CPW: Wetland Program awards $600,000 in grants for 2014

August 21, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has selected 15 wetland and riparian restoration projects that will share in $600,000 in Wetlands Program grants funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).

Approved projects will restore and enhance more than 4,700 acres of wetlands and riparian areas on State Wildlife Areas, State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other public and private lands across Colorado. Two projects will restore habitats damaged by last September’s flooding. A project at Boulder County’s Webster Pond will create shallow wetlands from a former gravel mining pit, which will also be used for native fish rearing. A project at Loveland’s Morey Wildlife Preserve will improve stream channels for wildlife and fish along the Big Thompson River.

“Wetlands and riparian areas are critically important wildlife habitats,” said Brian Sullivan, CPW Wetlands Program coordinator. “Most wildlife species in Colorado use these areas, which represent only a small part of our landscape.”

Waterfowl aren’t the only species to benefit from these funded restoration projects. Twenty other species of conservation concern, including the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, southwest willow flycatcher, boreal toad and Arkansas darter benefit too.

“GOCO strongly supports wetland and riparian conservation” says GOCO Executive Director Lise Aangeenbrug. “Healthy wetlands and riparian areas mean healthy wildlife populations and water supplies. Restoring these habitats helps build strong communities.”

GOCO, which invests a portion of Colorado Lottery revenues, has supported CPW’s wetland and riparian conservation efforts since 1997. GOCO also provided an additional $250,000 for 10 separate riparian restoration grants earlier this year, all of which include volunteer and Youth Corps labor.

More than 20 funding partners will contribute more than $1.2 million in matching funds for CPW’s wetland grants. Funding partners include city, county, state and federal governments, nonprofit conservation organizations, landowners, and volunteers.

“It is especially rewarding to see so many entities stepping up to partner with us in wildlife habitat conservation,” said Bob Broscheid, CPW director. “This is no surprise given the importance of this work to sustaining both game and nongame wildlife and improving waterfowl hunting in Colorado.”

The complete list of 2014 wetland and riparian restoration projects can be found online at http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/WetlandsProjectFunding.aspx.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife, and a variety of outdoor recreation. For more information go to http://cpw.state.co.us

Fountain Creek erosion mitigation project results encouraging

August 15, 2014
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A project to restore a small portion of Fountain Creek could have benefits for longer reaches.

“There are 51 miles of bank on each side of the creek from Colorado Springs to Pueblo,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “Now we know a method to use to control erosion.”

Small was giving a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which gave the green light to a $146,000 state grant toward the $189,000 project last year to undertake the project on Frost Ranch, located in El Paso County about 25 miles north of Pueblo.

The project restored the channel and fortified the bank along 480 feet of the Frost Ranch. Past floods had eaten away about 70 feet of the bank, including vegetation. Three tiers of dirt secured by netting rising about 4 feet were chosen as the way to restore this particular area. About 7,500 willow plants, along with grasses and other vegetation to hold the shore.

Work began in April and was completed in mid-May.

The first test of the work came on May 23, when the creek swelled to 3,000 cubic feet per second, rising nearly to the top of the newly constructed embankment, Small said. The work held, and the moisture spurred plant growth. About 75 percent of the plants survived.

A larger wave of water, 5,000 cfs, came on July 23. While some of the water overtopped the bank and deposited sand along the top, the bank stayed in place.

The roundtable applauded the district’s efforts.

“Frost Ranch has been an excellent neighbor to the creek,” said SeEtta Moss of Canon City, who was appointed to the roundtable to represent environmental interests. “I’m delighted to see what’s been done.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Roaring Fork wetland planting project August 23

August 14, 2014

Biodiversity: Can Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout make a big comeback?

August 13, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Recovery team stocks genetically pure trout in historic habitat
A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

FRISCO — Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout may be on their way to repopulating their historic habitat in the South Platte River Basin, thanks in part to a scientific sleuthing effort that helped trace the genetic roots of the colorful fish a couple of years ago.

About 1,200 greenback cutthroat fingerlings reared in federal and state hatcheries in Colorado were stocked into Zimmerman Lake, near Cameron Pass last week. An interagency recovery team hopes the stocking is a first milestone toward re-establishing populations of the state fish, which nearly vanished from Colorado’s rivers  because of  pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout.

In 2012, scientists concluded that the only remaining genetically pure greenbacks were isolated in a small, single population — about 750 fish, all living in…

View original 485 more words

Western watershed priority: Manage wildfire risk and impacts

August 11, 2014

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Krista Bonfantine can look up into the mountains behind her Sandia Park home and understand, better than most, the connection between the forested watersheds that provide most of New Mexico’s water and the stuff coming out of her tap.

As she opened the lid on the concrete box that surrounds Cienega Spring, which supplies her neighborhood’s water, she pondered what might happen if a fire burned through the overgrown woods above – the risk of floods tearing down the picturesque canyon, ash and debris wiping out the water supply intake.

Fire and the resulting damage to watersheds have been an increasing concern in recent years, and Bonfantine is part of an ambitious effort to tackle the cause – overgrown forests in New Mexico’s mountains.

While the risk to Bonfantine’s neighborhood is nearby, and therefore immediately apparent, the widespread risk of fire in the watersheds that provide much of New Mexico’s water supplies is harder to see.

The problem is not just the forests themselves, explained Beverlee McClure, president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group. The threat of upland fires threatens the reliability of the water supplies on which we all depend, she said…

McClure’s organization is part of The Rio Grande Water Fund, a broad-based coalition that is working to scale up patchwork efforts underway in the mountains of northern and central New Mexico to restore forests in order to protect the watersheds and water systems on which they depend.

As McClure spoke, a crew from a Corona-based company called Restoration Solutions was at work up the road with chain saws, felling trees in an overgrown patch of woods at a place called Horse Camp on the edge of the Cibola National Forest.

The overgrown woods in the mountains of New Mexico are the result of a century of firefighting that prevented natural, low-intensity fires that used to clear out undergrowth. The result is forests that are so thick in places that they are hard to walk through…

Trees being cut last week on Forest Service land near the Sandia Crest Road can be used as firewood, but there is not enough money to be made from cutting the small timber clogging the unhealthy forests to make such work self-supporting, Racher said. “There’s not enough value in that wood to pay for what needs to be done,” Racher said.

That is at the heart of the Forest Trust, which is attempting to raise $15 million per year in government money and private contributions to pay to expand the work, said Laura McCarthy, director of New Mexico conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group…

“This is a big problem that the federal government is not going to be able to solve for us,” McCarthy said.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

#SouthPlatte River: The Town of Julesburg, Sedgwick County and State of Colorado hope move the river back to it’s original channel

July 31, 2014
Julesberg Colorado via dankalal.net

Julesberg Colorado via dankalal.net

From the Julesberg Advocate (Devin Wilber):

Years ago, the South Platte River ran down the center of four channels running by Julesburg. Over time, the moving of water in the channels built a dam and transferred the water to the channel furthest south. This divergence has caused major problems over the years, and flooding in the past two years has only made those problems worse. The Town of Julesburg, Sedgwick County and State of Colorado are now taking steps to fix those problems and move the river back to it’s original channel.

Town Manager Allen Coyne said that it’s not going to be an easy fix to solve all of the problems in the river. Over 40-50 feet of riverbank has been eroded on the south channel since the flooding in September 2013. One 6 inch water line has been broken, and other damage has been done to fiber optic conduits.

The State Workers are also renovating the bases of the bridge, because the foundation is showing because all of the water erosion.

Town Manager Allen Coyne said that about two weeks ago a waste water line had broken. Allen said that the Town is using a temporary waste water line while the other one is being replaced, so there is no waste in the river. Coyne would continue to say that they will fix some older problems, like the 6 inch conduit that has been broken for a couple of years. You may have seen this pipe sticking out of the water on the east side of the bridge. The 6-inch cast iron water line that was installed in 1969 was broken in the September 2013 flood.

All interstate businesses continue to have service with a permanent 10-inch water line. While surveying the damage from the floods, the crews found a few 4-inch fiber optic conduits had broken. The optic lines themselves are fine, but the conduits holding them are cracked. These lines are said to belong to PC Telecom and RNHN (which connects over 20 rural hospitals together).

The Town is looking for help from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for money to help fund the project. The Town is working with Concrete and Utilities Specialist, Alan Keir, who put in the last water line in 2005 and whose dad put in the 1969 water line. The Town has also applied to the Army Corps of for a permit to perform the repairs.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

River restoration projects mostly fine despite runoff — The Leadville Herald Democrat

July 24, 2014

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Danny Ramey):

Heavy spring runoff did not have a major impact on several river restoration projects in the Arkansas River basin.

Members of the Lake County Open Space Initiative toured the three different projects on Thursday, July 10. Each of three projects used a different method to help preserve or restore the river.

Last year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife worked to maintain and build habitat along the Arkansas River near Hayden Meadows. Logs and sod mats were used in the project to help stabilize the river banks while still allowing the river some space to move.

“That’s a natural thing rivers want to build,” Greg Policky, biologist for parks and wildlife, said. The goal of the project was to ensure that there is adequate habitat for each life stage of trout, Policky said.

During the spring, the Hayden Meadows area saw higher than average flows. Normally, flows measure around 300 to 400 cubic feet per second on that stretch of river. This spring flows reached up to 900/cfs, Policky said. Despite the heavy flow, most of the structures parks and wildlife put in held. However, there were a few problem areas. In one spot, the river ripped out the log supports and created a channel.

“It didn’t quite like everything we did,” Policky said.

The runoff also caused some erosion of the river banks in the 4-mile project area. Crews will be coming in near the end of July to maintenance the project. They will also extend the project another mile down the river.

Meanwhile, river restoration further up on the Arkansas River and the Lake Fork saw very little disturbance from the runoff.

Restoration work along that section of the river was done mostly with rocks to lower the chance of something coming loose and washing downstream.

“I put something in that I’m confident that I won’t move,” Greg Brunjak, who worked on the project, said.

Willows and logs were also used in parts of the project to stabilize the banks.
That particular project was performed mostly on private land along the Lake Fork. One of the project’s goals was to help eliminate erosion along the banks of the river and help maintain livestock habitat in the area.

The structures can withstand up-flows of about 800/cfs, Brunjak said. That portion of the Lake Fork saw flows of around 200 and 250/cfs this winter, which were still higher then normal.

“We’ve got a pretty good flow we haven’t seen for awhile,” Brunjak said.

The Union Creek Project, located on a tributary off of the Arkansas River, saw minimal impact from the runoff as well. One of the main goals of the project was to stabilize a portion of the Old Stage Road. Union Creek had been cutting into the hill and destabilizing the road. The project was performed by Colorado Mountain College. Soil lifts and willows were used to help stabilize the bank of the creek below the road.
The one issue from the runoff came from a log structure built to help get water to some of the willows used in the project, Jake Mohrmann, assistant project manager of the CMC Natural Resource Management department, said. The structure ended up being too tight and was plugged by debris from the runoff, which caused the area behind the structure to dry up slightly. When crews unplugged the structure it caused a lot of sediment to flow through, Mohrmann said. The structure then plugged up again a few weeks later.

“We will need to remove it and find another way to get water to the willows,” Mohrmann said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

July 24, 2014

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

“Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

Reach 4 (38 miles)

Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

Spill management

Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

“The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

“There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Edwards: Eagle River Watershed Council screening of DamNation July 30

July 24, 2014
Official poster

Official poster

We are excited to host a screening of Patagonia’s new, award-winning environmental documentary, DamNation, at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards! “This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life & health of our rivers.”[...]

Doors open Wednesday, July 30th at 6:15 pm, screening starts at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $3 in advance, $5 at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (970) 827-5406.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

Volunteers needed for Hermosa Creek cutthroat restoration effort Saturday

July 11, 2014

From The Durango Herald:

The Five Rivers chapter of Trout Unlimited is soliciting volunteers to help with a cutthroat trout restoration project Saturday on Hermosa Creek behind Purgatory.

