to gush out of the tunnel and into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River. This water had a low pH and was saturated with heavy metals which caused the Animas River to be slightly lower in pH as well. Luckily, the Animas watershed and abandoned mine lands had been studied extensively by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Colorado Department of Natural Resources. This provides a baseline for water quality standards in the watershed and can help to determine if the water is safe for human consumption, domestic usage and/or agricultural use, but also to understand when downstream water bodies will recover.

Millions of people rely on water data, and on the water managers and public health officials who collect and analyze that data, for a safe and dependable water supply. When emergencies happen, like the Gold King Mine spill, citizens and water managers track water data to see what has changed, how much it has changed, and whether or not the water is safe—in such situations, up-to-date and accurate water data is crucial.

Data has played an important role in informing the cleanup of streams that have been affected by acid mine drainage from abandon mines. According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, there are over 23,000 abandoned mines in Colorado and over 1,800 miles of stream that have suffered the negative impacts of acid mine drainage.

Since August 2015, USGS and other researchers have collected water samples from numerous sites downstream of the Gold King spill site and along the Animas River. After the spill, scientists from many different organizations and agencies including the Mountain Studies Institute (MSI), the Southern Ute Water Quality Program (WQP), the EPA and USGS, tested water samples from the Animas River. Drinking water samples were taken every 30 minutes to track pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature and conductivity for two weeks. Drinking water samples were also taken every day for two weeks after the spill to determine whether the water was safe.

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A slew of heavy metals from the spill turned the water a orange yellow color. Photo courtesy of Riverhugger.

From August 6, 2015 to August 11, 2015 MSI sampled the river. The tests on that water showed a slight increase in heavy metals but the levels did not exceed toxic water-quality levels. MSI estimates that a person would have to ingest two liters of water a day, four days per week for 16 weeks to experience any adverse health effects from the water.  EPA Sediment samples taken on August 10th, August 12th, and August 13, 2015 from the Animas River showed that metal concentration levels were trending toward pre-event levels. This new data was then compared to the historic data from USGS and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, where the tribe has been collecting water quality data since 1992 to create tribal water quality standards.

Today, the Animas River is healthy although, each spring, runoff from snowmelt turns the river a light shade of orange as the runoff stirs up old sediment. The WQP continues to take monthly water samples, semi-annual macro invertebrate samples, and annual fish tissue samples, while the state continues to monitor the fish population in the area.

USGS uses two different methods to collect data on the impacts of abandoned mine sites in Colorado and around the country—field studies and computer simulation models. Field studies collect water quality data to track the contaminants in the river and downstream of the release site, while computer models are used to quantify the transport of dissolved metals in streams. Data from both of these are then used in comparative analysis. In Cement Creek, scientists use the data to evaluate best management practices to meet and create standards for total maximum daily load. In Mineral Creek, scientists use the computer simulation models to accurately forecast post-cleanup water quality in the stream. Then, scientists compare pre-cleanup water quality data with post-cleanup water quality data to evaluate how accurate the model was.

Despite tests showing there was a minimal impact on the water quality of the Animas River, various parties such as the state of New Mexico and the state of Utah, are suing the EPA for damages to farms, tainted wells, and lost revenue from tourism. Among those parties is the Navajo Nation, suing for damages to crops and monitoring costs. According to the Denver Post, the president of Navajo Nation, Russell Begaye, has shown concern for his people and how they have been treated by the EPA, ”we need to hold the US EPA to their word according to their testimony. We are still waiting for reimbursement.” The Navajo Nation is looking for $162 million from EPA, including $3.1 million for reimbursement costs and $159 million for water development projects and monitoring. So far EPA has reimbursed the Navajo Nation almost $700,000 but claims that the river returned to its pre-spill state in September 2015, discrediting the lawsuit put forth by Navajo Nation.

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Reducing Algal Blooms at Barr Lake

unnamedBy Amy Conklin, the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association

Have you ever taken a picnic or gone for a hike at one our local lakes only to find it a green, stinky mess because of all the algae?  Did you think, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about this?’  Well, they are.

