Snowpack Chemistry Study

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This week, staff from the US Geological Survey in Denver is visiting Teton County to ski and snowmachine to high elevation sites in order to study airborne pollutants in our snowpack. Since 1993, the USGS has made annual visits to these sites to look at concentrations of trace metals, isotopes of nitrogen and sulfur, and major ions. The five sites in Teton County, Wyoming are part of a project area that spans from Taos, New Mexico, to Glacier National Park. Each year, researchers aim to arrive at each site while the snowpack is still at peak depths. Hitting that sweet spot, and arriving before the snowpack begins to melt in earnest is an annual challenge.

Yesterday, Robb Sgroi, Land Resource Specialist with the Teton Conservation, joined USGS hydrologist, Colin Penn,  to visit the monitoring site on Rendezvous Mountain. To get to the site Robb and Colin dropped 400 feet in elevation off the scoured west slope of Rendezvous Mountain. After probing the site for a representative snow depth, Colin and Robb dug a shaft-like pit, 10 feet deep.

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 They then recorded the snow layer types and depths, as well as snow temperatures every ten centimeters down the 10 foot wall of the pit. They then weighed the amount of water in the snowpack, and measured the snow grains. Finally, actual samples along the pit face were collected for future lab analysis of the snowpack’s chemistry. There is a closely managed protocol for the collection of these samples in order to preserve the samples for later analysis. First, Colin used a clean shovel brought specifically for the purpose of collecting samples. He then placed the sample into an inner bag made of Teflon, which is then labeled, and wrapped in an outer bag. Starting this year, samples are also being collected for the Desert Research Institute, in order to assist in their research on carbon deposition in the snowpack. All of the collected data helps researchers understand the trends in snowpack chemistry, and provides data that informs management decisions regarding air resources.

To learn more, visit the USGS website here.

Notes From the Field: Ice Surveying on Flat Creek

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Flat Creek is one of our most recognizable local water-bodies, thanks to the circuitous path it wends through downtown Jackson. Flat Creek provides ample opportunities for recreation, as well as wildlife and fish habitat, and scenic vistas that make Jackson such a beautiful and unique town. However, that prime downtown location comes with some drawbacks. When Flat Creek gets blocked, by trees, rocks or ice, it can cause real problems for those living and working along its banks. 

  Anchor Ice in Flat Creek

Anchor Ice in Flat Creek

Ice-related flooding has long been a problem along Flat Creek. To address this issues, the Flat Creek Water Improvement District (FCWID) was formed to "explore and implement ways to prevent damage to private property due to winter flooding of Flat Creek," through respecting and balancing the interests of water rights holders, property owners within the district, and residents, while also working to improve and enhance water quality and habitat health. As part of this mission, FCWID contracted with Alder Environmental to monitor water and ice conditions in the Creek flowing through Jackson. A preliminary analysis of ice-related flooding was released in October of 2016, and it is available here.

  Border Ice on Flat Creek

Border Ice on Flat Creek

On Tuesday, January 2, 2018, TCD Water Specialist went out to join Professor Ed Kempema (University of Wyoming) and Kevin Poole (Alder Environmental), to monitor current ice conditions in Flat Creek. The purpose of the visit was to monitor anchor-ice formation, the presence of ice dams, and border ice growth. Anchor-ice refers to the ice that forms below the surface of the water which can cause the water level to rise within the banks of the body of water. Ice border growth refers to the amount of surface ice that has formed from the banks growing out towards the middle of the Creek. When anchor ice or border ice breaks off and flows down stream, it can get caught up and form an ice dam, which chokes the flow of water and can cause flooding. By monitoring the different varieties of ice formations present in Flat Creek, the goal is to develop a strategy to address common flood concerns to reduce the impact of flooding in the Flat Creek watershed.

How is water quality in Flat Creek trending?

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How is Flat Creek’s Water Quality Trending?

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality classified the aquatic health of Flat Creek as impaired in 1996, due to runoff from Jackson streets. Since, Teton Conservation District, the Town of Jackson and partners have worked to reduce pollutants that enter Flat Creek.

A primary tool that we use to measure the changing health of this, and other local streams, is by examining the aquatic bug life. Because these bugs are so diverse, they can tell us a lot about conditions in the stream. One of the most basic metrics we use is how many different taxonomic groups (richness) of sensitive mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies (Plecoptera) and Stoneflies (Trichoptera) we find in a sample. This metric is commonly called EPT taxa, in reference to the first letter of each of these insect Orders. The more EPT taxa you have, the better the water quality.

We have been collecting aquatic bug samples in Flat Creek since 1996, and presented here, are data collected in Flat Creek upstream of Highschool Rd, at the downstream boundary of the Town of Jackson. This location should show the effects of Jackson’s polluted runoff. What we see is that the highest richness of EPT taxa was actually found in 1996 and 1997, just after Flat Creek was deemed an impaired stream. It also shows us that between 2014 and 2017, we see an increase in sensitive EPT taxa.

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These results are by no means conclusive, and they do show that we may still have a way to go to improve water quality in Flat Creek. But it is noteworthy that in 2012 the Karns Meadow Stormwater Treatment Wetland was installed, which treats some of Jackson’s worst runoff, the Town’s snow storage pile. Only time will tell if this trend will continue.

This is Carlin Girard closing down 2017 with a shout out to the bugs in Flat Creek.

Notes From the Field: Adopt-A-Trout Field Trip Day

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On September 20th and 21st, TCD participated in Trout Unlimited's Adopt-A-Trout field trip days! Water Resources Specialist, Carlin Girard, and Natural Resources Technician, Chauncey Smith, led seventh graders through experiments to determine what aquatic habitat trout like best. Would a trout like to live in gatorade and vinegar? Bleach and distilled water? Fertilizer and spring water? Spoiler alert: none of the above.

Thanks to Trout Unlimited for inviting TCD to be a part of this fun day!

Notes From the Field: Photo-documenting in the Gros Ventre

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On Thursday, September 28, Mike Merigliano and George Gruell met up to visit several photo re-take sites throughout the Gros Ventre to discuss . Mike has embarked on a project to document changes in vegetation structure and species through repeat photography. With the help of Technical Assistance/Cost Share (TAC) grant funding, Mike is re-taking photographs on or near the Bridger Teton National Forest originally re-shot 50 years ago by wildlife biologist, George Gruell. George's original purpose in re-taking his 80+ photos 50 years ago was to aid land managers in their decision making by documenting the changes in the landscape that had occurred since the original photos were taken between the 1890's and early 1900's. Since then, there have been changes in the way land is managed within the Bridger-Teton National Forest, particularly surrounding wildfire management, reduced grazing and timber harvesting. Through Mike's photos, he will demonstrate the changes in vegetation across the landscape ranging from the valley floor to the alpine zone over the past 50 years.