The work involves restoring disturbed areas around the fish barrier built last fall on the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. Volunteers also will breach beaver dams and perhaps install “beaver deceiver” devices to stabilize flows.

While cutthroat thrive on the upper end of the East Fork, non-native species have taken hold in the lower end and in other Hermosa Creek tributaries.

Beaver dams harbor refuges for non-native species.

Volunteers should meet at 9 a.m. at the bottom of Forest Service Road 578, which leads into the Hermosa Valley behind Purgatory.

Information is available from Buck Skillen at 382-8248 or Glenn May at 570-9088.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

The Resurrection Mining Co. files change of use on Twin Lakes shares to augment depletions at the Yak Tunnel treatment plant

July 3, 2014
Yak Tunnel via the EPA

Yak Tunnel via the EPA

From The Leadville Herald (Danny Ramey):

The Resurrection Mining Company has filed for approval of an augmentation plan that would allow it to use water shares to replace water depleted from the Yak Tunnel and water treatment plant. Under the plan, the company would use shares it owns in Twin Lakes Reservoir to replace water depleted by its operations in California Gulch. Resurrection filed an application for approval of the augmentation plan with Division 2 of the Colorado Water Court on May 20.

Resurrection currently owns 22 shares of water in Twin Lakes. Twelve of those shares are included on a provisional basis, meaning Resurrection can remove those shares from the plan or use it for purposes other than what it was originally approved for.

In its plan, Resurrection estimates that depletions from its plant range from 3 to 7.7 acre feet of depletions a year. The plan seeks to augment five structures owned by Resurrection. Of those structures, only two cause water depletion, according to the plan. Water depletes from the Yak Surge Pond and the Yak Treatment Plant via evaporation, and some also leaves the treatment plant through the disposal of residuals used in water treatment. The water shares from Twin Lakes would be delivered to the intersection of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River under the plan.

ASARCO and Resurrection have been using water from Twin Lakes to replace depletion from their operations at the Yak since 1989. However, they have been doing so under substitute water supply plans, which expired June 14, 2014. Resurrection’s application would provide for a permanent water replacement plan. The application also asks the division to renew the substitute water supply plan.

Resurrection and ASARCO entered into a joint agreement to develop mine sites in the Leadville area in 1965. The Yak Treatment Tunnel was originally under title to ASARCO. However, when ASARCO went bankrupt, Resurrection assumed the title.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Clear Creek Courant series [Part 1] about the past, present and future of Clear Creek

June 18, 2014

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Check out Ian Neligh’s retrospective about Clear Creek and the heydays of mining and logging (The Clear Creek Courant). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Editor’s note:This is the first installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek…


There’s a monument in Idaho Springs hidden away in the parking lot of the former middle school. The giant boulder pays tribute to George Jackson, an adventurer and fortune hunter, who discovered gold in Clear Creek 155 years ago.

According to Don Allan, vice president of the Idaho Springs Historical Society, Jackson’s curiosity to follow the creek west into the mountains with only a couple of dogs by his side led to the country’s second largest gold rush.

Like a row of dominoes, Jackson’s discovery led to an onslaught of pioneers and ultimately in 1876 to the formation of a state.

“(Jackson) decided to go over and take a look down at the crick, and his curiosity brought him here to the confluence of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek,” Allan said. “When I talk with people about our community and how we got here, it was because of one man’s very good curiosity and a piece of gold.”

Jackson discovered gold in January, and by June, more than 400 people had settled in the area.

Natural hot springs drew more people into the area. Allan said in the Idaho Springs museum’s photography collection, there’s a photo of more than 50 employees standing in front of the hot springs.

“Once the stream was panned out, they panned all the gold out of the crick. Then they had to dig and make mining mills,” Allan said. “And this crick was integral to the milling of all the gold and silver in this area.”

The creek was used to support the mining industry such as the Mixel Dam in Idaho Springs, which was formed to help power mining mills and to create electricity. In 1864, silver was discovered to be the main mining mineral in Georgetown, and by 1877, the railroad reached Idaho Springs.

According to “A History of Clear Creek County,” the area at one point had 48 different towns with names such as Red Elephant, Freeland and Hill City. It is estimated that several thousand mines crisscrossed the mountains around Clear Creek as people sought their fortunes first along its banks and then in its mountains.

Those unlucky in gold sometimes found their way into the county’s second largest industry: logging. Early photos of the surrounding hillsides show them stripped of trees. But in time, the mining and logging industry waned, the frenzy slowed and the towns disappeared until there were only four municipalities left: Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Empire and Silver Plume. By World War II, the county’s mining industry has come almost to a complete halt.

But the stream once called Cannonball Creek, Vasquez Fork and lastly Clear Creek remained.

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.

Will The #ColoradoRiver Be Restored To Its Former Glory? — Jon Waterman

June 7, 2014
Jonathan Waterman paddling the ooze in the Colorado River Delta

Jonathan Waterman paddling the ooze in the Colorado River Delta

Here’s an in-depth look at the current state of the Colorado River Basin from Jon Waterman writing for Elevation Outdoors Magazine. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

In the arid Southwest we put a lot of faith into a century-old agreement. Created by skillful lawmakers in 1922, it’s called the Colorado River Compact and it has little bearing on the reality of the river in 2014, or most years as it turns out. The boosters of growth who wrote the 2,000 page document had no inkling that the two decades before 1922 were much wetter than the fossil record. They relied upon a single gauge to calculate the River’s past and future volume. And so the Colorado River Compact charted the future by mandating who could take how much water from the lifeline of the Southwest—and began the process of diverting it dry.

It’s impossible to understand the current state of the river witout looking at these actions of the past. Seven states blithely divided up the river and began planning dams as if the Colorado’s water would spring eternal. The Colorado River Compact became the foundation for legislation—collectively known as the Law of the River—that would extensively store and divert water partly to various industry and cities, but mostly to farms (eventually using 78 percent of the river).

Ecology, let alone science, was overruled when it came to taming the disruptive Colorado River—which was prone to unpredictable floods, reddened moods, and maddening droughts. The Law of the River, along with sorting out rights, would help control this unruly Force of Nature.

Central to this mindset was the prevailing Prior Appropriations Doctrine, defined as “use it or lose it,” which assigned highest priority water rights to the earliest users. It all began with miners who didn’t necessarily own land alongside rivers but were putting the water to what became known as “beneficial use.” The new doctrine first appeared in a Colorado court in 1872, then was adopted by other western states, citing that arid climates could not abide by the old Riparian Doctrine, which actually prevented river diversions that jeopardized downstream users.

Few foresaw that the population served by the Colorado River would grow to 36 million…

Among many well-regulated spigots controlled by the Law of the River was a 1944 treaty with Mexico. Our southern neighbors had no choice but to accept ten percent of the annual Colorado River flow, paving the way for large portions of the Mexican Delta to turn as dry and hard as the concrete slabs holding up thousands of well-plumbed Southwestern U.S. subdivisions. Not so across the border. As most of the world now works double-time to conserve and recycle, present-day water buffalos in the Southwest continue to sprinkle non-native lawns, revere cows (sustained by hay, drinking more river water than any other crop) and cling to outdated principles likely to remain on the books. Unless the West adopts more progressive policies, they will continue to use the river as if it were 1922.

The problem is this increasingly intricate plumbing system—to the chagrin of Earth Firsters everywhere—performed as planned, with the exception of a wet spell in 1983 that nearly popped the Glen Canyon Dam, penultimate cork of the Colorado River. Meanwhile, those who cared about the River, let alone those Mexican communities whose livelihood depended upon tourists and coastal fishing, were devastated…

When Mexico’s Morales Dam opened its river gates on March 23, 2014, a crowd cheered. Further downstream, the San Luis Rio Colorado community of Mexico spent weeks barbecuing and playing music out on the once dry river banks to celebrate, at long last, the Colorado River running past their town. From here, it flushed a soup of bottles and foam down into the Delta, a Rhode Island sized sprawl of ancient grains washed out of the Rockies and carved from the Grand Canyon. Even if the river can’t be restored to its “PreDambrian” glory, regularly flooding to the sea, regular pulses of water into the mid delta could at least support riparian shrubbery, small forests and habitat for various fauna, including 380 species of birds…

There is also hope to be found in Colorado River Basin states, where water trusts are being established to allow senior water rights holders to donate water back to the river, without losing their future water rights. If a basin-wide water trust could be established, along with healthier minimum stream flows that would assure the future of the river, America’s most renowned scenic wonder will have a fighting chance.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Tamarisk Coalition “Raft the River” event, June 29 #ColoradoRiver

June 2, 2014
Colorado River -- photo via Wikipedia

Colorado River — photo via Wikipedia

Click here for the inside skinny.

World verging on ‘sixth great extinction,’ study says — Washington Post

June 2, 2014
Habitat loss via Steve Greenberg

Habitat loss via Steve Greenberg

From the Washington Post (Terrance McCoy):

The story of the buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is part of the story of a great extinction, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Species of plants and animals are dying out at least 1,000 times faster than before the advent of the human species, and if things don’t turn around, it may get a whole lot worse, researchers said.

“We are on the verge of the sixth great extinction,” Stuart Pimm, a professor at Duke University who lead a team of nine international scientists, told the Associated Press. ”Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

Previous mass extinctions are often associated with a meteor strike, one of which likely killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Another extinction, called the Great Dying, offed 90 percent of the world’s species 250 million years ago — though as The Washington Post’s Fred Barbash pointed out, that one may have been caused by a microbe.

This study focused on contemporary rates of extinction and used databases such as the Red List of Threatened Species. Researchers compared today’s rates with those before humans arrived. And today’s, according to the AP, are 10 times faster than scientists had earlier believed.

“Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity changes the planet, and how that drives extinctions,’ the study said. ”We assess key statistics about species, their distribution, and their status.” Many land-based species are distributed across terrains smaller than the state of Delaware, Pimm said in this Duke University press release.

Such species are “geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct,” the study said. “Future rates depend on many factors and are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.”

The number one threat to the world’s many species: habitat loss. It is becoming increasingly difficult, researchers said, to find any speck of planet that hasn’t been either altered or built upon by humans. Complicating efforts: There are so many species no one knows of. “Most species remain unknown to science, and they likely face greater threats than the ones we do know,” Pimm said in the press release.

Film screening: DamNation (SXSW Audience Choice Award) at the Mayan Wednesday night in Denver

May 10, 2014
Official poster

Official poster

Click here to go to the website to watch the trailer and pre-order your copy.

From email from American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

I am excited to come on board as the new Associate Director of Communications for American Rivers – focusing primarily on the Colorado Basin.

I grew up on the Western Slope of Colorado, and have recently settled in Durango – in the heart of the basin. I thrive on being out on the water in a raft or a driftboat, ripping a trail on my mountain bike, or hiking one of the countless routes in the high country. Having spent more than 10 years as a volunteer leader with Trout Unlimited, I am thrilled to bring my professional skills and energy to work for the rivers of the west. But most importantly, I am excited to be working with you.

Members and supporters are the bedrock of any successful effort, and you are the real force behind how much American Rivers can accomplish. With your help, we can preserve and restore the places we love, work, and play, and build a more sustainable future for our rivers. I would like to invite you to a few events we have set up in the coming weeks:

  • Denver – DamNation screening at the Mayan Theater May 14, 7:30pm
  • Telluride – MountainFilm DamNation Screening, May 23 – 26
  • Aspen – Wild Rivers Night at the Wheeler, featuring Pete McBride and DamNation, Wheeler Opera House, June 5
  • If you haven’t checked out the trailer for DamNation, see it here. It’s pretty amazing!

    I so look forward to meeting you in person and talking about how we can work together for our rivers in the coming years. Come out to a film screening, or drop me an email – there is so much to do and I am excited that we can embark on this journey together!