Since 2002, the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association (BMW) has been working to identify what causes the stinky algal blooms and find ways to prevent them.

What BMW found is that excessive nutrients coming from human activities are feeding the algae and creating the excessive blooms.  This process is called cultural eutrophication.  It means that the products of urban living, stormwater, wastewater and other runoff, act like fertilizer on a lawn and turn Barr Lake green.

At Barr Lake, one result of all the algal blooms is high pH (an alkaline condition) and low dissolved oxygen (DO). Like us, fish need oxygen.  When the DO gets too low, fish get stressed and can die.  We don’t want the majestic eagles or noisy osprey at Barr Lake to go hungry!

Barr Lake receives water that drains from the urban Denver metro area.  In fact, about half of Colorado’s population lives in the BMW watershed.  Very few know that the good folks at BMW are working hard to keep the water in Barr Lake and the Denver metro area clean.

One of the first questions BMW had to answer was how clean is clean?  The levels of nutrients needed to keep the algal blooms at manageable levels, at levels where all the uses of the lake could occur, are laid out in laws and regulations.  The answer to how clean is clean, what are acceptable levels of nutrients, has been well researched.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that 90% of the nutrients getting into the lake need to be removed to achieve acceptable levels of nutrients.

BMW developed a multi-pronged approach to get the nutrients out of the water.  They’re working with the publicly owned wastewater treatment plants to increase removal of nutrients from wastewater.  They’re also working to clean the stormwater that runs down gutters into the stream and they’re working on ways to keep nutrients from re-entering the water column from the lake sediments.

The plan is already working with billions of $ being spent but it will take many years before the water is so clean that there aren’t stinky algae blooms.  You can do your part:

  • Fertilize your lawn ONLY with products that don’t contain Phosphorus.
  • Pick up after your pet.
  • Use a Commercial car wash.
  • Keep grass clippings and leaves out of the gutter.
  • Use a commercial company to change your oil.

With all of us working together, we can keep our water clean.

Listen to the recording of our April 2017 webinar presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. to hear more of the BMW story. Read more about nutrients as nonpoint source pollution in the CFWE blog posts, The Runoff Conundrum, Preventing Water Pollution Starts in Your Backyard, and In Bloom.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverFind further coverage on these topics in the Public Health Issue of Headwaters Magazine and learn more about water quality in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection. Then stay posted for new content on data in the upcoming summer 2017 issue of Headwaters.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

Amy_ConklinAmy Conklin is proud to offer her services for finding solutions to water issues.  With a Masters in Water Resources Management and experience in the public and private sectors, she brings diverse groups together to solve water issues.  Recently, Amy developed a 12 minute video describing the process for developing water messages.  It can be found on YouTube and www.barr-milton.org.  Amy is currently working as the coordinator of the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and is also working with the Colorado Stormwater Council to develop a Statewide Water Quality Education Campaign.  You can learn more about Amy at LinkedIn, http://www.linkedin.com/in/amysconklin/

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South Platte Bike Tour June 2017

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The 2017 Urban Waters Bike Tour started at Johnson Habitat Park and ended at Globeville Landing Park.

Each year, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education leads an urban waters bike tour through Denver. This tour is open to water professionals and citizens alike to learn about the South Platte Watershed and what is being done to make the 8-mile stretch of the river more user-friendly.  On my first day as a Colorado Foundation for Water Education intern, I was able to participate in the 2017 bike tour, offered by CFWE in partnership with the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and the Colorado Stormwater Council. We started at Johnson Habitat Park and ended at Globeville Landing Park, with a few stops in between, where we heard from multiple guest speakers about the health of the South Platte, opportunities for recreation, and current and upcoming projects along the river.

