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State of the Watershed: Boulder Creek, Colorado Sheila Murphy.

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Presentation on theme: "State of the Watershed: Boulder Creek, Colorado Sheila Murphy."— Presentation transcript:

1 State of the Watershed: Boulder Creek, Colorado Sheila Murphy

2 Citizens’ guide to water quality past, present, future Informs Boulder’s Water Quality Strategic Plan State of the Boulder Creek Watershed report http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/circ1284/

3 South Platte River Watershed Boulder Creek Watershed Mississippi River Watershed Watershed: the area of land that drains into a water body

4 Boulder Creek Watershed MAXIMUM ELEVATION 4120 M MINIMUM ELEVATION 1480 M CRETACEOUS SEDIMENTARY PRECAMBRIAN GRANITE PRECAMBRIAN METAMORPHIC PLAINS Climatic/ecological zones Geology FOOTHILLSMONTANESUBALPINEALPINE

5 From USGS National land cover data set Land cover (1992)

6 Precipitation

7 Average daily discharge of Boulder Creek at Orodell gage, 1994-2004 02-JUNE-1994 02-JULY-1998 22-JUNE-1995 22-JUNE-1996 20-JUNE-1997 23-JUNE-1999 09-JUNE-2000 08-JUNE-2001 01-JUNE-2002 01-JUNE-2003

8 June 2000 Discharge October 2000 Width of blue line represents discharge

9 Water quality: The chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water, usually in respect to its suitability for a particular purpose

10 “Water quality” can include: Basic water quality variables (pH, dissolved oxygen) Nutrients (phosphate, nitrate) Bacteria Trace metals (mercury, lead) Pesticides “Emerging contaminants” (wastewater-derived organic compounds)

11 Water quality regulations

12 Water quality from top to bottom

13 Headwaters & mountains Best water quality Old mines not impacting water quality of most streams Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen can decrease pH & act as fertilizer Possible water quality concerns: Nederland WWTP, septic systems, recreation, road runoff

14 Water quality from top to bottom

15 Diversions remove much of the water from the creek High percentage of impervious surfaces Boulder Creek within Boulder on Colorado’s 303(d) list for E. coli bacteria Arsenic, lead, and copper highest in Boulder Creek during large storms Water quality from top to bottom Urban

16 Water quality from top to bottom

17 Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) discharges ~17 million gallons per day to creek WWTP effluent comprises 10-75% of the flow in the creek WWTP contributes nutrients and organic contaminants to creek Pollutant concentrations in creek typically lowest in early summer Water quality from top to bottom Lower Boulder Creek

18 Wastewater compounds found in Boulder Creek Metal-complexing agents (e.g., EDTA) Surfactants (nonylphenol) Plasticizers (bisphenol A) Antimicrobials (triclosan) Steroids (cholesterol) Natural & synthetic hormones (estrogens) Pharmaceutical drugs (codeine, caffeine, ibuprofen)

19 Water quality from top to bottom

20 Diversions remove much of water (and pollutants) from creek pH and dissolved oxygen fluctuate widely High pH and temperature causes ammonia to shift to un-ionized ammonia gas, which is toxic to fish Water quality from top to bottom Lower Boulder Creek

21 Problems with evaluating long- term water quality changes: Very little water quality data collected before 1960s Different water quality parameters measured in the past and today Analysis methods usually not given From Ford and Moore, 1904 Estimate effects of dominant land and water uses Number of cases of waterborne disease Anecdotes and articles about water taste, smell, and appearance Solutions: 1905 to 1920 headlines from Boulder News-Herald Analysis of historical water quality

22 Water quality: Pre-1858 Photograph copyright Denver Public Library First evidence of humans in Colorado: 14,000 BC Until 1800s AD, sparsely populated by Native Americans, who had little impact on landscape Early 1800s: explorers and beaver trappers Gold discovered in 1859; Gold Hill and Boulder founded Settlers described Boulder Creek as “pure” and “full of fish” Boulder, Colorado, circa 1870

23 Water development Copyright Denver Public Library Settlers quickly realized Colorado’s dry climate required extensive water management to water crops and to have water year-round First ditch decree filed on Boulder Creek in 1859 (oldest in South Platte Watershed) Water diverted for domestic use, crop irrigation, mining Reservoirs built to provide year- round water supply Irrigation in Colorado; from Harper’s Weekly, 1874

24 Before 1875, Boulder residents carried water (untreated) from Boulder Creek, ditches, or shallow wells Early settlers discharged sewage (untreated) to outhouses and cesspools CO State Board of Health, 1877: “In rapidly growing towns the construction of sewers is often delayed until the subsoil is thoroughly saturated with disease-breeding filth.” South Boulder School, Eldorado Springs, ~1890, with outhouse in background Water quality: 1860s-1890s Photograph courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection

25 Water quality: 1860s-1890s Photograph courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection Dozens of gold & silver mines and mills, using chlorine, mercury, cyanide; chemicals and tailings discharged directly to creeks Mining followed by forest fires, timber harvesting & tie drives, causing erosion Boulder Creek described as having “a milk-like turbidity” which when consumed gave the “sensation of swallowing rope” Placer mining on Fourmile Creek, circa 1890

26 Mining & water supply- Boulder Creek

27 Annual production of Boulder County (from USGS & Bureau of Mines)

28 Mining & water supply- Boulder Creek Annual production of Boulder County (from USGS & Bureau of Mines)

29 Mining & water supply- Boulder Creek Annual production of Boulder County (from USGS & Bureau of Mines)

30 Mining & water supply- Boulder Creek

31 Annual production of Boulder County (from USGS & Bureau of Mines)

32 Boulder built first sewer line in 1895; discharged to settling basin, then to creek (at Scott Carpenter Park) Farmers downstream complained about sewage in creek Typhoid cases in Boulder County, 1902-1980 (includes deaths) Water quality: 1890s-1930s Typhoid tied to water contaminated by human waste ~1900 Colorado began requiring reporting of typhoid in 1902

33 Water quality: 1930s-1950s Boulder’s first WWTP built in 1934; ineffective From Chapman, 1934 Annual death rate in Colorado from typhoid fever, 1929-1931 Other states boycotted South Platte Valley produce because crops irrigated with sewage 1948 Water Pollution Control Act: states responsible for control of water pollution New WWTP in 1957; quickly overloaded due to rapid population growth

34 Water quality: 1960s-1970s 1967 US Dept. of Interior study found Boulder Creek severely polluted, murky and gray, no fish below WWTP New WWTP in 1968, upgraded every few years U.S. Environmental Protection Agency est. 1970 1972 Clean Water Act required dischargers to meet water quality standards

35 Human waste and urban growth 1937

36 Human waste and urban growth 1957

37 Human waste and urban growth 1977

38 Human waste and urban growth 1997

39 Water quality: 1990s-today Lower Boulder Creek on CO’s list of impaired waters for un-ionized ammonia in 1992; Boulder WWTP upgraded to reduce ammonia discharged to creek Boulder Creek within Boulder on CO’s list of impaired waters for E coli in 2004 Invasive species Hormones, steroids, drugs found below WWTP Reproductive disruption found in fish below WWTP; high female:male ratio

40 For more information… Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network: www.BASIN.org U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Discipline: http://water.usgs.gov sfmurphy@usgs.gov


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