USGS proposes $260,400 plan to study White River algae problem

An “algae bloom” visible in the White River last summer 17 miles east of Meeker along County Road 8. The algae species responsible for the bloom is one of particular concern because it’s difficult to eradicate. Colorado Parks and Wildlife held an open meeting Tuesday to discuss the problem, which can be exacerbated by the use of fertilizer, fish feed, erosion, soil disruption, septic tanks and other causes. The overgrowth of algae can harm fish, affect water quality and more. courtesy photo

RBC | The White River Algae Task Force heard a proposal to study and identify the recurring algal bloom in the White River from United States Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologist Mike Stevens and western Colorado office chief Ken Leib on Wednesday, Nov. 22.
The objectives of the study are to determine what conditions on the river are contributing to the algae bloom that has caused problems with aesthetics and recreational use of the river. The algae has been documented from the upper waters of the river all the way to its confluence with the Green River in Utah. The water intakes at Kenney Reservoir have been affected by algae overgrowth as well, prompting concerns from the Town of Rangely about drinking water, which comes from the river. Meeker’s town water comes from below-ground wells.
Stevens outlined the study’s approach. The USGS plans to compile historical data on the river’s streamflow, nutrient levels, sediment and more. In 2018, the USGS will collect current data along the river, which will be finalized and prepared as a citable Scientific Investigations Report. The plan is for USGS to monitor eight primary mainstream sites and 12 additional sites on tributaries. Getting private landowner access will be necessary for the success of the study. Hendrickson said they met with five landowners upriver in October.
“There’s a sense of urgency among the landowners,” Hendrickson said, adding that several of them are already making adjustments to their land management practices in relation to the algae.
The USGS plan is focused solely on the upper White River, from the headwaters to Meeker, prompting questions from Town of Rangely Planner Jocelyn Mullen.
“So at this point there are no locations on the lower White near Rangely?” Mullen asked.
“We’re not planning at this point to go down further,” Stevens said.
Mullen said if the study doesn’t include any sites on the western side of the county it would be difficult to convince the Rangely board to support the study financially.
“The board is very skeptical,” Mullen said. “They feel our issues are very different. If the downstream area isn’t covered they’re going to want to save their resources.”
“The intent of the county was to work with both towns and divide it in thirds. If we’re not going to take samples downriver I don’t see the Rangely Town Council wanting to contribute,” said RBC Commissioner Si Woodruff.
“If we need to keep the costs the same we can move some of those (upper end) sites downstream,” Leib said.
The task force asked USGS to add scoping and costs for two years of data collection instead of one year, to improve scientific accuracy, from the headwaters of the White River to the green bridge below Rangely.
The proposed study, which would take place during a three-year process, has an initial price tag of $260,400, expected to be funded by a combination of stakeholder donations and grants.
The White River Conservation District has created an information page on their website to update the public on the work of the task force at www.whiterivercd.com/white-river-algae-working-group

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