At Johnson Habitat Park, we heard from the executive director of The Greenway Foundation, Jeff Shoemaker. Shoemaker spoke about the days when the river was ecologically dead, especially at that specific location because it used to be a dump so the water was heavily polluted, and no fish were present in the water. In 1974, The Greenway Foundation started to clean up the pollution and restore the riparian environment by using rocks and plants to create a more natural, less urban setting. Today there are many cold water species such as carp and rainbow trout that not only live in the South Platte, but thrive in it. For The Greenway Foundation, the main focus in recent years has been restoring and creating riverfront parks along the South Platte to provide areas for recreation and learning opportunities for children. In addition, we heard from Scott Schreiber, a stream restoration engineer at Matrix Design Group who also serves as president of the Denver Trout Unlimited (DTU) chapter. Schreiber spoke about water quality and maintaining a healthy river. There are about 70 days out of the year when no water flows through the South Platte, which is of concern because the more water that is present in the river, the healthier it will be. In order, to address this problem, DTU negotiated with Denver Water to release 10 acre-feet on those no-flow days.

We then pedal our bicycles along the South Platte River to our first stop at Weir Gulch, where we heard from Jill Piatt-Kemper with the City of Aurora. Jill spoke about ways that the cities of Denver, Lakewood, and Aurora are working together to ensure that they handle stormwater properly, as it can be a source of pollution for the South Platte. Pavement and concrete increase the rate at which runoff from storms reach the river, and the water picks up pollution from parking lots or roads it flows through, depositing that pollution into the river. Piatt-Kemper’s work aims to keep water away from homes so that storms and flooding cause minimal property damage, create a habitat for wildlife

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Tour participants learn about stormwater at Weir Gulch.

along the riparian zone, and filter the runoff using grass. Filtering runoff is important because fish can’t survive when nutrient levels are too high in the river. The excess nutrients cause more plants to grow, therefore increasing the biological oxygen demand (BOD). An increase in BOD means that the plants are using all of the oxygen in the water, starving the fish of oxygen.  The grass along the riparian zone will filter these nutrients out, use the nutrients to grow, and deliver fresh water to the river.

Our next stop was at Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence Park. There, we heard from Mike

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Mike Bouchard with the City and County of Denver describing the reconstruction of Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence Park.

Bouchard who is a landscape architect with the City and County of Denver. Bouchard spoke about the reconstruction of Shoemaker Plaza and the history of Confluence Park which is where the city of Denver first started. In the early years, parts of the South Platte and Cherry Creek were used as the city’s sewer and dump, and became channelized as a result of urbanization. In 1965, a flood drowned the city and caused millions of dollars in damage. As a result, Chatfield Reservoir was built, making areas along the South Platte safe and accessible again. In order to increase river access, Denver started construction on Shoemaker Plaza in 1974. In spring 2016, reconstruction started to make the plaza larger and more user-friendly as the area is seeing more use. However, two months into the project, workers found coal tar, a byproduct of energy production. They had to stop construction in order to clean up

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Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence Park is under construction to improve river accessibility.

all of the coal tar to ensure that it did not make its way into the water. The site is now clean and construction can continue to create a place where people today and future generations will be able to come and enjoy Colorado’s most precious resource.

Our last stop was Globeville Landing Park where we heard from Celia Vanderloop from the City and County of Denver. Celia spoke about the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative Project in the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are historically poor and have been neglected. This project will create a water feature that will hold water during large rain events in order to control flooding and give access to a green space, restore walkability, water quality, and water accessibility. Part of this project is to clean up the Superfund site near the Denver Coliseum.

As Denver continues to urbanize, there is an increased environmental impact. The challenge is to integrate having a thriving city and a thriving environment. Denver has done a great job in ensuring that the balance is met and that everyone has access to a green space or park where their children can explore and appreciate nature in our beautiful state.

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Preventing Water Pollution Starts in Your Backyard

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Photo Credit: USDA

Agricultural runoff is a prominent source of excess nutrients in water sources, but this nonpoint source of water pollution can originate with excess fertilizer being used on urban landscapes as well.

