Have you ever found yourself by a river thinking, “Wow, this year, the river seems to be so much higher!” But what does “this year” really mean in the world of water and why should you even care about this concept known as a water year?
What’s a Water Year?
First things first, a water year isn’t your regular January-to-December kind of year. Nope, it’s a bit different. A water year begins on October 1st and ends on September 30th of the next year. Feels like a strange concept, right? But there’s a good reason for it—a scientific one! True water action starts in the fall, not in January, and precipitation that falls later in the year, combined with summer rain makes up the water year. Scientists use water years to keep track of how much water falls from the sky (in the form of rain or snow) in specific areas like the headwaters of the Colorado River. This information is used in determining how it is used or protected.
Why Does It Matter?
Now, you might be wondering why you should care about water years. Well, water is super important! It’s not just for drinking; it helps our crops grow, keeps our rivers flowing and supports wildlife like beavers, trout and elk. So, understanding how much water we have is crucial for all sorts of things, from farming to angling and rafting. It is also crucial to know the stream flows in order to protect the environment.
Measuring Stream Flows
Okay, here’s the fun part! During a water year, scientists use all sorts of sophisticated gadgets to measure how much water is in our rivers and streams. They use devices like flow meters and rain gauges to figure out how fast streams are flowing and how much water they carry. It’s basically embarking on a watery detective mission!
Why Rivers and Streams?
They might just look like gentle, flowing ribbons of water, but they’re essential. They’re like nature’s plumbing system, carrying water to where it’s needed. They are measured to make sure there’s enough water for people, animals and plants to survive.
So, there you have it—a water year is like a special calendar for keeping tabs on Mother Nature’s waterworks. It helps us make smart decisions about how we use water and take care of our environment. Pretty cool, right? Next time you’re near a river or stream, you’ll know a little secret about how we keep track of water all year round.
Forever Our Rivers is excited to announce grants totaling $169,591 to support the restoration efforts in the Dolores, Escalante, Verde and Gila rivers spanning Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Restoration will focus on removing thick stands of invasive trees and bushes.
Invasive species wreak havoc on river systems. Some plants, like tamarisk, form dense thickets and grow to 20 feet. They bring fire danger to the river because their growth includes high levels of dead leaves and branches. And that’s not all! They make themselves at home by aggressively colonizing. Their leaves deposit salt above and below the soil, making it difficult for native species to survive.
Tamarisk is not the only problem; Russian olive, tree of heaven, Siberian elm and many more species absorb large amounts of water, create dams that block water flow and destroy native vegetation. Plus, thickets of invasives make it difficult for recreationists to access the river.
Without native species, a river runs down a slippery, unhealthy slope that reduces its ability to function and deliver ecosystem services properly. What does that mean? Well, to start, both water quality and quantity decline.
Plus, native species, from bugs to butterflies, fish and frogs, even elk and beaver cannot survive or breed without their appropriate, native food and nesting sites.
More than 4,988 acres across these Colorado River tributaries have been treated and thousands of the nasty invasive plants have been destroyed due to a long-standing partnership between Forever Our Rivers, the Walton Family Foundation and Conservation Legacy.
Ann Johnston, the executive director of Forever Our Rivers Foundation, aptly observed, “Restoration is a process that happens over time, almost always extending beyond the timelines of individual projects. That is one reason this award is so important”.
Included in the grant award are funds for strike teams. These teams check out the four river areas annually to see how things are going. “One of the most important tasks for strike teams is to collect data about previous years’ noxious plant treatments and native regrowth,” said Johnston. “Think of the strike teams as nature detectives, collecting the past data, identifying which treatments are most successful and altering processes going forward to reflect that.”
On-the-ground restoration is accomplished by RiversEdge West of Grand Junction, CO, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners of Escalante, Utah, and in Arizona, the Friends of the Verde River and Gila Watershed Partnership.
July 25th is just around the bend, and guess what? It’s Colorado River Day! Time to celebrate the incredible natural wonder that is the Colorado River, a lifeline that quenches the thirst and fills the bellies of millions of folks across the country.