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Hope for Howard Fork water quality? CDRMS is looking at acid mine drainage mitigation again. #ColoradoRiver

    May 4, 2014
    Howard Fork via The Trust for Land Restoration

    Howard Fork via RestorationTrust.org

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

    … the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety is beginning the process of trying to stabilize the mine near Ophir and improve the water quality of streams in the area. The DRMS project aims to see if there is a way to stop water from flowing through the mine, which will also help improve the water quality of Howard Fork, which flows into the San Miguel River. The project is being overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been investigating the water quality and taking samples from the Iron Springs Mining District for a couple of years, according to EPA Site Assessment Manager Jean Wyatt.

    “It’s in part to understand the baseline conditions for water quality and understand if something can be done to stop the mine water from passing through the workings of the mine,” Wyatt said. “There are elevated levels of zinc and iron coming out of that mine … We want to understand what the conditions are and who could contribute resources or expertise to increase the quality of the watershed in general.”

    DRMS is seeking bids from contractors to reopen the portal and stabilize and rehabilitate portions of the underground workings of the Carbonero Mine. The project will also include the construction of a platform at the portal, construction of water management structures near Ophir Pass Road below the site and re-grading and reclamation of certain areas.

    “That’s the goal: to stabilize the mine and enter and see what, if anything, can be done,” said Bruce Stover, director of the DRMS Inactive Mine Reclamation Progam. “This isn’t a final remediation by any means. This is just part of an ongoing investigation.”

    Glenn Pauls is the landowner of the site. In the 1980s, Pauls acquired many of the mining claims in the area — he estimates about 1,100 acres in roughly 100 claims at one point — with the intention of making a trade with the Forest Service at some point. His goal, he said is to preserve the Ophir Pass Road and keep it open for Jeep traffic. Pauls said he would like to create a hydroelectricity project at the Carbonero Mine site, once the water quality studies are complete.

    “The idea is that we open it up and find out if the water coming in the back end is clean,” he said. “I can’t touch the water until someone gives me the OK.”

    A mandatory pre-bid meeting for interested contractors is planned for the site on Ophir Pass Road about a half-mile east of Ophir at 10:30 a.m. June 11. The submission deadline for bids is June 24. For more information about the project, contact Kristin Miranda at the Department of Natural Resources/Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety at 303-866-3567 ext. 8133 or kristin.miranda@state.co.us.

    More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

    Vail: ‘Restore the Gore’ campaign to kick off April 25

    April 17, 2014


    From the Vail Daily:

    An awareness campaign to help improve the health of Gore Creek is being introduced this spring with a focus on best practices for landscapers and gardeners. The “Restore the Gore” kick off takes place April 25 with a free Moe’s BBQ lunch and learn session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Donovan Pavilion. Landscape contractors, gardeners, commercial applicators and lodging managers, in particular, are encouraged to attend. Lunch service will begin at 11:45 a.m. with presentations taking place from noon to 12:45 p.m.

    Sponsored by the Town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the program will include short presentations on the causes of Gore Creek’s decline and the everyday actions that can be implemented to help make a difference when it comes to water use, special irrigation permits, invasive plants and pesticides.

    In 2012 Gore Creek was added to the State of Colorado’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters due to the decline in aquatic life. Scientists have determined the impact is due to degradation and loss of riparian buffer areas, impacts of urban runoff and pollutants associated with land use activities. A Water Quality Improvement Plan has since been adopted that includes an emphasis on community awareness as well as strategies for regulatory measures, site specific projects, best management practices and an ongoing monitoring program.

    In addition to the lunch and learn kick off, the town is distributing a handout on recommended pesticide practices for commercial landscapers and property owners. Additional information is available on the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/gorecreek.

    If you plan to attend the April 25 lunch and learn program, please RSVP to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator, at 970-477-3455 or email kbertuglia@vailgov.com no later than 5 p.m. April 23.

    More Gore Creek watershed coverage here.

    Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition host first of a hoped-for series of master planning meetings #COflood

    April 13, 2014
    Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

    Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

    Leaning over a map of the post-flood Big Thompson River in the Loveland High School cafeteria on Saturday, John Giordanengo asked Glen Haven residents to point to their properties.

    Then the million-dollar question: How do you think the river should be restored?

    The first of what’s expected to be a series of master planning meetings hosted by the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition focused on gathering input to that very question, as well as explaining the numerous factors that are involved in its answer.

    The coalition, chaired by Giordanengo, has grown to include hundreds of stakeholders, nonprofit groups, local businesses and government entities, representatives of which were available Saturday to meet one on one with property owners.

    “As we’re turning gears toward long-term recovery, us being able to coordinate on meaningful restoration will impact the river for years to come, including where you live,” Giordanengo told meeting attendees.

    In an hour-long presentation, about 70 people were introduced to the early stages of a master plan for the entire river corridor, which is being developed by Fort Collins-based Ayres Associates.

    It started with an analysis of the kind of damage that occurred during September’s historic flood, including bank erosion, channel shifting, flanking of bridges, loss of hillsides and massive sediment deposition.

    “Our master plan effort will be largely focused on looking at these different types of damage and do what we can to mitigate and reduce the risk of those types of damage,” said John Hunt with Ayres Associates.

    More Big Thompson River Watershed coverage here.

    Old Uravan diversion dam on Tabeguache Creek removed, the San Miguel River tributary is now running free

    April 1, 2014
    Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

    Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

    In the 1930s, a 6-foot-tall, 60-feet-wide diversion dam was built in Tabeguache Creek, just upstream from its confluence with the San Miguel River, for the purposes of providing water to the Town of Uravan.

    That dam remained for roughly 80 years, even as the uranium mining town was abandoned, declared a Superfund Site and razed in a reclamation project.

    When Uravan shuttered, the dam stopped diverting water for human consumption. It continued, however, to block upstream passage to three species of native fish that rely on warm-water tributaries for their spawning grounds.

    Until recently, that is. Thanks to a Bureau of Land Management project that was supported by the San Miguel Watershed Coalition and Nature Conservancy, the diversion dam was dismantled earlier this month.

    Following two years of research, planning and securing funding, it took crews from Reams Construction a day and a half to pull all of the concrete out of the streambed.

    And just like that, Tabeguache Creek was flowing free.

    Peter Mueller, who is both the Nature Conservancy’s Southwestern Colorado Project Director and a board member on the Watershed Coalition, said the removal was a great thing to witness.

    “One of the things that is so critical for the Nature Conservancy, the Coalition and BLM is that the native fish use these tributaries for spawning,” Mueller said. “And so to be able to remove this diversion structure and open up another eight miles of habitat, with full cooperation of both private landowners and the federal government … we were really excited about it.”

    Amanda Clements, an ecologist with the BLM, said the project came about when the agency’s fish biologist was examining Colorado maps for migration barriers.

    “He spotted this one,” Clements said.

    Through follow-up investigation, Clements said, the BLM discovered that water rights of the dam had been determined abandoned and that removal of the structure would open up a lot of habitat for three species of native fish: Roundtail chub, Flannelmouth sucker and Bluehead sucker. All three are considered “BLM Colorado sensitive species.”

    More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

    Clear Creek: Colorado’s hardest working river?

    March 24, 2014
    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    From All Wet: The Colorado Water Blog (Allen Best):

    Dave Holm called Clear Creek “perhaps the hardest working river in Colorado,” and to back up that statement he noted that it provides water for 400,000 people and has the second most numbers of rafters in Colorado.

    As for fish? Well, not so good. “It’s a rough and tough stream, and it’s tough on fish,” he said at a March 20 presentation before the Colorado Renewable Energy Society. “They really get beat up.”

    Holm directs the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation, which was set up in 1990. He explained that after just a handful of people at the first meeting, 100 people were affiliated with the group by 1994.

    The foundation seeks to clean up and improve Clear Creek, no small task. It was the site of Colorado’s first industrial-scale mining, first placer operations and then tunneling. This occurred at Central City, on the north fork of the creek, and also at Idaho Springs. Other mining towns in the drainage include Black Hawk, Georgetown, and Silver Plume…

    The foundation has done 80 projects altogether, but the creek still has major troubles. Interstate 70 probably has the “biggest physical impact.” The creek has been channelized to make roof for the four-way highway, creating what amounts to a “rip-rap gulley.”

    Holm also described how the doctrine of prior appropriation benefits the creek. “Colorado’s—rococo comes to mind—legal framework for administering water rights,” he said. But that first-in-right means that most of the water in Clear Creek gets left there until far downstream, where it issues from the foothills into the piedmont of the Front Range.

    More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.

    Restoration: #ColoradoRiver delta

    March 23, 2014
    Photo via the Los Angeles Times

    Photo via the Los Angeles Times

    Historic water pulses through the Colorado River delta for revival starting today

    March 23, 2014

    Coyote Gulch:

    This is a big day for the Colorado River delta.

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    1ColoRi-R2-024-10A The dry Colorado River Delta will receive a resurrecting flow of water this spring, one that Scientific American calls “an unprecedented experiment in ecological engineering” thanks to a historic agreement between the United States and Mexico.

    Starting today, the pulse will be released from Morelos Dam, which sits on the international boundary, and will travel 75 miles to the Gulf of California. Below the dam, the Colorado is usually completely dry. This pulse of water will mark the first time that the United States and Mexico have put water back into the parched riverbed for environmental purposes.

    From Scientific American:

    The mighty Colorado rises on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and drains seven US and two Mexican states along its 2,300-kilometer course (see ‘River run’). Before the 1930s, when dams began to throttle the river, its water ran unfettered into the Gulf of California. But…

    View original 503 more words

    Cache la Poudre River: Time-lapse footage of the removal of the Josh Ames Diversion Dam

    March 17, 2014

    The South Platte River Corridor Vision report is hot off the presses from the South Platte Working Group

    February 27, 2014


    Here’s the release from Arapahoe County:

    After completing a nine‐month visioning process, the South Platte Working Group – a collaboration of city, county, state and special district elected leaders and staff ‐ has released a report outlining a future vision plan for recreation, accessibility and economic development opportunities for the South Platte river corridor in Arapahoe County.

    The South Platte River Corridor Vision report, which is available for review and comment at http://www.arapahoegov.com/DocumentCenter/View/1792, is the result of several months of research, discussions and outreach to stakeholders and communities, including a half‐day charrette in September 2013.

    “This report provides a more comprehensive picture of what we envision for the South Platte River corridor in the future,” said Commissioner Nancy A. Doty, who represents District 1, which includes the communities along the South Platte. “By working together, the members who make up the South Platte Working Group will be able to prioritize projects, pool resources and continue to accomplish our goals for this important amenity in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”

    Convened by Arapahoe County in 2006 with an initial $3 million pledge, and another $5 million in 2012 – both funded from the Open Space sales and use tax, the South Platte Working Group has racked up several accomplishments in its short existence.

    The South Platte Working Group, which consists of 21 local jurisdictions and agencies, has contributed more than $25 million (including a $5.25 million Legacy grant from Great Outdoors Colorado) for projects that have improved the environmental viability, restoration and beautification, as well as improved connections to the river greenway and park system from C‐470 on the south to Yale Avenue on the north.

    “This vision document is our way of strategically identifying how we can continue to restore this beautiful recreational, environmental and economic development amenity,” said Littleton City Council member Debbie Brinkman. “The South Platte Working Group has accomplished a great deal to improve the river corridor and this report charts a new path for future opportunities.”

    By working collaboratively, the South Platte Working Group has acquired 50 acres of open space; built six new bike/pedestrian bridges and added six trailheads and 3.2 miles of new trail – all designed to protect, improve and restore this popular recreational amenity, which continues to be impacted by urban development and population growth.
    The South Platte River Corridor Vision report outlines the group’s future efforts to improve and protect the river corridor. Some of the outcomes and recommendations from the report include:

  • Identifying approaches to further integrate the communities of Englewood, Sheridan, Littleton and Columbine Valley to the river in ways that both increase recreational opportunities and facilitate economic development.
  • Completing a series of “quick wins” or projects that can be pursued immediately to improve the recreational experience along the South Platte. The plan identifies 11 projects that are supported and can be completed with appropriate funding. Some of the projects identified include: improving the Oxford to Union Avenue corridor; enhancing the Little Dry Creek Corridor and improving the Centennial Park Oxbow Nature area, to name a few.
  • Embracing the unique qualities of the South Platte by building on and embracing the industrial character of some of its areas for education, public art and cultural events.
  • “It really is exciting to see how the Vision Plan essentially captures some of the best qualities of the South Platte River in the northern part of Arapahoe County,” said Englewood Mayor Randy Penn. “This plan charts the future for the varied land uses that will make its mark on Englewood and other communities for years to come.”