On April 13, 2017, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education was joined by Steve Lundt with the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association for a webinar about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water. 

“[BMPs] apply to your own lawn, just as they do on a corn field in Weld County,” says Lundt. “Don’t [fertilize] before a storm event and do soil testing—you may not even need phosphorus to grow your lawn.”

Sam DeLong

Photo Credit: Sam DeLong

So, what can an urban lawn owner do when they want to grow a vibrant, healthy, lawn without contributing to nutrient pollution? The following blog post by American Turf & Tree Care discusses ways that people can reduce phosphorous pollution in Colorado’s water sources by ensuring that the way they care for their yard benefits not only their lawn, but also the environment.

 

Preventing Water Pollution Starts in Your Backyard

By American Turf & Tree Care

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Photo Credit: Jasen Miller

There are a number of reasons why Denver and surrounding cities are among the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, but certainly, one draw is the immense natural beauty of Colorado. Beautiful mountains and flowing streams make our area an outdoorsman’s paradise—tourists and Colorado residents alike flock to the area for hiking, camping and a chance to take in the scenery.

With the uncertainty that accompanies recent EPA spending cuts and policy changes, many people in the area rightfully have concerns regarding sustainability and important environmental regulations that protect these natural resources. In light of this, it becomes ever more important for businesses and individuals to make responsible decisions about actions that may impact the future health and beauty of our area.

Mike Sinko

Photo Credit: Mike Sinko

Improper management of industrial waste, sewage and agricultural runoff are some of the worst offenders when it comes to pollution, but there are still a number of actions individuals can take to preserve Colorado’s water. Mindfulness, when it comes to the products you use in your backyard, can be a first step toward fighting pollution.

Phosphorus Pollution: Too Much of a Good Thing

Kevin Dooley (2)

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley

Phosphorus is a natural ingredient found in soil that promotes root development and helps trees, shrubs and other plants mature and thrive. But if your lawn already has a sufficient level of phosphorus in the soil, fertilizer treatments can actually have a detrimental effect on the health of your grass and can lead to pollution.

Phosphorus works by attaching itself to soil particles, which are then absorbed by plants during their life cycle. When strong fertilizers are used in your lawn or garden, it can slow down the absorption process. In the meantime, heavy rains can wash phosphorus from your yard into ponds, streams, rivers and lakes nearby.

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Photo Credit: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

Phosphorus contamination can kill fish, cause algae to grow at alarming and dangerous rates, turn water green and lower water quality, leach into drinking water and eventually contribute to “dead zones” in the ocean. The good news is that this pollution is largely avoidable, as most excessive phosphorus present in the environment is washed into natural bodies of water as the direct result of human activities.

Regulation Is Only the First Step

Boston Public Library

Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

The damage caused by phosphorus pollution is so severe that many states, Colorado included, have enacted laws to limit the use of phosphorus-heavy fertilizers. The Colorado Fertilizer Law, as enforced by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, regulates fertilizers and soil conditioners sold in Colorado for agricultural and residential use. The law requires that fertilizers be properly labeled with their tested nutrient levels – but these limitations only work if businesses and homeowners share a commitment to choosing fertilizers with low to no phosphorus.

“Pay attention to the three number label on the fertilizer you buy,” says Brad Woods, owner of American Turf & Tree Care in Greeley. The first number is nitrogen, the second is phosphorus, and the third is potassium. “You want to look for a bag where the second number is a zero or is low.”

How You Can Go Phosphorus-Free

You may not need additional phosphorus in your lawn. “Most lawn care providers offer complimentary soil testing and they can tell you what nutrients you need to restore balance to your lawn,” says Woods.

“One common mistake homeowners make is trying to fertilize dormant grass. When grass looks like it’s dying, but it’s just at the natural end of its growth cycle for the year, dumping fertilizer on top will actually do more harm than good,” says Woods. “If your soil is lacking phosphorus, a lawn care company can help you fix it in a way that is safe for your family and the environment.”