Picture this: a majestic river originating way up high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, embarking on a 1,450-mile adventure through seven states that ends in Mexico’s Gulf of California in Mexico. Quite the journey, right?
Now, here’s a fun fact for you trivia lovers. The Colorado River didn’t always rock its current name. Nope! On July 25th, 1921, Congress decided to ditch the “Grand” and embrace the new identity as the Colorado River. And that’s why we gather on this special day to show our appreciation for this invaluable resource flowing right through the heart of the American West.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not one of those people relying on the Colorado River for my daily H2O fix”. Fair point. But pause for a moment and think about some of the delicious winter fruits and veggies you eat during the frosty months. Produce like leafy greens, apples, stone fruits, and tomatoes owe a debt of gratitude to this mighty river. Farms depend on the Colorado River to keep their thirsty crops hydrated when the winter drought hits. You can’t deny the impact this waterway has had on your taste buds.
But wait, there’s more! The Colorado River is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts—fishing, rafting, kayaking and hiking. If you’ve ever visited the West and dabbled in any of these activities, you’ve felt the river’s embrace firsthand. It’s a haven for adventure seekers and nature lovers alike.
And, let’s not forget about our fellow river-dwellers—the wildlife! The Colorado River is a bustling metropolis for thousands of species. However, it’s not all smooth sailing. Challenges like low flows, drought, and rising temperatures have created quite the rapids for some of our critters out there. We’re here to share three that are impacted by the Colorado River that we’d like to keep around.
First is the little brown bats. Now, these guys aren’t typically known for their direct Colorado River connections, but they’re insectivorous heroes found in forests, woodlands, and even urban areas. They rely on water bodies like rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams for drinking and foraging purposes. Without sufficient water, the diverse insect buffet dwindles, and the bat population suffers. We’d like to keep them around to help balance out those pesky bugs that annoy us often in the summer months.
Next on the list is the cutthroat trout, a fish native to the Colorado River Basin. They’re all about clean, cold water with a side of gravel or rocky substrates for successful reproduction. A healthy river means a variety of aquatic insects, invertebrates, and other fishy delights for these trout to eat. The river also serves as a vital migration corridor, allowing cutthroat trout populations to mingle and explore different sections of the river system.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the Yuma clapper rail, an amazing bird on the endangered species list. These fine feathered friends rely on marshes, wetlands and riparian areas along the Colorado River for their habitat. The rail loves dense emergent vegetation like cattails and bulrushes, found in areas along the river. These lush spots provide the perfect environment for the rail’s favorite delicacy—the aquatic and semi-aquatic invertebrates. Bird lovers everywhere dream of catching a glimpse of this henlike beauty.
So, as July 25th approaches, let’s take a moment to reflect on the immeasurable ways the Colorado River nourishes us and our wildlife. No matter where you are in the States, this lifeline of the West impacts us all. Thankfully, organizations like Forever Our Rivers step up to the plate, working tirelessly to restore and protect the river’s health. It’s a shared responsibility—one that we should cherish and safeguard for present and future generations all across the United States.
Cheers, friends! Here’s to the Colorado River, a force of nature that keeps on flowing, connecting us all in its watery embrace. Wishing you a happy Colorado River Day on July 25th!
In the West, all communities depend on rivers for clean drinking water and crops, not to mention boating and fishing. Rivers are a way of life and a beautiful source of inspiration. But, we’re sure you already know this.
Amy, our corporate partnerships manager, had a touching experience a little over a month ago that really demonstrated how important rivers are—to everyone.
“I was volunteering for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, picking up trash along the Colorado River. An unhoused man watched me working for just a moment, then immediately stepped in to help,” she said. “He mentioned that he didn’t like to wake up next to all the trash and that it made him sad to see rivers treated like that. The rivers were a safe space for him, a beautiful one at that. He continued to state how the rivers are for all of us, and that we should treat them with respect. I had to admit, I 100% agree with him”.