    Comments on the draft report are welcomed from anyone interested in the recreation, habitat and economic development along the South Platte. For more information about the South Platte Working Group, visit http://www.arapahoegov.com/index.asp?NID=469. A copy of the report is available at: http://www.arapahoegov.com/DocumentCenter/View/1792. Photos of the South Platte are available at: http://www.arapahoegov.com/gallery.aspx?AID=13

    From The Denver Post (Clayton Woullard):

    The South Platte Working Group has put out its first South Platte River Corridor Vision report that identifies more than 20 projects to be completed over the next few decades in the river corridor.

    The working group is a collection of about 21 different entities, including Littleton, Englewood, Arapahoe County, the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and several others. They first came together in 2006 to discuss and propose projects to enhance recreational opportunities, enhance the habitat along the river and potentially provide for economic development opportunities.

    “How do we create this cool relationship between the community and the businesses and the neighbors and nature without destroying this amenity,” said Debbie Brinkman, who represents District 4 as council member in Littleton and has been a part of the group since the beginning when she was Littleton’s mayor.

    The group has spent $25 million since 2006 on various projects that have helped with the restoration, beautification and environmental viability of the South Platte, plus improved connections with the greenway and park system throughout the corridor.

    Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty, whose District 1 encompasses the river corridor, said the report is important because it’s the culmination of varied groups working together. She said one of the most important and immediate projects in the report is the Dry Creek Channel and Trail Potential Enhancements, which would include reconstructing the corridor and basically make conditions better life for vegetation and the health of the creek as a tributary to the South Platte River.

    “What we hope to accomplish with that is improvement of the connection with the South Platte River and the city of Englewood Center,” Doty said, adding that would help recreational and economic development opportunities.

    Doty said another important, immediate project is the Oxford-Union Channel and Habitat Improvement Project, which would include the reconfiguration of the channel, including the installation of riffles and pools for recreation.

    Another is the Centennial Park/Oxbow Pond Nature Study Opportunity, in which some concrete slabs among the pond banks may have led to water stagnation. It has the potential to become an educational resource as part of Englewood’s Centennial Park.

    For more information, or to read the report, click here.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    The latest newsletter from the Coalition for the Upper South Platte Watershed is hot off the presses

    February 17, 2014
    Upper South Platte Basin

    Upper South Platte Basin

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    A lot of people depend on the Upper South Platte Watershed for drinking water, irrigation, and business. This makes millions of residents (and visitors, too) dependent upon our work of maintaining a clean water supply. In a spirit of collaboration, we’re very excited to be involved in a proactive program Denver Water is spearheading to protect source water within our watershed. Denver’s Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) program is focusing on the Upper South Platte Watershed in a first phase of planning that will extend to other basins in the future.

    The SWAP is designed to keep our shared water resource clean and safe for everyone who depends on it by getting stakeholders involved in planning. By identifying potential pollutant sources and best management practices for protecting our water, the plan will provide a blueprint for implementing effective programs that address contaminants of concern. The process began by discussing prevention of septic system pollution with local experts, and will continue in the coming months with discussions about issues such as wildfires, forest health, agriculture, energy development, mining, land use and development, transportation, and recreation as they relate to water quality. Other water providers, county governments, state and federal agencies, and citizens are participating in this effort.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

    Restoration: North Empire Creek acid mine drainage mitigation

    February 4, 2014
    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    From the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh):

    The Clear Creek Watershed Foundation will spend $536,000 to remove the waste and re-vegetate the area between April and August. David Holm, the foundation’s executive director, hopes the mitigation will begin to make the water less acidic, eventually allowing plants to grow along the creek’s banks and fish to live in its waters.

    However, he doesn’t want to mislead people into thinking the creek will be perfect when the work is complete.

    “So how will it look afterward?” Holm asked. “We hope the stream corridor is going to look pretty good. There’s not going to be mine waste in it. It is going to look like a natural stream, and it is going to have vegetation on both sides as far out as we can get it.”

    Empire Mayor Wendy Koch lauded the effort, saying the stream does not currently support life of any kind.

    Koch said an Empire resident once questioned why he could never find deer, elk or any wildlife in that area.

    “Well, that’s why,” Koch said of the stream and its acidity level. “(The project) will support our various wildlife, everything from bears to birds and anything in between.”

    The project will be paid for by Miller Coors, which gave $394,000; the watershed district; the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety; and in-kind donations from the county, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

    Holm said the stream has a pH of 3, compared to a neutral pH of 7.
    “When you get down to pH 3, you’re into 10,000 times more acidic than what you’re really going for,” Holm said. “So acidity is a real problem in North Empire Creek. There are very high elevations of copper and zinc. Both of those are very toxic to aquatic life.”

    Holm said the stream also has toxic levels of iron, aluminum and manganese…

    Holm said the area has an interesting history, being one of the earliest mining sites in the state.

    “Initially, they did hydraulic mining in this area, which involves high-pressure hoses that are used, essentially, to wash the unconsolidated soil and subsoil … which in this area had disseminated gold deposits,” Holm said. “But it is a brute-force, ugly kind of mining that results in the hill slopes really not having a growth medium when it is said and done.”

    More water pollution coverage here.

    The Winter 2014 GOCO newsletter is hot off the presses

    February 4, 2014

    Young farmers

    Young farmers

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    To help improve and restore Colorado’s rivers and streams, and engage youth and families in the effort, GOCO is offering $250,000 in grants to fund habitat improvement projects along the state’s waterways. The Riparian Restoration Grant Program will require applicants to demonstrate they will use youth or volunteers in their projects, which may range from erosion mitigation to eradicating thirsty non-native plants and trees.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Say hello to HangingFlume.org

    February 3, 2014

    HangingFlume.org has a new makeover with a ton of photographs. Buy their book to help fund their efforts.

    Here’s an excerpt from the Home page:

    It isn’t to say that the idea of building a flume was so crazy. Flumes for placer mining were common at the time. Flume construction methods had been used in California for years and required only minimal skills. To cross arroyos and washes, water could be funneled through flume boxes supported by trestles. But in the canyons of the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers, minimal engineering skill was not enough. This flume would have to be ten miles long, and to complete the entire route at the proper gradient, the Flume would have to cling to seven miles of sheer rock walls, at times suspended hundreds of feet above the river.

    The Hanging Flume is perhaps one of the most risky and lofty plans in mining history . . . and for the purposes of placer mining, pretty much a complete failure. But as a heritage tourism site, it still holds our attention, long after the memory of its father, the mysterious Nathaniel P. Turner and hundreds of grunt workers have faded. Recent preservation efforts promise that we will enjoy the Hanging Flume for generations to come.

    More San Miguel River coverage here and here.

    CSU Sponsors First Poudre River Forum Feb. 8

    January 21, 2014
    Cache la Poudre River

    Cache la Poudre River

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

    The Cache la Poudre River is life-blood for Northern Colorado. In recognition of its importance to the area, the community is invited to the first Poudre River Forum, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The forum, “The Poudre: Working River/Healthy River,” will focus on all of the river’s stakeholders, representing perspectives from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds. Topics to be discussed include:

    • The water rights of agricultural and municipal diverters;
    • Where the water in the Poudre comes from and what it does for us;
    • Ecological factors such as flow, temperature, fish and sedimentation.

    The forum will feature presentations and dialogue, including remarks by State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs about how the Poudre itself was the site of early conflict and cooperation leading to the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation in the West, and how water law has evolved in recent years.

    Following the event, a celebration of the river will be held until 6 p.m. with refreshments and jazz by the Poudre River Irregulars.

    Pre-registration is required by Jan. 31. The cost is $25; students 18 and under are free and scholarships are available. To register, visit http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/thepoudrerunsthroughit

    The event is sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

    More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.

    Restoration: ‘I have been a full-time student of water and fish as far back as I could remember’ — Shannon Skelton

    January 19, 2014
    Boulders placed to enhance habitat via CFI Global Fisheries Management

    Boulders placed to enhance habitat via CFI Global Fisheries Management

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    “I have been a full-time student of water and fish as far back as I could remember,” he said in early January. In college, he spent most of his year guiding flying fishing trips on private ranches. “And on some of these private pieces that kind of led me to saying, ‘You know, ranch owner, this could be a lot sexier.’ ”

    As he guided clients on riverfronts damaged by decades of cattle grazing, all Skelton could see was room for natural improvement.

    “Sexier” for Skelton means bigger fish, deeper pools, more insects and lush riverbanks. Skelton’s job is to put them all there, changing the river flow or seeding riverbanks.

    In 1997, he founded CFI in Fort Collins and made “playing God” on the river a profession. In 2012, CFI garnered national attention when a private equity fund, Sporting Ranch Capital Management, hired Skelton’s team of seven employees to restore a few miles of river on private ranches in Colorado and Utah.

    Sporting Ranch paid CFI $2 million in 2013 for its river work. The going rate for a mile of river restoration can be about $250,000, Skelton said.

    With drought and a changed economy, working ranchers are embracing stream enhancement for anglers as a potential moneymaker. In the past four to five years, Skelton has seen an increase in interest in enhancement projects as “there has been more of a push toward land and habitat stewardship,” he said. In Colorado, where real estate investors can purchase stretches of riverbed, stream enhancement boosts the prospects of an already lucrative real estate deal.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Fish Habitat Improved in South Boulder Creek

    January 14, 2014

    South Boulder Creek near the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel via Jason Lee Davis

    South Boulder Creek near the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel via Jason Lee Davis

    Here’s the release from the US Forest Service (Maribeth Pecotte):

    More than a mile of fish habitat along South Boulder Creek has been improved, thanks to a partnership between the Boulder Ranger District of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland (ARP), Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Denver Water, Boulder Flycasters (Trout Unlimited) and Union Pacific Railroad. The 1.5-mile stretch of the creek west of Rollinsville, Colo., will see enhanced in-stream habitats, allowing trout to thrive.

    “”Trout biomass in Upper South Boulder Creek averages 60 lbs/acre, drastically lower than the abundance of trout within most front range streams such as the Poudre, Big Thompson, and St. Vrain Rivers,” said Ben Swigle, CPW aquatic biologist. “This project focused on improving in-stream habitats at all flows, which will allow a greater number of trout to inhabit the restored sections and support better natural reproduction.Thanks to this partnership, the fisheries and anglers of tomorrow will reap the benefits of our actions today.”

    The portion of South Boulder Creek that has been improved lies between Rollinsville and the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel. This stream picks up water from the West Slope and is carried through the Moffat Tunnel. The parties involved had long felt that significant habitat improvements could be made to benefit the fishery. In 2001, Denver Water, which operates the Moffat Tunnel, agreed to financially support habitat mitigation projects downstream of the tunnel and fund an additional $125,000 for fish habitat improvement upstream.

    “Denver Water is committed to doing our part to help protect and enhance the natural environment,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “We are happy to be a part of this collaborative effort to enhance the river for the benefit of the fish.”
    Despite the floods of September 2013, the project moved forward this fall, with habitat structures and channel construction compete in early November 2013. As a result, CPW and Forest Service biologists expect to see more fish using the constructed habitat next year and larger fish in the future.

    “This was an outstanding project that exemplifies how much more can be achieved when forces join together,” said Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark. “Enhancements to fish habitat in South Boulder Creek could not have been done by any of us alone. We’d like to extend a big ‘thank you’ to our partners, and we look forward to future opportunities for working together.”

