December 2000
BASIN News is an outreach effort of the Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network, a partnership of various public and private organizations in the Boulder area. BASIN News offers updates on water and related environmental topics that are of interest to the local community and does not necessarily reflect the views of any of its partners. (See for more on BASIN partners.)

In this issue we cover:

Wildfires Impact Aquatic Habitat and Water Quality

Wildfires not only impact vegetation and land animals - including human beings and their property - they can also trigger flooding and harm aquatic habitat and water quality. During the fire itself, rapid and extreme increases in water temperatures, lower water levels, and soil and ash polluting the water make it impossible for fish to breathe. The use of slurry to fight fires may also cause death in fish and amphibians and is a concern for drinking water sources. (See sidebar) 

Researchers studying the aftermath of the Walker Ranch fire, which burned 1,100 acres on Boulder County open space in the mountains west of Boulder in mid-September, are finding minimal damage to fish and am- phibians in South Boulder Creek. Fresh water entering the streams helped clean and dilute pollution.

A variety of interested groups have joined together in mitigation efforts for the Walker Ranch fire. Representatives from almost 20 agencies met to discuss erosion control and water quality monitor- ing of the damaged area.

For more information about mitigation efforts, call Therese Glowacki, Boulder County Open Space, at (303) 441-3952.

The Effects of UVB Radiation on the Toxicity of Fire-Fighting Chemicals

A new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey examines the effect of sunlight on slurry used in fire fighting entering waterways. Fire suppressant compounds like the red slurry that is dropped onto wildfires are essential in stopping some otherwise uncontrollable fires. However, such compounds do contain chemicals that are toxic to fish and amphibians. Sunlight intensifies the toxicity of at least one chemical, sodium ferrocyanide, in slurry. Even in slurry compounds without this chemical there are still toxic levels of ammonia. Natural processes during a wildfire also play a role in killing fish and amphibians. In the case of the Walker Ranch fire, cloudy skies reduced the amount of sunlight striking dropped slurry and low precipitation after the fire kept erosion minimal. The USGS is working with the industry to find safer compositions that still suppress fires.     

To read the USGS slurry report, visit

Spills Contaminate Local Waterways 

In July, 54 fish were found dead at the Coal Creek Golf Course after chemicals were dumped into the creek which turned the water white. The fish included various minnows such as white suckers, creek chubs, stone rollers, and long nosed dace, ranging in length from 1 1/2 inches to 6 inches. The Colorado Division of Wildlife sought sanctions against Lowe’s Hardware for dumping water - containing remnants of vinyl tile flooring and mastic down the drain, which fed into the creek along the golf course.

At the end of the summer, Clear Creek in Golden, Colo. was damaged twice in a matter of weeks as Coors Brewing Company accidentally discharged 2,500 barrels of Coors beer and wastewater into the creek killing over 10,000 fish. About a week later, a Mesa Oil truck rolled over and dumped 3,200 gallons of used oil into the creek harming more aquatic life. 

A fourth spill incident occurred on Boulder Creek in September. A chlorine spill was discovered between 28th Street and Foothills Parkway, which killed 365 Brown Trout and 80 suckers. Walsh Environmental Scientists and Engineers, an environmental firm hired by the city of Boulder, discovered that the source of the fish kill originated from a pipe leaking chlorine-rich water connected to the Scott Carpenter Swimming Pool, located at 30th and Arapahoe. The leaked contents seeped through cracks in the nearby pool maintenance building foundation and into the floor drain. The Boulder County Health Department and the city's Public Works Water Quality staff worked together to evaluate the impacts to the creek. Ned Williams, Assistant Director of Public Works for Utilities stated, "It’s unfortunate that a large number of fish were killed in this incident. However, there is not any threat to public health or safety from this spill." A copy of the Walsh report is available on the city Web site at

These spills were costly for the aquatic life as well as for the responsible parties. Phil Aragon of the Colorado Division of Wildlife estimated that a fine would total $15,575, since according to state law each fish can be worth up to $35. Citizens should be aware that storm drains funnel directly into local waterways, therefore, hazardous materials should be disposed of properly. A spill can violate water quality regulations, health regulations, and wildlife regulations. Tina Youngwood from the Colorado Division of Wildlife advises citizens to report spills as soon as possible before contaminants travel downstream. Persons wanting to report spills into Boulder's creeks should contact the Boulder Regional Communications Center at 303-441-4444. For additional information about water quality, call the city's water quality hotline at 303-441-4H2O or go online at 

Success at Stockholm

This August, BASIN communications coordinator Mark McCaffrey was among the 800 water quality experts gathered in Stockholm, Sweden, for the 10th Annual Stockholm International Water Symposium.

At the conference, McCaffrey delivered a presentation entitled: " a case study on the use of information technology in developing local water networks." The Symposium was organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (at and Professor Malin Falkenmark a renown Swedish water scientist who for decades has helped steer Sweden to take a lead in addressing the spectrum of water-related issues around the globe. 