There are also some techniques you can use as part of your normal lawn maintenance routine to keep your yard naturally rich in phosphorus without the use of fertilizers, including:

  • NancyBeeToo

    Photo Credit: NancyBeeToo

    Composting: There is no better source of natural phosphorus than composted fruits and vegetables.

  • Tapping Organic Sources: If you need phosphorus and do not have access to compost, bone meal, manure, bat guano or soy meal will also do the trick! These materials are rich in nutrients and release phosphorus slowly, without the risk of contaminating water.
  • Mowing: When you mow your lawn in spring and summer, don’t bag the clippings! Grass clippings are high in phosphorus, and as long as they don’t mat the grass and block sunlight and oxygen from reaching your soil, they can be helpful in returning nutrients to the soil.
  • Don’t Overwater: Not only is overwatering bad for general lawn health, but it increases the risk of washing phosphorus out of your landscape.
Zach Dischner

Photo Credit: Zach Dischner

Don’t wash the natural beauty of Colorado down the drain! Water pollution is far-reaching, and contamination can hurt local wildlife, impact the health of you and your family, and disrupt the environment at large.

Being conscientious about the products you or your lawn care team uses in your yard is a simple way to fight back against pollution and protect your local ecosystem.

American Turf & Tree Care is a locally-owned company in Colorado on a mission to educate the local community on the impact their lawn care products have on the environment.  For more information about American Turf & Care, please visit http://www.americanturfandtreecare.com/.

Listen to the recording of the April 2017 webinar presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Read more about agricultural runoff as nonpoint source pollution in the CFWE blog post, The Runoff Conundrum.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverFind further coverage on these topics in the Public Health Issue of Headwaters Magazine and learn more about water quality in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Filed under Agriculture, Environment, Water Education and Resources, Water Quality

Change Brings Hope

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Photo Credit: Riverhugger

By the Colorado Water Trust staff

In October 2016, The Durango Herald carried a modest story sporting the headline, Trout Discovered in Creek Long Devoid of Fish.  In the southwest corner of Colorado, where abandoned mines and contaminated streams have long been a part of the otherwise magnificent mountain landscape, this is encouraging news—especially for a community that, just two years ago, saw the Animas run yellow.

The San Antonio Mine complex, north of Silverton, Colorado, has been a fixture on the flanks of Red Mountain Pass for over 100 years. While most active mining ceased in the 1940s, the spoil piles and orange drainage from the Kohler Tunnel remained, contaminating streams with high concentrations of copper, lead, cadmium and zinc, and eliminating the fishery resource in Mineral Creek.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several entities joined together with the hopes of improving water quality and restoring the natural function of the watershed. The Animas River Stakeholders Group, whose mission is to improve water quality and aquatic habitat in the Animas Watershed, determined that drainage from the Kohler Tunnel contributed the largest amounts of metals to the upper Animas Watershed. As a result, the stakeholders group designated the tunnel drainage as its highest priority for remediation.

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Photo Credit: USGS

Hydrogeological studies and other research conducted by the stakeholders group identified the Carbon Lake Ditch as the likely source of water seeping into the mine and the Kohler Tunnel, impacting water quality. The 50-year-old irrigation ditch diverts from the upper Mineral Creek Basin and winds its way across the mine complex to deliver water to the other side of Red Mountain Pass. Winter ice buildup in the ditch and heavy summer rains caused occasional breaches, resulting in erosion and surges of mine drainage from the tunnel. The obvious solution was to eliminate the source of water infiltrating the mine, so the stakeholders group targeted their efforts on the ditch.

With a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Animas River Stakeholders Group purchased the entire 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) Carbon Lake Ditch water right from the owners who were willing to part with their water right in favor of reliable, local water supplies. The stakeholders group removed the physical structures from the streams, completed ecological restoration of the ditch and plugged the Kohler Tunnel to prevent future drainage into the stream.

