Reducing Wet Ammonium Deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park: the Development and Evaluation of A Pilot Early Warning System for Agricultural Operations in Eastern Colorado

Abstract

Agricultural emissions are the primary source of ammonia (NH3) deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), a Class I area, that is granted special air quality protections under the Clean Air Act. Between 2014 and 2016, the pilot phase of the Colorado agricultural nitrogen early warning system (CANEWS) was developed for agricultural producers to voluntarily and temporarily minimize emissions of NH3 during periods of upslope winds. The CANEWS was created using trajectory analyses driven by outputs from an ensemble of numerical weather forecasts together with the climatological expertize of human forecasters. Here, we discuss the methods for the CANEWS and offer preliminary analyses of 33 months of the CANEWS based on atmospheric deposition data from two sites in RMNP as well as responses from agricultural producers after warnings were issued. Results showed that the CANEWS accurately predicted 6 of 9 high N deposition weeks at a lower-elevation observation site, but only 4 of 11 high N deposition weeks at a higher-elevation site. Sixty agricultural producers from 39 of Colorado’s agricultural operations volunteered for the CANEWS, and a two-way line of communication between agricultural producers and scientists was formed. For each warning issued, an average of 23 producers responded to a postwarning survey. Over 75% of responding CANEWS participants altered their practices after an alert. While the current effort was insufficient to reduce atmospheric deposition, we were encouraged by the collaborative spirit between agricultural, scientific, and resource management communities. Solving a broad and complex social-ecological problem requires both a technological approach, such as the CANEWS, and collaboration and trust from all participants, including agricultural producers, land managers, university researchers, and environmental agencies.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is based upon work supported by National Science Foundation IGERT Grant No. DGE-0966346 “I-WATER: Integrated Water, Atmosphere, Ecosystems Education and Research Program” at Colorado State University and the National Park Service under award P13AC00599, project CSURM-273. We would also like to thank the Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes at Colorado State University for their support for this study. We also thank Kristi Morris, Kathy Lambert, and anonymous reviewers for their comments to improve the quality of this paper. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. The Pilot Early Warning System would not have been possible without the vision and tireless efforts of WBF.

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Correspondence to Aaron J. Piña.

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Piña, A.J., Schumacher, R.S., Denning, A.S. et al. Reducing Wet Ammonium Deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park: the Development and Evaluation of A Pilot Early Warning System for Agricultural Operations in Eastern Colorado. Environmental Management 64, 626–639 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-019-01209-z

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Keywords

  • Early warning system
  • Agriculture ammonia/ammonium
  • Wet nitrogen deposition
  • Weather modeling
  • Mountain meteorology
  • Rocky Mountain National Park