    The final phases of the project will be complete in spring 2014. The contractor will complete construction of the boardwalk for angler access off of the South Boulder Creek Trail. Disturbed sites will be revegetated with native plants with the help of Boulder Flycasters’ volunteers and staff from CPW and the USFS.


    This collaborative effort was the brainchild of Swigle, who worked with the ARP to find a project that would offer the greatest public benefit. The USFS initiated analysis for the project in 2012, and the decision memo was signed in March 2013.

    The Boulder Flycasters applied for a CPW Fishing is Fun grant and obtained $80,000 for the project. The group also contributed an additional $4,000 and volunteer support.

    The Boulder Flycasters, CPW, Denver Water and the USFS came together to select a contractor to design and construct the habitat features in South Boulder Creek and the boardwalk for angler access just west of the Moffat Tunnel.

    Union Pacific Railroad allowed the use of a portion of their easement near the Moffat Tunnel for staging materials and equipment. Through close coordination, they also allowed heavy equipment to cross over the railroad tracks to access the creek.

    Colorado Parks & Wildlife: Habitat improvements continue in Arkansas River

    January 7, 2014

    Arkansas River  levee through Pueblo

    Arkansas River levee through Pueblo

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife will continue work in the Arkansas River this month as part of an ongoing habitat improvement project. Anglers may notice heavy equipment and other signs of work, such as cloudy water, in the area.

    “The project may create some short-term inconveniences for anglers, but the result will be better fishing for years to come,” Doug Krieger, a senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said.

    The project is set to begin the week of Jan. 13, and will continue through mid February. The latest improvements will be made between Juniper Bridge and Valco Bridge. Work will occur Monday through Thursday.

    Heavy equipment operators will place large boulders and trees along the 1.5 mile stretch, creating deeper pools and an improved river channel design that will hold more trout and other fish species.

    “We are creating better habitat for fish to find shelter, feed, reproduce and thrive,” Krieger said. “We will also provide more fish holding structure that anglers seek for good fishing success.”

    Anglers are still able to fish in this reach of the river but are reminded to avoid areas around construction and keep away from heavy equipment.

    This habitat improvement project work is Phase II of a project that originally began in 2004. Since completion of Phase I in 2005, the Arkansas River through Pueblo has gained a reputation as a premier trout fishing location.

    A portion of the Phase II project will consist of making improvements to existing structures, while the remaining construction will provide for the installation of new structures.

    From November until the middle of March, outflows from Pueblo Reservoir are fairly stable creating opportunities for anglers to enjoy stream fishing in clear and cool water during times of the year when most streams are locked in winter conditions.

    Partners in the project include the City of Pueblo, Xcel Energy, Trout Unlimited, and the Packard Foundation, with matching funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state is preparing to rock the Arkansas River again. Think fish, not electric guitars. Heavy equipment will be in the river in the 1.5-mile reach between the Juniper bridge and Valco bridge to install more boulders and trees in the river below Pueblo Dam. The project is a continuation of an effort that has improved fish habitat along the river.

    “The project may create some short-term inconveniences for anglers, but the result will be better fishing for years to come,” said Doug Krieger, a senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Water might be cloudy during construction, and there still will be a few trucks on area roads as part of Southern Delivery System construction — about half the number that were rumbling last fall.

    The project will begin Monday and continue until mid-February, in order to take advantage of low river levels. The work will create deeper pools and an improved river channel that will hold more trout and other species, Krieger said.

    “We are creating better habitat for fish to find shelter, feed, reproduce and thrive,” Krieger said. “We will also provide more fish holding structure that anglers seek for good fishing success.”

    Partners in the project include the city of Pueblo, Xcel Energy, Trout Unlimited and the Packard Foundation, with matching funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program.

    Meanwhile, there will continue to be some truck traffic in the area from the excavation site of the Juniper Pump Station, part of SDS. In December, trucks finished hauling dirt from the Juniper site, located near the base of the dam, to an old gravel pit on the north side of the river. Now, they are hauling rocks away from the construction site. There are fewer trucks on the road now, said Janet Rummel, Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman for SDS.

    “Not all of the rock is being hauled away,” Rummel said. “A good portion of the boulders will be used at the pump station site for landscaping features, and SDS contractors are collaborating with Lake Pueblo State Park staff to have some of the decorative boulder-sized rocks used for other park improvements.”

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

    Restoration: Pueblo West is working with Chaffee County to revegetate the Hill Ranch buy and dry property

    November 24, 2013
    Hill Ranch photo via Colorado Central Magazine -- Mike Rosso

    Hill Ranch photo via Colorado Central Magazine — Mike Rosso

    From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

    After receiving information from soil tests, Pueblo West officials will meet with Chaffee County officials to develop the next steps for revegetation and weed control efforts at the Hill Ranch, next to U.S. 285 north of Centerville. Alan Leak, a consultant for Pueblo West from RESPEC Water & Natural Resources, met with Chaffee County commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday.

    Pueblo West had soil samples from the Hill Ranch sent off for analysis, Leak said. The analysis showed that seed mixes used by Pueblo West more than a year ago “were not suitable” to soil acidic levels at the Hill Ranch. He said he does not have the complete analysis yet.

    Larry Walker, Chaffee County Weed Department supervisor, said he would like to see the complete results once Leak has them.

    From the soil analysis, Leak said they will get recommendations on what seeds to use on the property. Once he gets that information and the full report, which should happen by the end of the year, he will meet with people in Chaffee County and develop a plan for next year.

    Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese said he would like to have Leak meet with the commissioners at their February work session to discuss the plan.

    For next year, instead of just trying two test sites with the same idea, Pueblo West might try “a bunch of different things” and see what works. That way if one idea does not work, they do not waste the whole year, he said.

    Pueblo West purchased the Hill Ranch water rights, and part of the purchase conditions require the municipality to revegetate the land with local grass before it can use the water right, county officials said previously.

    Leak said he last met with the county commissioners during the summer, when they discussed Pueblo West’s summer and fall plan for the Hill Ranch. At the time he told commissioners about a proposed plan for weed control and two sites for test crops. He explained a process consisting of tilling two test sites, planting a sterile sorghum and mowing the property to keep weeds down. Each of the two approximately 50-acre test sites was tilled to mix peat in with the soil and planted with a sterile sorghum. Sorghum was planted to help reduce the acidity and build root mass in the soil. The efforts resulted in “a fair sorghum crop” at the test sites, Leak said. They also found that “in most parts the peat is not as deep as we thought,” he said. The test sites had irrigation water run onto them, about 1,500 acre-feet, Leak said. So far Pueblo West “has expended $115,000” this year on its Hill Ranch efforts, he said.

    Walker said, considering the work he has done to help with the Hill Ranch revegetation and weed control efforts, he wonders if the county should perhaps get compensated as a consultant.

    “Weed control was somewhat successful,” Leak said. The Hill Ranch was mowed three times, and the area had some selective grazing.

    “The guy mowing did a great job – a month too late,” Frank McMurry, a rancher who lives near the Hill Ranch, said at the meeting. “We have a monumental weed problem, due to the timing.” When it comes to mowing to keep weeds down, timing matters, he said.

    “We probably got up here a little late a few times,” Leak said. However, Pueblo West did make an effort to get Hill Ranch mowed. Next year, they want to get to the mowing earlier, he said.

    Because the weather can change and affect the growth of weeds without much warning, McMurry said he thinks Pueblo West should hire someone local to monitor and manage the Hill Ranch site, not someone from Walsenburg. A local person could stay apprised of the conditions and know what they mean for growth on the site, Commissioner Dave Potts said.

    Here’s some background from Ron Sering writing for Colorado Central Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

    Rights to irrigate the area known today as Hill Ranch predate Chaffee County by more than a decade. Decreed in 1868, the rights permitted diversion of water for agriculture and ranching. And so it remained for more than a century, even after sale of the rights by the Hill family to Western Water Rights Limited Liability Partnership in 1986.

    That all changed with the subsequent sale of the rights to the Pueblo West Metropolitan District (PWMD) in 2008. The PWMD, home to nearly 30,000 thirsty people, needed the rights to fuel a growth rate that remains among the fastest in the state. The rights are significant, totaling nearly 1,900 acre feet of water. An acre foot totals nearly 326,000 gallons. Under the decree, the rights would convert from agricultural to municipal. Included in the terms was the cessation of irrigation activities. The land would be dried up and restored to its pre-irrigation state.

    The irrigation made growth possible for more water-loving vegetation, including aspen and cottonwood trees, and Russian thistle, a non-native species also known as tumbleweed. Under the rights transfer, the intrusive weeds must be removed and native grasses restored.

    PWMD contracted with Denver-based WRC Engineering to perform the dry-up. The plan was to cease irrigation to dry up the land, defoliate the intrusive species and minimize windblown weeds and dust, followed by the introduction of a prescribed seed mixture from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Yampa River: Habitat improvement projects near completion, streamflow in the 10th percentile

    November 9, 2013
    Yampa River habitat improvement via Steamboat Today

    Yampa River habitat improvement via Steamboat Today

    From Steamboat Today (Joel Reichenberger):

    The Yampa Valley Stream Improvement charitable trust has been working to improve waterways in the region for more than 30 years, and its work can be seen in clean, smooth-flowing streams all across the area. It tackled its biggest project in 2006, when it set to work on the Yampa River southeast of Steamboat Springs in the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.

    Now, after it divvied that task into three phases, the final elements are just a week away from completion. An area of the river that once was a shallow, eroded mess strewn with trash will be one of the premier rainbow trout fisheries in the state. What previously was a stretch of river Steamboat anglers were more likely to avoid will become a fishermen’s paradise…

    The project cost about $1 million, and getting to this point has been a monumental task. The funds were raised from private donors, benefit events and through grants from government programs and other organizations.

    The first stage, in 2006, involved dragging 88 cars from the river’s banks and cost $100,000…

    The trust partnered with the city of Steamboat Springs for the second stage, a $300,000 project upstream of Chuck Lewis. It reconditioned the river, cleaned up a dump, stabilized the banks and moved the river 50 yards back to its channel.

    The third stage, which is underway, has heavy equipment digging in the river to create structures for fish habitat, channeling and deepening the river and creating pools. Even the placement of rocks and other breaks in the water were studied to help cut back on the pike population and make a world-class sanctuary for growing trout.

    Now the section of river will be used as a rearing ground for a strain of rainbow trout resistant to whirling disease…

    Meanwhile streamflow in the Yampa River has dropped below the 10th percentile recently. Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:

    The river was flowing at 64 cubic feet per second Tuesday beneath the Fifth Street Bridge. That compares to the median flow for this date of 117 cfs and the all-time recorded low of 43 cfs on Oct. 9, 1935…

    The Yampa and the Elk rivers are among more than 20 rivers throughout Colorado currently flowing in the 10 percent range of their historical averages, according to the U.S. Geological Survey…

    The Yampa was flowing on par Oct. 4 at 70 cfs, but the historic graph indicates Oct. 5 is the date when the river flow should begin to pick up to levels above 100 cfs.

    Jay Gallagher, of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said Tuesday that he didn’t have data at his fingertips to confirm the flows in Granite Creek and the Middle Fork of Fish Creek, which feed Fish Creek Reservoir and historically have risen at this time of year. The reservoir, Steamboat’s primary source of domestic water, is about 54 percent full and will drop into the 40 percent range during winter. The dam is releasing about 7 cfs into Fish Creek, and that will continue for about another week before it is dropped to 4 cfs, he said.

    The Elk River was flowing at 68 cfs Tuesday at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat. The Yampa was flowing at 36 cfs above Stagecoach Reservoir. Further downstream, above Lake Catamount, the river was flowing at 29 cfs.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

    Pitkin County commissioners approve purchase of properties near Redstone for open space

    November 8, 2013
    Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

    Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

    From The Aspen Times (Michael McLaughlin):

    On Wednesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of two Redstone River parcels that comprise approximately 21.3 acres and are contiguous to Elk Park and Redstone Park on the south as well as the Redstone Boulders Open Space on the northeast.

