Late summer and fall of 2019 lacked precipitation and the Roaring Fork Watershed started that winter in a drought. While the 2019-2020 winter season had an average snowpack, below average precipitation from March-May, coupled with dry soils from fall 2019, quickly elevated our drought status. Then the winter of 2020-2021 produced a below average snowpack and as a result, flows throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed are lower than historic averages, which will lead to increased stream temperatures.
Water temperature plays a vital role in determining the quality and quantity of aquatic life. Aquatic organisms, from plants to insects to fish, are adapted to live within specific temperature ranges. In the Roaring Fork watershed aquatic organisms including plants, aquatic insects, and fish, are adapted to cold temperature ranges. In the upper limits of that range, organisms becomes stressed, making them more susceptible to disease, increasing angling-related mortality in fish, and reducing their ability to compete for limited resources.
Temperature also affects the amount of oxygen that is available for respiration because the amount of oxygen that dissolves in the water decreases as temperatures increase. In addition, nearly all other water quality parameters are influenced by temperature. A variety of factors influence stream temperature including man-made dams and diversion structures, riparian vegetation and shade, local weather, stream surface area, sediment load, solar energy, altitude, surface area of the stream, runoff sources, and stream flow.
In a drought year, it is important to monitor stream temperature to stay informed of overall stream health and aware of where waterways may be stressed.
THE RIVERS NEED YOUR HELP. BECOME A CITIZEN SCIENTIST!
With low flows likely throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed this summer, Roaring Fork Conservancy is asking for your help in monitoring stream temperatures. By collecting stream temperature data, you can help locate areas of concern in our watershed. Once impacted areas are identified, Roaring Fork Conservancy can advocate for and implement best management practices to protect these vital ecosystems.