Discontinuing diversions and removing the headgate did not guarantee that the restored flows would stay in Mineral Creek to benefit the environment—legally, that water would be free for other uses under Colorado’s prior appropriation system. The next challenge was to find a way to protect those restored flows. The Animas River Stakeholders Group and project partner the San Juan Resources Conservation and Development Council reached out to the Southwestern Water Conservation District and a local law firm where the attorney consulted was a former Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) member with a wealth of knowledge about Colorado’s Instream Flow Program.

Colorado’s Instream Flow (ISF) Program was the linchpin in the stakeholders group’s success. In the early 1970s, the Colorado Legislature pioneered protections for the water-dependent natural environment by creating the ISF Program.  An instream flow is a statutorily recognized type of water right that protects a natural stream from an upstream point to a downstream point. These water rights are administered like any other water right in the state, with a priority date confirmed by water court decree. At the time, the program provided the CWCB with the exclusive authority to appropriate or acquire water for instream flows to preserve the natural environment.

The CWCB can appropriate new junior instream flow water rights or acquire senior water from willing water rights owners for instream flow use. Under this acquisition authority, once an agreement is reached with the willing owner, the CWCB changes the water right through the water court change process to instream flow use. The water right is then legally protectable in the river with its original priority date. It is CWCB’s acquisition authority that the stakeholders group sought to secure instream flow protections for the newly-purchased Carbon Lake Ditch water right.

In March 2001, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and the San Juan Resource Conservation and Development Council presented the CWCB with an offer to donate the Carbon Lake Ditch water right to the Instream Flow Program to protect restored flows in Mineral Creek and two tributaries. However, in the course of conducting routine investigations, CWCB staff identified a significant program limitation. The original statutes passed in 1973 placed sideboards on the CWCB’s authority, limiting water appropriations and acquisitions to the minimum amounts required to preserve the natural environment. In the case of Mineral Creek, the amounts required to preserve the environment were determined to be between 2.5 and 6.6 cfs.  Yet, the Carbon Lake Ditch water right was decreed for 15 cfs, and under the existing law, there was no way to protect all of the restored water with an instream flow right.

CaptureAs highlighted in CFWE’s spring 2004 Headwaters Magazine issue, “Changing Times, Changing Uses”, societal values change. In 2002, the legislature passed Senate Bill 156, allowing CWCB to acquire water rights to preserve and to improve the natural environment. This amendment, the first significant change to the Instream Flow Program in more than 30 years, broadened the CWCB’s authority and created statewide opportunities to restore streamflow to dewatered streams and to improve existing environmental conditions. After the bill was signed into law, the CWCB clarified the water right donation and changed the full 15 cfs of the Carbon Lake Ditch water right for instream flow use to preserve and improve the natural environment. Roughly 15 years after the legislative change and the CWCB’s acquisition of the Carbon Lake Ditch water right for instream flow use, we see tangible results.

“This is the first time in recorded history of a report of fish existing in the headwaters of Mineral Creek,” said Bill Simon, retired coordinator for the stakeholders group, in the 2016 Durango Herald article. “We are a bit surprised by the great results so soon after remediation.”

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Mineral Creek     Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa

The presence of a resident brook trout population with diverse age ranges is indicative of the dramatic improvement in water quality within the reach where flows were restored and are now protected by the CWCB’s instream flow right. The Durango Herald reports an amazing 70 percent reduction in zinc and copper, and a 50 percent reduction in cadmium in Mineral Creek since completion of remediation and flow restoration.

“We knew that water quality in the upper part of Mineral Creek had dramatically improved,” said Peter Butler, Animas River Stakeholders Group coordinator, “but we didn’t expect it to support trout.”

The fantastic success story for Mineral Creek and the stakeholders group is a testament to the possibilities when local communities, state agencies and the legislature work together to solve problems. With CWCB’s ability to acquire water to improve the natural environment, this is a success story for the entire state of Colorado. The benefits achieved in Mineral Creek can, over time, be realized on many other streams, too.