    The two parcels up for purchase would tie all of these properties together into a seamless river corridor containing more than a mile of riverfront between Coal Creek and a well-used beach area upstream from the north Redstone Bridge…

    One of the properties includes the confluence of Coal Creek with the Crystal River. The current confluence isn’t the natural area where the two waters meet but one that was put in when the state was working on Highway 133 in that area. In its natural state, Coal Creek used to run through wetlands before it met with the Crystal River downstream from the present confluence area. Coal Creek experiences frequent debris flows that feed coarse rock and wood into the creek, which in turn collect at the confluence of Coal Creek and the Crystal River. This causes pooling of water and erosion by both streams. It also causes a sediment buildup that raises the riverbed of the Crystal near Redstone, elevating flood danger…

    A public hearing concerning the purchase will be held at the commissioners meeting on Nov. 20. Will said the public can rest assured that questions of access will be driven by habitat management.

    More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Wetlands Program awards $700,000 in grants for 2013

    October 18, 2013
    Hunter if fog at Prewitt Reservoir via Colorado Open Lands

    Hunter in fog at Prewitt Reservoir via Colorado Open Lands

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Randy Hampton):

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife has selected 18 wetland and riparian restoration projects that will share in $700,000 in grants for the 2013 Wetlands Program grant cycle.

    Approved grant applications include a project to enhance the Shields Pit in Fort Collins to make it suitable for native fish introduction, water and infrastructure development for wetlands around Prewitt Reservoir, stream bank restoration along the Carpenter Ranch section of the Yampa River, and the removal of invasive tamarisk trees on Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge. The selected projects encompass 1,225 acres around the state.

    “Wetland and riparian habitats cover only about two percent of the land in Colorado, but provide benefits to the majority of the wildlife species in the state,” said Brian Sullivan, Wetlands Program Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The value of these habitats can’t be overstated. Clearly, conservation of wetland and riparian habitat is key to conserving wildlife diversity in Colorado.”

    The species that will benefit from the projects funded during the 2013 cycle include eight priority waterfowl species and 15 priority non-game species. Those species include the bald eagle, northern leopard frog, American bittern, sandhill crane, piping plover, least tern, New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, river otter and brassy minnow.

    The funded projects will receive a share of $700,000 that was available this grant cycle. Funds for the Wetlands Program come from lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and sales of the Colorado waterfowl stamp.

    “GOCO shares the commitment to wetland preservation and restoration and has been contributing to these efforts since 1997,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, GOCO Executive Director.

    The Colorado waterfowl stamp program is designed to conserve wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife. Hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase a $5 stamp validation to hunt waterfowl in Colorado.

    Sixteen funding partners will contribute an additional $834,205 for these projects. Funding partners include private landowners, city, county, state and federal governments, and nonprofits such as Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

    “These projects will improve wildlife habitats by restoring areas for native fish introduction, removing invasive species and improve public hunting opportunities for waterfowl,” said Steve Yamashita, acting director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The complete list of 2013 wetland and riparian restoration projects can be found online at the Wetlands Project Funding webpage.

    Lake Powell: ‘It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore’ — John Weisheit #ColoradoRiver

    October 15, 2013
    Monkey Wrench Gang cover via The Tattered Cover Denver

    Monkey Wrench Gang

    Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

    Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

    Here’s an in-depth look at the movement to decommission Glen Canyon Dam from Brandon Loomis writing for Arizona Central. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    Two men sat beside the Colorado River at Lees Ferry slugging Coors and stoking a “probably illegal” fire into the morning, cooking up a dream that would infuse both their lives’ quixotic work.

    The new friends shared a brainstorm for a bold plan, which a sly smile from one of them 4-1/2 decades later indicates was only half-bluster:

    Let’s get rid of Glen Canyon Dam.

    It was a radical idea that got them proudly labeled as “kooky.” Today, for everyone from government water managers to university professors to wakeboarders, the concept is at least as wild now that the thirsty Southwest has grown up. But some people still sit around dreaming of draining Lake Powell, and a few think science is on their side…

    If this sounds like the plot of a suspense novel, it kind of is. [Ken Sleight’s] campfire companion was Edward Abbey, who had by then written his “Desert Solitaire” memoir but not “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” That 1975 novel envisioned a handful of saboteurs battling the West’s creeping industrialism and working for Glen Canyon Dam’s demise. Abbey died in 1989…

    Sleight became the inspiration for the book’s big-eared, Jack Mormon river runner, “Seldom Seen Smith,” and to this day, he remains committed to the cause. He has filed lawsuits and staged rallies, and he still believes. Maybe, he said, the current drought will persuade water managers to drain Powell so they can fill Lake Mead, the critical trough for big population centers downstream of the Grand Canyon.

    “I’m on the threshold of going,” he said of his mortality. “But I always wanted to see that water flowing freely.”[...]

    For technical expertise, Sleight defers to John Weisheit, a fellow Moab environmentalist with the Living Rivers group. Weisheit notes that Powell is less than half-full, its water level is dropping, and it is projected to have larger swings in water level as climate change takes hold. The government could restore the river’s — and the Grand Canyon’s — ecological health by draining Powell and still could fill Lake Mead, he said.

    “It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore,” Weisheit said of Lake Powell. “Send (the water) down to the place it’s been going for 6 million years, which is the Gulf of California,” he said of excess water that Mead could not hold…

    To some grappling with the Southwest’s water future, dam removal is inconceivable.

    “It’s a non-starter,” said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water-sustainability options to deal with climate change. “(There is) zero probability of removing either Glen Canyon or Hoover.”

    The reason is that those dams, after a wet-weather cycle, can capture and store four years of river flows to dole out during drought.

    “(Dam removal) would be fairly catastrophic,” White said. “We have too much demand on an annual basis to be met by the natural in-flow of the river.”

    Even without accounting for climate change, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation’s water-supply study found that population growth in coming decades would suck Lake Mead to below 1,000feet in elevation in 7percent of the years. That elevation is low enough to trigger a water shortage and rationing among the states — something that has never happened. The lake’s current elevation is about 1,107feet. Farm fields across the Sonoran Desert, which currently use the majority of Arizona’s Colorado River water, could go fallow…

    Floods that could destroy Glen Canyon Dam have occurred more commonly than was assumed 50 years ago. “Nature will decide when this is a problem and how much of a problem it is, but there are data that were not available when Glen Canyon was designed,” Baker said. “Dams are things that last for 100 years, but they don’t last forever.”[...]

    …activist Sleight said much of the area can be as beautiful as he remembers. Some of the side canyons already have responded to the lower water level. He remembered a trip to Davis Gulch in the 1990s, the last time the water neared this low point. New cottonwoods were growing.

    “The main canyon is going to take years and years — 100years — to come back,” Sleight said. “Maybe it’ll never come back. But the side canyons, they will come back. They’re flushed out by floods.”

    Paul Ostapuk, a reservoir booster with the group Friends of Lake Powell, hopes it never comes to that. He imagines dredging, sediment bypasses and other fixes keeping the dam functional for 1,500 years. Even then, he said, the mud piling up behind the dam may have built up to become prime soil for a farming boom.

    “I see Lake Powell never really going away,” Ostapuk said.

    From USA Today (Brandon Loomis):

    Paul Ostapuk of Page and a Friends of Lake Powell member sees it differently. Pacific Ocean patterns dictate snowfall cycles that feed the Colorado River, and they have swung wildly before. Ostapuk finds it ironic that those who swore high water would topple the dam in the early 1980s when huge releases of water dangerously ripped rock from dam-bypass tunnels now are saying drought spells doom.

    “It’s hard for me to believe that right at 2000, when (Lake Powell was) basically full, that a permanent climate switch happened,” he said. “Don’t give up on the Colorado River. It could come roaring back, and I think people will be surprised how much water comes down.”

    The river is erratic, draining anywhere from 5 million acre-feet in a drought year to 20 million after an epic winter. Each acre-foot supplies roughly enough water for two households for a year. Without both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Ostapuk said a water shortage already would be drying up Arizona farms. California has older, superior rights to Colorado River water that would trump Arizona’s during a crisis.

    “You have to have the ability to catch the wet years, so you can ration it out in the lean times,” he said. “If you’d only had Lake Mead (during the current drought), it would be totally empty. Lake Powell’s what’s getting us through this.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation concurs. It calls Lake Powell critical to the mix of water-supply options already projected to fall short — barring extensive conservation and reuse efforts — during the coming half century.

    “Drawing down Lake Powell would result in reduced yield to the system,” bureau spokeswoman Lisa Iams said in an e-mail. “Losses due to evaporation would increase if additional water currently stored in Lake Powell were released to Mead,” because Mead is at a lower, hotter elevation.”[...]

    Below the dam, the aquatic legacy is mixed. Water gushing through the hydropower turbines comes from deep in the reservoir is colder than native fishes such as the endangered humpback chub evolved to withstand. As chubs and other species declined downstream in the Grand Canyon, non-native cold-water trout thrived and created Arizona’s finest trophy rainbow fishery at Lees Ferry.

    The dam also blocked the sand that had flowed through the canyon for ages, altering fish and wildlife habitat while depleting beaches river rafters use. Smaller beaches support less windblown sand to root mesquites and other vegetation, or to cover and preserve archaeological sites from erosion.

    “The Colorado River Storage Project Act passed in ’56, and the big dam-building era was on us,” said Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park’s deputy chief of resource management. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized what was happening environmentally.”[...]

    Visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area pump some $400 million into northern Arizona and southern Utah, according to Friends of Lake Powell. That figure is similar to a $380 million estimate that Northern Arizona University researchers made in 1999.

    The dam generates hydropower to supply cooperatives that have 4 million customers spread from Arizona to Wyoming. It generates less power now when the water is low.

    The dam has eight turbine units, each capable of producing 165 megawatts. A single megawatt is enough to power 250 homes at a given moment.

    But that capacity is available only when the reservoir is full. Plant supervisor Roger Williams said the water pressure now yields 135 megawatts per unit. Another water-level drop of 100 feet and the dam would have to cease hydropower production or risk damage to the turbines. By that time, the units would be producing just 75 megawatts apiece.

    These economic drivers are apart from the development and crops grown through the reservoir’s water deliveries, or its cooling of the nearby Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-fired power plant.

    Growing awareness of the damage to the Grand Canyon led to an environmental-protection act in 1992, mandating dam releases that take river ecology into account.

    Since then, the Interior Department has sought to restore something of the river’s past characteristics. Since 1996, and most recently last fall, the department has loosed four huge water flushes from the dam to mimic historic floods and churn up sandbars…

    Rafters who don’t mind starting below the dam have an argument for corralling the Colorado. The dam evens out the peak flows each spring and keeps the river a little higher through fall, said Korey Seyler of Colorado River Discovery tours in Page. He has paying customers March through November.

    Without the dam? He figures he would close shop in September when river rocks emerged.

    Ostapuk, the Friends of Lake Powell member, said Glen Canyon remains wild, with uncrowded side canyons requiring no permit to explore.

    “It’s just pure, raw adventure out there,” Ostapuk said.

    Fifty years after that last bucket of concrete, when Page Mayor Diak stops to look at the dam and the high-voltage lines spreading from it across the Colorado Plateau, he still sees the future. Whether building a dam here was ideal is now pointless to argue, he said.

    “You can’t live in the 15th century and expect to have the things that we have now,” Diak said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Steamboat Springs: Restoration project starting up in town along the Yampa River

    October 9, 2013
    Steamboat Springs

    Steamboat Springs

    From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

    The work is taking place along 210 feet of the Yampa River at the Dr. Rich Weiss Park located next to the Rabbit Ears Motel.

    The park is quite popular, especially during the summer months as tubers take to the Yampa. People often will gather at the park’s Hippy Dip, an area where the natural warm water utilized at the Old Town Hot Springs drains into the river…

    Craig Robinson, the Howelsen Hill and open space facilities supervisor for the city of Steamboat Springs, said one of the goals of the project is to fix an existing rock wall and its foundation.