Together they spent an hour picking up trash. “To see someone constantly on the go, who doesn’t have stable housing, giving his time to clean up our rivers touched my heart. We all need to judge a little less and love a little more. Perhaps we can all learn something from that,” she mentioned.
Together we’ve had a conservation impact of $2.2 million dollars—thank you, friends—with over 5,000 acres of riparian habitat restored. We’ve supported neighbors in need with educational trips on the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers, funded a new boat ramp in Delta, and helped construct beaver dam analogs at the headwaters of the Taylor River to reconnect wetlands and floodplains. Plus we’ve sent crews out to four tributaries of the Colorado River where they will spend 31 weeks removing invasive species and nurturing native habitat for hundreds of species. And we are not done yet! There are many more projects in the works and we look forward to watching the impact grow.
Outside of work, we’ve got plans! Ann, our executive director, is already systematic about collecting and reusing water as her shower warms up. This year, she will celebrate National Rivers Month by fully transitioning to native flowers in her garden. She removed her last few non-natives last fall and is looking forward to seeing the new blooms, and water savings, this month. “My mom is always hoping she can influence people to ‘natify’, a word she coined several years ago,” Ann states, smiling. Ann shares her love of native plants and trees. “Not only am I using little to no water, but I’m creating habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats. Native plants make my pollinator and birdwatching better!”
Amy plans to stand up paddleboard and dive back into her photography hobby, starting with rivers as a focal point. At home, she pledges to shorten her showers and reuse vegetable-steamed water for all her plants!
How do you plan to celebrate? One easy way is just to educate yourself. To get you started, we’re sharing five facts we found interesting.
In 1948, to improve riparian habitat in Idaho’s backcountry, Fish and Game captured 76 beavers and parachuted them to a roadless area in the Chamberlin Basin. All but one survived and got right to work.
The Snake River flows through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. It is famous for Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. It’s also one of two rivers in the United States that flows north!
Twenty countries in the world do not have permanent, natural rivers.
The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States, flowing about 692 miles. It starts in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, passes through Montana, and eventually joins the Missouri River.
In 1900, under the cover of night, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River, increasing its flow from Lake Michigan and doubling the size of the Illinois River.
Whatever you decide to do, have fun, learn lots and enjoy the rivers! We hope your month is full of many amazing memories. Share your river experiences with us online using hashtags #ForeverOurRivers and #NationalRiversMonth. We’d love to see how you chose to celebrate!
Have you ever experienced a moment when you feel like your head is so full of thoughts that it feels like it’s going to explode? Do you have a difficult time remembering the timeline of your memories? If you live with neurological conditions such as anxiety, depression or even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the world feels like that—loud and chaotic—almost all of the time.
Many people think that mental health is all about what’s going on in your brain, but the truth is that it’s also about what’s going on with your body. When you feel good physically it can help you feel good mentally, and vice versa. Many studies demonstrate that spending time in nature helps you feel better. But did you know that spending time along bodies of water, like rivers and streams, can induce a meditative state that makes us smarter, happier and healthier, calmer—and even more creative?
“When I lived in Vail, I used to hike up and journal next to the creeks. It was a traumatic time in my life with the passing of my mom. After that, it was as though my mind became harder to navigate. I was in a dark place. However, I’d sit next to the creek and it’d help soothe me and clear my head,” says CJ, river enthusiast from Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “While all bodies of water are uplifting, the moving water is representative of clearing things out— moving things along. I find peace in that.”
The mere sight or sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart, and relax us. They can also help take us away from our busy lives for a little while. Plus, they’re beautiful! Whether you’re looking out over a river from a boat or just walking along its banks, there’s something about the way it flows and sounds that helps settle your mind.
CJ was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. After reflecting upon that news, she found it made sense. Throughout her life, her brain felt like a computer screen with too many tabs open. Rivers and streams have always been her happy place but she has felt even more connected to them in the last year since finding out. They bring her peace in the midst of chaos. “I need the rivers and will always follow them. If they cease to exist here, I will go to where they are,” she mentioned.