During the various workshops and breakout sessions participants had an opportunity to listen to presentations and participate in discussions on a wide range of general topics– water efficiency and effectiveness, balancing technical and social concerns, education and public outreach, water security, and human rights issues. 

Awards were given out to students working on water projects. Ashley Mulroy of the United States was announced as the winner of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. Ashley, a student at the Linsly School in Wheeling, W. Va., examined water quality of a local creek and discovered that small amounts of chemicals, in this case antibiotics from the runoff from livestock feedlots, can cause e coli bacteria to become resistant to the drugs. 

BASIN has recently been nominated for the 2001 Stockholm Water Prize that honors outstanding achievements that help protect the world’s water resources. The winner will be announced on March 22, 2001, the United Nations World Water Day. 

Colorado Watershed Assembly

Over the summer, nearly 60 people representing 22 different watershed groups attended a meeting from Aug. 4 -5 about watershed protection around the state. The River Network facilitated the meeting, organized by Larry MacDonnell of the Stewardship Initiative (, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency. The gathering discussed ideas for statewide watershed organizing. Participants broke into groups to brainstorm and discuss a series of questions. Many of the watershed groups agreed on their goals and mission statements: to enhance watershed health, to help create swimmable waters in Colorado, and to create a water literate culture through environmental education. They also shared the same obstacles such as lack of funding, lack of public support and political barriers. 

In voicing these common thoughts and concerns, the groups identified certain advantages which a statewide entity could bring. The overriding idea was that a statewide entity could improve networking between the many watershed groups in Colorado, create a common voice, and help provide a variety of resources. 

The watershed assembly ended with commitment from members from the different watershed groups to continue to work on a process to create an entity to support watershed groups. A second assembly is scheduled for February 2001 to start implementing a state-level organization. Contact Larry MacDonnell at 303-545-6467 for more information. 

News from BASIN: Drought, Fire and Flood

From Oct. 23-31, BASIN hosted an on-line discussion on the history of drought, fire and flood in the Boulder area. The forum was geared at answering the questions: How much do you really know about drought, fire and flood? How do each of these events impact one another? How should communities prepare for these events? The forum included essays from several local experts: Lee Rozaklis of Hydrosphere Inc put together information about Extended Historical Stream Flows in the Boulder Creek Watershed; Connie Woodhouse from NOAA Paleoclimatology Dept. included information on tree ring studies; Donna Scott provided Water Quality Concerns from the Walker Ranch Fire; and the state's office of emergency management posted Colorado’s drought mitigation and response plan. Go to the Basin Web site at to check out the results from the on-line seminar.

The BASIN Web site has also recently undergone a major upgrade. Communications Coordinator, Mark McCaffrey, notes that "developing the BASIN Web site has been a work in progress, and we’re very grateful to the volunteers with the Boulder Community Network who have been instrumental in developing the design of the site and helping maintain and upgrade the content. We also appreciate the contributions of many local writers who have shared their expertise with the community through BASIN --Pete Palmer and Al Bartlett’s essays on sustainability, Joanna Sampson’s piece on South Boulder Creek, and Elizabeth Black’s accounts of flash floods." The Web site includes an online search engine and bibliography to help users locate information within and beyond the BASIN Web site.

Water Shortages Around the World

Over the next 25 years, the number of people facing chronic or severe water shortages could increase from 505 million to more than 3 billion, according to a report released this week by Population Action International. The report stated that water shortages would be worst in the Middle East and much of Africa. "These figures are an improvement over what we thought would happen a decade ago," said PAI President Amy Coen. She attributed the improvement to more family planning and the reduced rate of population growth around the world. Still, the report's lead author, Robert Engelman, hastened to point out that hundreds of millions of people continue to lack access to family planning tools and basic health care. 

"In many of the poor, developing countries, water shortages could become a severe problem, writes Lester Brown, author of "The world is running low on H20." Water tables are already falling on every continent, thanks in large part to powerful pumping technology developed in the last 50 years which allows humans to deplete aquifers faster than they can be replenished by precipitation. Water shortages could turn into food shortages, since it takes roughly 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain and far more water to produce meat. Brown argues that governments can work to avert catastrophe by limiting population growth and raising the price of water to encourage efficient use. Brown, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Stockholm International Water Symposium, offers alerts on these and related issues via

Information included in this newsletter was drawn from BASIN, Boulder Daily Camera, city of Boulder’s Open Space Department, Colorado Water Newsletter, EPA Homepage, EPA’s Waternews, Grit News, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Invitation to participate 

Would you like to help build BASIN? See the BASIN invitation at: to get involved.

The BASIN team maintains a list of specific tasks we are currently staffing. This will give you an idea of some of the opportunities available. We also welcome folks with their own ideas for the web site.

We'd love to have you.

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