    #“The whole rock wall has been slowly falling into the river,” Robinson said. “We have some safety concerns.”

    Existing access points to the river also are in bad shape and eroding. One access point will be built next to the Yampa River Core Trail bridge. Access points also are going in on either side of the Hippy Dip.

    Ecological Resource Consultants and Nordic Excavating have been contracted to do the work.

    The work is being paid for mainly with a $300,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, which is funded by lottery proceeds. The city committed $15,000 in matching grant funds…

    No kayaking water feature improvements are being done as part of the project, but Robinson said the city continues to work closely with the Friends of the Yampa group on future projects.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

    Feds eye changes to Colorado River endangered fish conservation program

    October 8, 2013

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Recovery team eyes White River Basin


    The Colorado pikeminnow is one of four endangered species that could benefit from a proposed new plan to boost flows during critical seasons. Photo courtesy USFWS.

    By Summit Voice

    *More Summit Voice stories on the Colorado River native fish conservation program are online here.

    FRISCO — State and federal biologists are considering some changes to the Colorado River Native Fish Recovery Program in the White River Basin after a discussion with stakeholders.

    The endangered fish — colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail — are already protected in the White River Basin, according to The Nature Conservancy. The changes would be a firming up of management expectations.

    A similar approach has been used in other basins to ensure that current and future water needs are met for people and endangered fish.  The White River management plan aims to:

    • identify existing and some…

    View original 365 more words

    September floods leave reaches of the pre-flood St. Vrain channel high and dry #COflood

    October 6, 2013
    New Saint Vrain river channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call

    New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

    From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

    When the St. Vrain flooded in mid-September, it not only devastated communities, it redrew its own lines. West of town. East of town. Even at spots inside Longmont. It even brought out the eraser from time to time, not just drawing a new course but wiping out the old one.

    “Behind Harvest Junction, the old channel actually filled in,” said Longmont public works director Dale Rademacher, noting the shopping center in southeastern Longmont.

    Putting it back won’t be so easy. The city estimates that would take $80 million, but that’s still a fluid number, so to speak. A lot depends not just on the difficulty of the project, but the will of federal authorities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    FEMA already has said it will look at the river section by section when deciding which restoration plans should get funding. The Corps, meanwhile, is in talks with Longmont to decide which pieces of the river truly need to be restored. Rivers do move, after all.

    “If we think we can get the river back into its channel with a reasonable amount of effort, and the Corps says it makes sense, we’ll do that,” Rademacher said. “If the Corps says ‘Sorry, folks, that looks like a reasonably safe channel,’ we’ll start planning around that, too.”[...]

    The diversions and flooding along the whole western stretch — aided by dam breaches and old gravel pits — have made this area a priority in Longmont’s discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers. Near Lyons, there are pipelines that need to be inspected and put back into service. The new riverway not only cuts off several irrigation ditches, it also puts several neighborhoods further downstream into a new flood plain — most notably The Greens and Champion Greens near Airport Road and the Village near Golden Ponds.

    “Our need and our ability (to restore the river) varies from point to point in the course of the channel,” Rademacher said. “West of Longmont, where it’s undermining pipelines and threatening neighborhoods, it’s pretty important.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Pueblo will spend about $200,000 over the next three months cleaning up the mess left on Fountain Creek from storms to the north in El Paso County last month. Damage to an embankment on the city’s side detention pond and dangerous trees in the channel are the biggest problems, said Earl Wilkinson, public works director.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Jim Rydbom):

    Bit by bit, the bundles of flood debris spread across yards and streets in Weld County are getting picked up. But it will be a while before a cluster of tree limbs isn’t found twisted into a fence somewhere.

    Trevor Jiricek, director of Weld County Environmental Health and General Services, said the county has handed out about 3,200 vouchers for residents to take debris to the landfill. The vouchers are unlimited and good for one pickup truck full of debris each. Jiricek said the county worked out deals with 10 different facilities, including A1 Organics and two places to dispose of tires.

    Jiricek said he’s received positive feedback for the vouchers, which are available through the Weld County planning department and at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers in Greeley and Milliken.

    Farmers and ranchers with damaged and debris-filled properties are running into frustrations with the government shutdown, as they could be eligible for financial help through federal disaster loan options or the Emergency Conservation Program. The bulk of those programs, though, require consulting with the Farm Service Agency office before doing repairs, and the FSA is a federal office.

    Jiricek said the county doesn’t have the resources to clean up everyone’s private property, but officials are in the process of contracting a company to clean up the county’s right-of-ways. When that happens, he said the county will notify residents affected by the flood who are near those right-of-ways, and they can put debris out to be collected.

    Jiricek said it’s important only those affected by the flood take advantage of that service, as the county depends on reimbursement from FEMA for flood-related debris only, and the costs of removing debris could go up astronomically if people start using it as a way to get rid of trash.

    Immediately after the flood, Jiricek said more than a half-dozen county employees worked to talk to residents about their needs and disseminate the vouchers.

    “I feel like they’ve gotten out there,” he said of the vouchers.

    Cache la Poudre River: The Colorado Water Trust is spearheading a diversion dam removal and restoration project

    October 4, 2013
    The soon to be removed Josh Ames diversion on the Poudre River -- photo via the Fort Collins Coloradaon

    The soon to be removed Josh Ames diversion on the Poudre River — photo via the Fort Collins Coloradaon

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    A decades-old water diversion that stretches across the river about a quarter mile west of Shields Street is scheduled to be removed in November. The Josh Ames diversion, which backs up the river about 100 yards, formerly fed an irrigation ditch that was abandoned in 1985.

    Once the 8-foot-tall concrete wall and stout headgate that make up the diversion are removed, the river will flow freely with fish-friendly pools and riffles. “It will look like a natural river that doesn’t have a barrier across it,” said Tara Schutter, an engineer working with the Colorado Water Trust. “It will look nice.”[...]

    Removing the diversion is connected to a series of projects the city of Fort Collins has going aimed at restoring the river and improving habitat. The projects include lowering the north bank of the Poudre near the North Shields Ponds Natural Area so the river can better connect with its natural floodplain.

    Other projects linked to the restoration effort include replacing the Shields Street bridge over the Poudre River. Larimer County expects to replace the bridge in 2015.

    Taking out the diversion structure is a critical piece of the overall project, said Rick Bachand of the Fort Collins Natural Areas Program and the project manager.

    Occasional floodwater from the river will rejuvenate the area’s vegetation and boost habitat for a variety of aquatic creatures, he said. Public access to the ponds area will include pedestrian and bike trails.

    More Cache la Poudre River coverage here and here.

    The Fountain Creek district approved a Colorado Springs Utilities’ SDS mitigation wetlands project on Friday

    August 26, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities’ plan to improve a portion of Fountain Creek as part of mitigation for the Southern Delivery System got unanimous approval Friday from a board formed to improve Fountain Creek. Meeting in Pueblo, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District approved a new alignment for the creek and wetlands creation about 25 miles north of Pueblo near Pikes Peak International Raceway.

    Allison Mosser, a Utilities engineer, explained the project, which was listed as the No. 5 priority in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of projects that could improve Fountain Creek. The project also is among those listed in the district’s corridor master plan. The area is one of the worst on the creek in terms of erosion and sedimentation, she said.

    The alignment would mean moving some structures and reinforcing other parts of the bank on the property, which is owned by Utilities. A small part of the creek on the Hanna Ranch also is included, but all costs would be paid by Colorado Springs. Some native willows would be planted for bank stabilization and wetlands would be created or improved. Water for initial seeding of the wetlands would use water from rights owned by Colorado Springs at Clear Springs Ranch, Mosser said.

    The Bureau of Reclamation would have final authority over approval of the wetlands, because it holds the SDS permit.

    Construction would begin in November and take three months, while planting the wetlands would be completed later in the year.

    Monitoring the wetlands would continue for three to five years.

    More coverage of the Fountain Creek district meeting from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    A district formed to improve Fountain Creek will team with the U.S. Geological Survey to measure water quality changes caused by runoff from recent fires. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday approved a contract that will measure the impacts of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire and this year’s Black Forest Fire.

    The Black Forest Fire was the most destructive in Colorado history in terms of homes and vehicles destroyed, and could increase the concentration of certain elements.

    The total contract will be $18,000, with $6,000 in federal funds, and the other $12,000 contributed by the district and several El Paso County sources.

    Samples will be taken as storms occur. “We’ve already missed three or four opportunities,” said Larry Small, executive director of the district. Two sites on Monument Creek and four on Fountain Creek would be sampled. More than 100 constituents will be tested for contaminants like lead and E. coli.

    The USGS indicated last month that it has baseline data. “I think this is an important first step. We’ve been talking about impacts since the Waldo Canyon Fire last year,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

    Melissa Esquibel, a board member from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, questioned the value of the study, since it would not thoroughly identify sources and problems caused by subsequent storms.

    Hart said this study would provide evidence for more detailed studies later.

    Jane Rhodes said more studies are needed downstream to see if fires are impacting Pueblo County, because the study sites are in El Paso County.

    “We need to find out what’s in the water to protect our population,” added Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

    Peru Creek: EPA has been testing treatment and settlement of the acid mine drainage during August

    August 25, 2013


    From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

    Throughout August, [Martin McComb], the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator, and his team have been diverting the main flow of heavy-metal-laden water coming from the mine away from the poisonous tailings piles. Environmental protection workers also set up a treatment system that raises the PH of the water in an effort to force some of the metals to drop out of it into a settlement pond before heading downstream. “It’s all about reducing the amount of pollution that flows into the creek,” McComb said. “We are dealing comprehensively with what’s on top of the ground as well as what’s below the ground.”[...]

    McComb’s EPA team is embarking on phase one of a six-phase cleanup project at the site. In addition to water treatment efforts, the group has spent the past month improving road conditions to allow dump trucks and other heavy machinery access to the site. The cleanup is expected to take three years and will involve numerous agencies, including the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, Summit County, the U.S. Forest Service, the Blue River and Snake River watershed groups and Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “It’s nice to see there are so many people involved in this project and in this watershed. I think it’s because it’s such a beautiful area, and near where so many people are living,” McComb said. “I hope we can make an impact — and think we already have.”

    Cleanup efforts taken under the project plan will be phased over the next several years and will address threats from acidic discharge that is draining from the mine and tailings along with other mine waste found on the surface.

    The bulk of the underground mine work will be conducted under the supervision of the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety. This summer, contractors under the supervision of senior project manager Jeff Graves are digging out a collapsed portion of earth that flooded the culvert in the mine’s portal F, and are working to gain easier access into the underground portions of the mine. “They are really knowledgeable about underground work and have a lot of experience,” McComb said. “For us, it’s a good way to partner with people who are specialized and really know what they’re doing.”

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Fort Collins: Open house for proposed Poudre River project, September 5

    August 13, 2013


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    The city of Fort Collins will hold a public open house to discuss planned improvements along the Poudre River from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 5.

    The drop-in open house will be held at the Lincoln Center Columbine Room, 417 W. Magnolia St. A variety of projects are planned along the Poudre River between where it crosses Shields and Mulberry streets, addressing issues of flood protection, recreation and habitat.

    A presentation regarding kayaking opportunities will precede the meeting, at 5-6 p.m. in the Lincoln Center Founders Room, a release states.

    Information: http://www.fcgov.com/riverprojects.

    More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.

    Restoration: The Willow Creek Project is a testimony to the grit and determination of a group of citizens

    August 9, 2013


    Here’s an in-depth look at the Willow Creek Project from Gwen Nelson writing for the Valley Courier. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Willow Creek Reclamation Committee’s mission is to improve water quality and habitat, reduce flood risks, reclaim areas impacted by mining, and preserve historic structures in the Willow Creek watershed in ways that are practical, cost effective, and beneficial to the economic sustainability of the Creede community.