Colorado’s ISF Program, now in its 45th year, operates statewide and the acquisition tool is available to any water right owner interested in donating, leasing or selling all, or a portion of, their water to preserve or improve the natural environment. The Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit created in 2001 to restore flows to streams and rivers in need, works closely with the CWCB and can help facilitate temporary and permanent water transactions throughout the state.

Learn more about how to use water to benefit the natural environment by visiting the Colorado Water Trust and Colorado’s Instream Flow Program websites.

The Colorado Water Trust is a non-profit organization created in 2001 to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need.  The Water Trust uses voluntary, market-based tools to develop projects with water right owners to help keep Colorado’s rivers flowing. The Water Trust works closely with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s Instream Flow Program to ensure flows are protected. For more information about the Water Trust or completed projects, please visit www.coloradowatertrust.org.

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The Runoff Conundrum

When a summer storm crosses the eastern plains, drowning farmlands in a deluge, more than water ends up flowing into Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams.

On April 13, 2017, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education was joined by Troy Bauder, with Colorado State University Extension, for a webinar in which part of the discussion centered on nonpoint source pollution. Bauder focuses on working with agricultural producers to reduce nutrient losses on their fields.

Runoff, a nonpoint source, occurs when there is more water than the soil can absorb. Agricultural runoff carries a bit of everything it touches—excess fertilizer, animal waste, soil and more. Water that is not absorbed into the ground moves across the land, picking up whatever it can carry, and drains into surface water and groundwater sources.

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Photo Credit: Lynn Betts

“Ag nutrients—nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)—are absolutely required for productive agriculture,” Bauder says. “Of course, we need good management to prevent the accumulation of too much N and P in our soils and to reduce the potential for movement to surface and ground water.”

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Photo Credit: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

When nitrogen and phosphorus—two nutrients found in agricultural runoff—are deposited in excess in water bodies, it leads to algal blooms, reduced dissolved oxygen content, which is harmful to aquatic plants and animals, and can compromise drinking water supplies.

If rain falls on 30 farms, with 20 of them using fertilizers to supplement nutrients in the soil, and the excess of these nutrients finds its way into the runoff, who is to blame for compromising water quality? Who is responsible for nutrient pollution? Since no one farm can be blamed for the degradation of water quality, agricultural runoff is a challenging nonpoint source pollutant to manage and regulate.

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Photo Credit: USDA

Colorado’s Regulation 85, a nutrient policy passed in 2012, regulates point sources of nitrogen, phosphorous and chlorophyll a in surface water, setting discharge limits and requiring monitoring; however, Regulation 85 currently allows for a voluntary, incentivized, approach for reducing nutrient pollution that originates in nonpoint source pollution.

“We’ve partnered with CDPHE [the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] to produce some resources and an outreach program called Colorado AG Water Quality,” Bauder continues. “The purpose of this outreach effort is to get the word out to growers about how Reg. 85 could potentially affect them.”

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Photo Credit: USDA

Taking ownership of nutrient pollution and implementing best management practices gives agriculture the opportunity to avoid stringent state regulations. In 2022, the current, voluntary, approach will be evaluated to determine if progress has been made with the implementation and adoption of best management practices (BMP) as they relate to nonpoint source pollution, agriculture and water quality. Additional regulations may be considered depending on the results.

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Conservation Tillage Photo Credit: USDA

Reducing nutrient pollution is achieved through the implementation of BMPs, including improvements in fertilizer management, conservation tillage, irrigation, manure handling and soil erosion. The adoption of BMPs by Colorado agricultural producers benefits agriculture, as well as water quality. When implemented successfully, not only will there be a reduction in nutrient pollution, but it will reduce the need for future regulation.

“We want to work with our growers on the agronomic and economic feasibility of these practices to help them understand how they can help their bottom line,” Bauder says.

