Science and report notes: Airborne snow surveys, new groundwater management tool, snowmelt recession, levees, the BDCP and tunnels, and more

earth20130502combo2-fullA better gauge for measuring the snowpack:  A new three-year demonstration project using NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory is underway to gather key information and deliver more accurate forecasts for runoff:  ” … The data from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory mission will be used to estimate how much water will flow out of the basins when the snow melts. The data-gathering technology could improve water management for 1.5 billion people worldwide who rely on snowmelt for their water supply.  “The Airborne Snow Observatory is on the cutting edge of snow remote-sensing science,” said Jared Entin, a program manager in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Decision makers like power companies and water managers now are receiving these data, which may have immediate economic benefits.” … ”  Read more from NASA here:  NASA Opens New Era in Measuring Western U.S. Snowpack  (See also this from the Christian Science Monitor: How much water in that snowpack? Scientists seek a better gauge)

New groundwater management tool for the Scott River:  Scientists at UC Davis are developing a new groundwater management tool that will specifically address issues on the Scott River:  ” … “For most other rivers in California, summer and fall water flows are entirely dictated by dams that have water behind them,” said Thomas Harter, a Cooperative Extension groundwater hydrologist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources who led the study. “Scott River is very dependent on the groundwater system.”  The 57-mile-long, undammed Scott River is a tributary of the Klamath River, and portions of it are designated as a federal and state Wild and Scenic River. A combination of irrigated agriculture in Scott River Valley, a lack of streamside shade on the river, and climate change has led to warmer river temperatures and reduced late summer and fall stream flows on the river, particularly in dry years, Harter said.  … ”  Read more here:  Researchers propose tool to improve stream habitat in California’s Scott River

Another recession for California, this time in snowmelt:  Yes, the ‘annual spring snowmelt recession’ has begun, says Sarah Yarnell at the California Water Blog.  Maybe you didn’t notice, but the foothill yellow-legged frog sure did:  ” … The river-breeding frogs in the foothills are cued by the decreasing flows and warming water to lay their eggs. They evidently got the word by April 30. Researchers with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences saw their first egg masses of the season that day as they waded the Rubicon River, one of several northern Sierra rivers that the Center monitors for ecological responses to the recession. … ”  Life springs in Sierra rivers as springtime flows recede

Delta Science Program research summaries now available:  Over the past decade, the science program has funded 98 projects totalling $33 million, the summaries of which are being posted online.  Recently added to the library:

The BDCP and the tunnels:  Covering the basics of the BDCP, Tori Sondheim, legal intern at the Delta Stewardship Council, concisely summarizes the issues with the project in this article for the University of Denver Water Law Review: ” … It is difficult to determine the potential effects of “Brown’s Tunnels” on water supply and species protection until certain details are determined, including the number of intakes, the diversion capacity of the intakes, the conveyance capacity of the “tunnels,” and approved operating criteria.  But by law, these details cannot be addressed until after the environmental review (including the EIS/EIR) is complete.  Options being considered for study in the EIS/EIR are the intakes (which have been reduced from an initial five to three) and the capacity (which has been reduced from 15,000 cubic feet per second (“cfs”) to 9,000 cfs).  By some calculations, a 9,000 cfs tunnel could divert over 6.5 million acre-feet per year. However, that figure is misleading, because water projects rarely divert at full capacity; instead, intake and conveyance facilities are designed so projects can adjust to permit requirements and also divert during wet periods and store that water for release during dry periods. … ”  Read more here: California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Governor Brown’s Tunnels

Army Corps says 120 miles of Sacramento River west bank levees unacceptable:  The Army Corps has finalized its inspection report and presented it to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board at its last meeting.  ” … The most serious deficiencies throughout the system were erosion, rodent control, slope stability and encroachments. Unacceptable vegetation was noted during the inspections but did not result in an overall unacceptable rating.  “Levee inspections are all about making sure that a levee can reliably do what we expect it to,” said Meegan Nagy, Sacramento District levee safety program manager. “Our findings help the agencies that own and maintain these levees prioritize levee fixes – and help the public understand their flood risk and make informed decisions about their safety.” … ”  More from the Army Corps:  Corps releases inspection rating Sacramento River west bank levees, also, click here for the levee report cards, click here for photos of some of the deficiencies found.

Army Corps tracks fish behavior:  In March, Army Corps ecologists implanted acoustic tags in hundreds of fish to track their movements:  ” … “We’re always looking for ways to make our projects more environmentally friendly,” said Natalie Houghton environmental specialist with the district. “To do that, we need to determine how our constructed habitat features are impacting fish and really look at how they’re reacting to our repair sites, compared to other areas of the river.”  Knowing exactly where the 1-year-old juvenile steelhead trout and Chinook salmon are, and studying how each and every one responds to riverbank repair sites, offers insight for improving our efforts of restoring the native species’ environment, while reducing our own flood risk. … ”  Read more here:  Fish behavior guides riverbank repairs

Decades-old nitrate found to affect stream quality:  A recent report by USGS hydrologic researchers has found that it can take decades for nitrate to move from groundwater into streams:  ” … Water quality experts have been noting in recent years that nitrate trends in streams and rivers do not match their expectations based on reduced regional use of nitrogen-based fertilizer.  The long travel times of groundwater discharge, like those documented in this study, have previously been suggested as the likely factor responsible for these observations.  “This study provides direct evidence that nitrate can take decades to travel from recharge at the land surface to discharge in streams,” said Jerad Bales, acting USGS Associate Director for Water. “This is an important finding because long travel times will delay direct observation of the full effect of nutrient management strategies on stream quality.”  … ”  Read more here from the USGS:  Decades-old Nitrate Found to Affect Stream Water Quality

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