    The group follows the set of core goals developed by the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee. These goals are:

    * Protect the Rio Grande from future fish kills associated with nonpoint source releases during unusual hydrologic events

    * Improve the visual and aesthetic aspects of the Willow Creek watershed and its historical mining district

    * Implement appropriate and cost-effective flood control and stabilization measures for nonpoint sources

    * Protect and preserve historic structures

    * Reclaim the Willow Creek floodplain below Creede to improve the physical, chemical, biological, and aesthetic qualities of the creek as an integral part of the local community

    * Continue to improve water quality and physical habitat quality in the Willow Creek watershed, as part of a long-term watershed management program.

    One way that these goals get accomplished is through five gallon buckets and a few hardy volunteers. That is what has worked for the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee to improve water quality in Willow Creek for the last 15 years. The large buckets that are controlled by excavators or carried by dump trucks are effective in completing large projects. But the continuous and sometimes tedious tasks carried out by this watershed group require small buckets and volunteers.

    The Willow Creek Project is a testimony to the grit and determination of a group of citizens who wanted to retain the independence and self-determination to decide how to clean up a small mountain stream that flows through their town. Their spirit and resolve have drawn a wealth of outside resources to their cause, and have allowed them to succeed beyond their wildest imagination.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Upper Animas River: ‘It’s always been a heavily mineralized area’ — Bev Rich

    August 7, 2013


    Here’s Part III of The Durango Herald’s (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister) series on the mining legacy in Silverton. Here’s an excerpt:

    After Sunnyside Gold Corp. shut down operations at American Tunnel in 1991, Silverton executed a bittersweet pirouette: With mining, its main industry, seemingly done for, the town focused on selling its mining history to tourists. Today, thousands of visitors pour into Silverton every summer, disembarking from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to tour mines, shop or playfully pan for gold.

    Meanwhile, Silverton’s abandoned mines gush toxic metals into Cement Creek, among the largest untreated mine drainages in Colorado. In turn, the metal pollution in Cement Creek is choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

    Steve Fearn, a Silverton resident and a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said the people of Silverton want mining to return. This desire, he said, partly accounts for why many residents oppose federal involvement in the cleanup of Cement Creek. In the view of mining companies, a Superfund site designation would make Silverton’s metal mines infinitely less attractive, he said.

    Bev Rich, chairwoman of the San Juan County Historical Society and San Juan County treasurer, is the daughter of a miner, and she married one. She said it isn’t surprising that many people in Silverton look on Sunnyside Gold, the last mine to close there, with nostalgia for the good days, not anger about the mine drainage. And she said while Silverton’s eagerness to see a resumption of mining might confound outsiders, they don’t have first-hand knowledge of Silverton’s past. On the pay scale, tourism jobs can’t compete with mining work. “It was $60 or $70 an hour towards the end,” she said about the wages Sunnyside once paid.

    She also said she doesn’t believe metal concentrations in Cement Creek are a problem chiefly created by mining pollution. “I look at it as mineralization. It’s always been a heavily mineralized area,” she said, an observation repeated by Rich’s fellow Silvertonians Fearn and San Juan County Commissioner Peter McKay…

    Stakeholders co-coordinator Bill Simon said mining could certainly return to Silverton “if the price was right.” But he noted that while demand for metal has grown with the globalization of manufacturing, mining officials in the 21st century have, on the global scale, tended to continue to seek out the conditions that made mining so profitable in Silverton in the 19th and early 20th centuries: places with little regulation, where metals, like human life, are cheap and abundant.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Charlie Meyers SWA Stream Habitat Enhancement Project

    August 6, 2013


    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife will begin work enhancing stream habitat on the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area starting today August 5.

    Anglers are advised that instream construction will occur Mondays through Thursdays, 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. through October 3 of this year. Heavy equipment will be actively operating in the river channel and along river banks. During these hours, river waters may become muddy (turbid) and fishing may be affected in the immediate vicinity and downstream of construction activities. There will be no instream construction activities Fridays through Sundays.

    River channel and trout habitats are being restored for approximately 1.5 miles along the South Platte River. The upstream boundary is a posted property boundary marker (end of the improved habitat reach). The downstream boundary is the County Road 59 bridge crossing. This project will continue for two years from August to October 2013 and July to October 2014.

    Alternative angling opportunities include two miles of the South Platte River below Spinney Mountain Reservoir Dam and the South Platte River below County Road 59 bridge to ElevenMile Canyon Reservoir.

    This project was proposed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and is funded jointly by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Park County Land and Water Trust Fund Board, and is permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Project cooperators include Aurora Water Department, Cheyenne Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Colorado Department of Corrections, Colorado State Parks, Denver Water, and the Park County Land and Water Trust Fund Board.

    Patience during the habitat construction period will be most appreciated.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Kerber Creek cleanup annual Celebration of Success recap

    August 5, 2013


    From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krisansky):

    The project held its annual Celebration of Success in Bonanza yesterday with a number of land use agency representatives and a crew of south central Kansas Boy Scouts coming off a week long hitch working to improve the creek that is slowly recovering from the poisonous aftermath of once upon a time mining operations. The six youth and their two leaders installed 600 feet of waddles – straw fiber rolls used to prevent erosion, sediment and storm water run-off – on Carol and John Wagner’s creek side property. They also performed maintenance work on the upstream Superior Mill Site that included erosion protection and fence repair…

    The project is comprised of 16 partners including the BLM; the United States Forest Service; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Trout Unlimited; the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative; and the Bonanza Stakeholders’ Group, which represents the interests of Kerber Creek watershed private landowners.

    Since 2008, the Office of Surface Mining’s Western Hardrock Watershed Team/AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America Program (OSM/VISTA) has provided a full-time staff member to serve as the project’s watershed coordinator. This year’s volunteer, Trevor Klein, however, marks the last to serve due to a shift in priorities…

    So far, the project has treated more than 60 acres of mine waste deposits, restored more than 4,000 feet of stream bank and raised $2 million in grant funding. The efforts have improved the Kerber Creek’s aquatic ecosystem, enabling the fish populations to stabilize, and the work has received six major awards at regional, state and national levels.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    ‘…the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground’ — The Durango Herald

    August 5, 2013


    Here’s Part I of The Durango Herald’s series on cleaning up Cement Creek written by (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister). Click here for the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

    At Red and Bonita Mine, the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground. There, especially after heavy rains, toxic amounts of metal gush out from within the mountain and bleed into Cement Creek. Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, said Cement Creek is one of the largest untreated mine drainages in the state of Colorado…

    Like all great earthly calamities, the environmental problem posed by Cement Creek – daunting, scientific and indifferent to protest – becomes human – legal, social, financial and technological – as soon as the focus moves to solutions. In this three-day series, The Durango Herald explores what has been done about this environmental hazard, possible ways forward, and what cleaning up Cement Creek might mean to Silverton, town motto: “The mining town that never quit.”[...]

    For much of the 1990s, scientists took heart that the metals flowing into the Animas from Cement Creek were diluted by the time the water reached Bakers Bridge, a swimming hole for daredevils about 15 miles upriver of Durango. But between 2005 and 2010, 3 out of 4 of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas River beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the USGS, both the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And starting in 2006, the level of pollution has overwhelmed even the old bellwether at Bakers Bridge: USGS scientists now find the water that flows under Bakers Bridge carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

    Bill Simon, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said cleaning up the environmental damage wrought by mining remains the unfinished business of previous centuries. “Getting anyone to pay is notoriously difficult,” he said. He noted that without robust regulation, it was common practice from the 1870s on for mining companies to take what they could and then go broke, abscond or incestuously merge with other mining entities, leaving the future to foot the bill…

    What keeps them working together? Simon, a longtime coordinator of the stakeholders group, said, “There is this overwhelming feeling: Let’s spend the money on the ground rather than in litigation.”[...]

    For a while, it appeared that the stakeholders’ collaborative effort to clean up Cement Creek was working: After Sunnyside Gold Corp. stoppered American Tunnel with the first of three massive concrete bulkheads in 1996, declining water flow from the site meant less metal pollution in Cement Creek. But Butler said that in 2004, the bulkheads stopped functioning like a cork in a wine bottle. Instead, they started working like a plug in a bathtub: Water, prevented from exiting the mountain through American Tunnel, rose up within the mountain until it reached other drainage points, namely, the Red and Bonita, Gold King and Mogul mines. Since then, Butler said, data shows that most metal concentrations in Cement Creek have “easily doubled” their pre-bulkhead amounts. He said as a result, the recent environmental damage done to the Animas has far outpaced gains made in other stakeholders group cleanup efforts, like the remediation of Mineral Creek, another Animas River tributary…

    Though federal budget cuts have seriously diminished the EPA and gutted its Superfund monies, the EPA says the mine drainage in Silverton has gotten so bad it may yet pursue a Superfund listing. And without federal intervention, even stalwarts of the Animas River Stakeholders Group say it’s not clear there will ever be enough money to clean up Cement Creek.

    Here’s Part II. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to Bill Simon, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, an organization that has tried since 1994 to ensure the Animas River’s water quality, the science behind the cleanup is comparatively simple: A limestone water-treatment plant would do the trick. The catch with this technology, he said, is that it’s expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it would cost between $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. was the last mining company to operate in Silverton. Bought in 2003 by Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate that generated billions in revenue last year, Sunnyside denies all liability for cleaning up Cement Creek. Sunnyside officials argue the state released it from liability in an agreement that partly depended on its building the American Tunnel bulkheads. These are the same bulkheads that, according to government scientists, are causing unprecedented amounts of metal to leak from mines higher up the mountain and flow into Cement Creek. The toxic cargo in turn flows into the Animas River.

    Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in Silverton, said the company has offered the EPA a $6.5 million settlement – an offer the EPA is mulling. In return for the money, Perino said Sunnyside is merely asking the EPA to reiterate that it is not liable for all damage going forward…

    If Sunnyside wants the EPA to release it from liability, at $6.5 million the EPA probably isn’t biting.

    “$6.5 million is a starting point,” said Mike Holmes, the EPA’s Denver-based remedial project manager for Region 8, which includes Silverton. The EPA could turn to the Superfund, a designation that gives the agency broad powers to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and force responsible parties to pay for the cleanup.

    Perino said Sunnyside vehemently opposes Cement Creek becoming a Superfund site, noting the people of Silverton oppose it, and that the designation likely would undermine Silverton’s economy and Sunnyside’s collaborative work with the Animas River Stakeholders.

    Peggy Linn, the EPA’s Region 8 community involvement coordinator, said if Silverton would support the EPA designating upper Cement Creek a Superfund site, making it easier for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign off on the designation, the agency might have a limestone water-treatment plant up and running within five years…

    And using about $8 million from government grants and in-kind donations, the group has managed significant environmental progress, including the cleanup of Mineral Creek. It has also lobbied U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to push Congress for good Samaritan legislation. This would protect “vigilante” environmentalists from taking on liability for the sites they try to reclaim.

    During Animas River Stakeholders meetings, there is a lot more talk about exciting emerging technologies that might address the mine drainage into Cement Creek cheaply than there is hot talk about holding Sunnyside’s feet to the fire.

    An exception is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, who places the blame on Sunnyside and who is frustrated by others’ complacency on the subject. Metals draining out of Gold King Mine have increased tremendously since Sunnyside placed bulkheads into the American Tunnel. During a recent stakeholders meeting in Silverton Town Hall, Hennis lambasted the environmental record of Kinross Gold Corp., the mining conglomerate that owns Sunnyside. He said the only solution was for Sunnyside to remove the bulkheads from American Tunnel and pay for Cement Creek’s cleanup…

    Asked how personal tensions with Hennis were affecting the Animas River Stakeholders, co-coordinator Simon acknowledged, “we’ve all had our problems with Todd.” He said he did not like discussing it. “I think when Todd enters it, the conversation becomes kind of cheap and trite. We’ve all committed our lives to this thing.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


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