That’s exactly what has been done throughout history. Our ancestors lived near rivers because they provided water, food, transportation and other necessities for survival. But they also provided something else— peace.
When we are near a river, we can feel at peace with ourselves, our surroundings and the world around us. “It’s about letting your cares flow away,” CJ continues. “When I’m river rafting or paddleboarding, my brain quiets down and all of my thoughts are pushed aside because I have to be present in the moment. I can’t afford not to be.”
When you think about it, rivers are like a metaphor for the health of our minds: if they’re healthy, we’re healthy; if they’re polluted or running dry, we suffer. That’s why keeping rivers healthy and flowing is so important—they’re not just naturally beautiful; they’re also powerful allies in one’s quest for mental health.
I think people living with mental health concerns have a heightened awareness of the benefits nature provides,” CJ concludes. “We need people, and organizations like Forever Our Rivers, to care deeply for our rivers. In this loud, crazy world, we can’t afford to lose another natural resource that provides the benefits of healing, safety and peace.”
Whether showing off their dance moves in wet meadows or filling the sky with their massive wingspans, sandhill cranes are magnificent birds that can be found throughout most of North America and even parts of Siberia. These birds are known for their distinctive calls, which can often be heard from great distances—some say up to 2.5 miles away! How do you know if you’ve seen one? Well, the sandhill cranes sport a recognizable red crown which is a major contrast from the rest of their tall, grayish body.
Water is key to the sandhill crane habitats.
Chances are if you recreate along our waterways you’ve seen a crane. If not, maybe you’ve at least heard their loud, rolling, trumpeting sound. They prefer river basins, wetlands, marshes and other areas with shallow water where they can easily find food. They are also known to inhabit agricultural fields, meadows and grasslands. During the breeding season, they typically choose areas with tall vegetation that gives good cover and protection to their nests. These habitats provide the cranes with water and a place to rest but also the right diet. While plants make up the majority of their food, they will occasionally eat small mammals or amphibians. Sandhill cranes have long beaks that allow them to probe wetlands for seeds, berries and insects.
Sandhill cranes are family-centered birds that love to socialize!
Sandhill cranes are social birds typically living in pairs or small family groups. The males are known for their elaborate courtship displays, which involve dancing, bowling, calling and even tossing small objects into the air. Who says chivalry is dead? They also typically mate for life and share nesting roles together.
During migration, their flocks are composed of hundreds of cranes that include family groups and unmated birds. Constant communication is key for these birds to successfully complete their long flights. Sometimes you may find various flocks congregating together during migration and at winter stopovers, bringing the number up to the thousands.
Sandhill cranes may fly up to 400 miles in one day.
The migration pattern of the sandhill cranes is honestly what we find the most interesting. Many populations spend the summer in the northern United States and Canada before flying south for the winter. In the western US, the largest concentration of sandhill cranes can be found in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, where around 20,000 cranes gather each fall to rest and feed before continuing their journey south. Other important stopover areas include the Platte River in Nebraska and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Sandhill cranes are very strong flyers and may fly up to 400 miles in one day during the migration season. It’s hard to fathom given it can take us anywhere from five and half to nine hours to drive that length with a car.
Let’s keep them moving and dancing.
Despite their widespread distribution, sandhill cranes are not immune to the effects of human recreation, development and climate change. The landscapes along the cranes’ migration paths are rapidly changing. When they experience habitat disturbance or loss, their resting and breeding grounds become compromised. If this continues, the population of sandhill cranes will quickly plummet. Fortunately, there are many organizations—like Forever Our Rivers—working hard to protect and restore important riparian habitats suitable for these birds.
Sandhill cranes are fascinating birds with habitat, behaviors and migration patterns that make them a valuable part of our natural heritage. Did you know that a ten-million-year-old sandhill crane fossil was found in Nebraska? So far, this makes them the oldest known surviving bird species. Conservation efforts are essential to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty and grace of these historical, elegant birds. Check out this recent video of the sandhill crane migration in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see these amazing birds, we hope you get the lucky opportunity to do so soon.