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Nitrogen Application                              Photo Credit: Bob Nichols

BMP effectiveness depends on what is known as the 4 R’s: Growers need to use the right amount (rate), right placement, right timing and right source. Combined with improved irrigation management, these BMPs improve the efficacy of the nutrients and prevent the potential for movement, which often results in nonpoint source pollution. Irrigation management can include altering the method by which water is delivered with system upgrades, combined with scheduling watering at the right time of day and in the proper amounts to reduce runoff. Ultimately, implementing these BMPs will benefit the grower’s bottom line while simultaneously protecting water sources from being impacted by nutrients.

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Photo Credit: USDA

“It’s definitely important to engage growers early and often in the process,” Bauder concludes. “Not only the growers, but their representatives, commodity groups and the people who advise them.”

While nutrients are certainly necessary for successful and sustainable agriculture, the execution of BMPs will help mitigate nutrient loss and movement, and in turn, reduce nonpoint source pollution due to runoff. Providing incentives, tools and resources to growers is critical to BMP implementation and success, as well as keeping Colorado’s water sources clean and reducing the impact of nutrient pollution.

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Photo Credit: NOAA

Learn more about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water when you listen to the recording of this April 2017 webinar presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Hear about how municipal recreational lakes are monitoring and working to reduce algal blooms, discover how agricultural producers coming together and implementing best practices to minimize nutrient runoff and learn the basics of toxic algal blooms.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverFind further coverage about this topic in the Public Health Issue of Headwaters Magazine.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Filed under Agriculture, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, groundwater, Headwaters Magazine, Water Quality

In Bloom

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Ferril Lake Without Algae                  Photo Credit: Rolf Krahl

Ferril Lake in Denver’s City Park is a favorite summer stop for those looking to relax in the sun or take a trip around the lake in a paddle boat. Last summer, a perfect storm of heat and increased nitrogen from goose droppings allowed algal blooms to thrive. Blooms of up to 10 feet thick sprung from the lake’s bottom and, at one point, coated nearly ninety percent of the surface—sidelining paddle boats, releasing a foul stench, destroying the aesthetics of the lake and causing additional ecological issues below the surface.

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Photo Credit: Justin Henry

The presence of blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, in Ferril Lake is not uncommon. An increase in nutrients—nitrates and phosphates—along with increasingly warm temperatures, encourage the growth of cyanobacteria in lakes, streams, ponds and other surface waters. For years, the city of Denver has been looking for solutions to the now annual, and growing, issue.

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Urban Runoff                         Photo Credit: Robert Lawton

In the case of Ferril Lake, the algal bloom is a result of non-point pollution sources—urban runoff (grease, oil and chemicals) from Denver’s streets and the aforementioned goose droppings. Other non-point pollution sources include the excess use of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from large-scale agriculture, as well as home gardens, energy production and sediment.

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Photo Credit: Hans W. Paerl

The presence and exponential growth of algae blooms in water sources deplete the water of dissolved oxygen, killing aquatic plant and animal life that depend on specific oxygen levels for survival. Without an increase in oxygen through treatments or during seasonal turnovers, lakes overrun with algae blooms will eventually “die,” unable to support life again.

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Photo Credit: Mary Cousins

 

In certain conditions, the cyanobacteria will also produce cyanotoxins, which are harmful to the environment, animals and humans, whether through direct contact, inhalation and/or ingestion. Human symptoms range from headaches, stomach cramps and allergic reactions to more severe cases of seizures and respiratory arrest. In the most extreme cases, contact with cyanotoxins can also lead to death. Coloradans in rural and urban areas are working together to monitor and address these threats to our water quality and public health.

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Photo Credit: Grendel Kahn

Learn more about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water with a FREE webinar tomorrow Thursday, 4/13, at 9 a.m. Hear how municipal recreational lakes are monitoring and working to reduce algal blooms, learn about agricultural producers coming together and implementing best practices to minimize nutrient runoff and discover the basics of toxic algal blooms. Come ready to ask questions!

Offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/82877169749383938

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, Events, Recreation, Water Quality