It seems like winter came in fast this year. I woke up to 17 below zero (that’s Fahrenheit) in October. That’s a surprise even for those of us that are used to the crazy weather and temperature swings in these mountains. A silent snowfall is happening as I write. No wind, just flakes drifting down in a white-out dance. The silence is a harbinger of winter’s silence; a cold beauty that slows everything down, a palpable sound of no sound that engulfs the life that, only a few months before, was vibrant and noisy.
We often think of winter as a season of ending, but for the watershed it’s the beginning. The beginning of the snowpack that sustains the land and all users of the water downstream for the entire year. The snowpack for the South Platte River Basin, of which our Sacramento Creek is a tributary, is 177% of normal today. Good news for the many ecosystems, plants and animals, including humans, who depend on the bounty of this place.
Sacramento Creek flows through Beaver Ponds and is a headwaters tributary to the South Platte River Basin. It has changed just as suddenly as the season. It has gone from being a sun-drenched series of lazy ponds and laughing ripples to a furtive thing, gurgling secretively below the new ice and occasionally popping up its dark head like a mouse in the snow. Soon it will be frozen so tightly that a two-foot thick covering of ice will hide it entire except for a soft flowing sound far beneath.
Because of the imminent ice, this may be the last month that our intrepid water sampling team is able to access Sacramento Creek as part of our Sacramento Creek Protection Plan. When we pulled a sample last week, we had to break ice to get to the fast-flowing center of the stream where we could take a clean, representative sample. As always, we will send these samples off to River Watch to be tested for heavy metals. River Watch is a non-profit organization that enlists volunteers through Colorado to monitor streams and rivers for water quality. We also analyze samples in-house to determine temperature, pH, dissolve oxygen levels, and buffering capacity. Each of these parameters can tell us if the creek remains health or if pollutants of some kind have entered it.
Look for more detail on water quality next month. We are still looking for volunteers to help with water monitoring. Please contact us if you are interested.