Valley Floor sewer lagoons to get makeover — The Telluride Daily Planet

October 13, 2014
Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

Town Council approved a restoration project Tuesday that will transform two man-made sewage lagoons on the Valley Floor into new wetlands.

The two artificial ponds, located in the open Valley Floor space adjacent to the southwest corner of the Pearl Property, are believed to have been excavated in the 1960s with the intent to use as sewage treatment lagoons. They were never used and almost immediately filled with water, officials said. As a result, they were eventually left alone to grow as wild as they could.

“We look at this as a naturalizing of what was obviously a mechanical, man-made and never used excavation, the spoils of which isolated it from the wetland ecosystem,” said Angela Dye, chair of the Open Space Commission. “This project will integrate it into the wetland system we have up there now.”

The restoration project is expected to take two to three weeks and is budgeted at $116,500. Town officials hope to complete the project this fall, when they say the construction would least impact wildlife that calls the ponds home.

In fact, that wildlife is one of the reasons that planners decided to incorporate some of the ponds’ already existing standing water into the final wetland restoration design, instead of reverting the plots back to their native state and removing the standing water altogether.

“There was a desire to keep the pond, and it wasn’t purely for aesthetic reasons,” said Town of Telluride Program Director Lance McDonald, summarizing planning discussions leading up to the restoration proposal.

“There is a lot of wildlife that use the standing water. There is not a lot of standing water on the floor,” McDonald said. “The diversity of animals is quite high here: raccoons, muskrats, fox, geese, ducks. This was an opportunity to have a place for those species on the Valley Floor even though it’s not a natural feature.”

Dye said that the restored sewer ponds would become an environmental education opportunity, with student groups able to observe the waterfowl, mammals and wildlife that flock to the area.

The restoration project will remove the land beam between the lagoons that was created during the original pond excavation to create one uniform body of water, and then use that soil to create wetland benches in the water. The project will also reintroduce native vegetation to the area using samples and seeds from the immediate wetland areas.

A total of 34,800 square feet of new wetlands will be rehabilitated, creating a seamless natural environment from the Pearl Property to the rest of the Valley Floor.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Are California sea otters on the verge of recovery?

October 11, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

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Can sea otters bounce back from the brink?

Population along California coast hovering near targeted recovery level

Staff Report

FRISCO — Sea otters are making a slow and steady comeback along the Central California coast, with the species’ population nearing a level that could earn them the distinction of being taken off the endangered species list.

In the latest official population estimate released last week, federal scientists said there were just under 3,000 southern sea otters living along the Central California coast, based on a population index used since the 1980s. That’s up slightly from 2013 and just shy of the 3,090 threshold set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a recovery benchmark.

View original 349 more words


The latest newsletter “The Current” is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

October 8, 2014
Eagle River Basin

Eagle River Basin

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

In 2014-15, the Watershed Council is working to put the finishing touches on the Edwards Eagle River Restoration Project.

We were thrilled to have a group of Vail Mountain School 7th & 8th graders help us out for their service learning day. Together we planted 34 narrowleaf cottonwood trees and installed cages around each to protect them from busy beavers. It was a gorgeous and productive day by the river. Many thanks to Ms. Littman, Ms. Zimmer, Mr. Felser and their wonderful students!

Thanks to the work of the VMS students and the Colorado Alpines professional planting crew, all that’s left to round out the $4 million, 6-year project is to continue with weed mitigation. To learn more about the project, click here.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.


CWCB ponies up $275,000 for Ten Mile Creek restoration

September 26, 2014
Ten Mile Creek via ColoradoFishing.net

Ten Mile Creek via ColoradoFishing.net

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

In the summer of 2013, the group of partners put heavy machinery in the creek and began the project, which is expected to take four summers and cost about $800,000.

Due to a lack of initial funding, the project was broken into two parts and shortened from a goal of 3,200 feet of creek restoration to about 2,750 feet.

Project partners completed phase one of the project last week. So far, they’ve restored about 1,600 feet of stream channel and 3.15 acres of riparian, wetland and floodplain habitat.

On Sept. 12 the partners received a $275,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for phase two.

Thanks to that grant funding, Anderson said, the project has almost reached its fundraising goal and work will continue.

The state water conservation board has provided most of the money for the project. Climax contributed $80,000 to the first phase and $50,000 to the second, Copper Mountain paid for the Forest Service environmental assessment and some materials, and the National Forest Foundation and CDOT are pitching in.

This summer, the group planted around 3,000 shrubs, Anderson said. The town of Frisco provided 2,200 willow clippings from a site near Whole Foods, which a Forest Service crew clipped in the early spring and volunteers with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District planted in June. Then another 800 shrubs came from a nursery.

The revegetation has seen an 80 percent success rate so far with the willow transplants, said Jim Shaw, board treasurer of the Blue River Watershed Group, which he credits to “a wonderfully wet summer.”

That wet summer created some hurdles though. Runoff season lasted longer than usual, and high flows eroded the creek for two weeks, damaging the revegetated area in two places.

The heavy runoff gave some insight into how the creek will flood in future years, Shaw said, so last week the partners fixed up some of the damaged spots but they will probably keep one part the way it is now.

Next summer, the partners will start phase two and work toward restoring another 1,200 feet of the creek downstream toward the Conoco gas station.

When the project is finished, the creek will have improved habitat for fish, birds and other creatures. For the humans spending time in and around the Tenmile, that means better wildlife watching, fishing and kayaking.

“Having natural ecosystems that function at their potential, be they streams or lakes or forests,” Anderson said, “all these things, they’re important to the quality of life in Summit County.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


Projects planned for upper and lower reaches of the Dolores River

September 26, 2014

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Matt Clark, director for the Dolores River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is organizing a project to install a fish passage and improved diversion dam at the Redburn Ranch north of Dolores.

Currently, landowners have to build a cobble push-up dam across a wide section of river every year to get enough draw into a nearby diversion that irrigates the pastures.

The make-shift dam blocks fish from moving up and down the river and washes out every year at high flows.

“During the nine months out of the year it is up, there is no water flowing over it, preventing fish passage,” said Clark. “Plus it is a pain for the landowner to maintain.”

The solution is to build three, large-rock dams 200 feet apart that step down.

“Each one drops down the river a foot and has a pour-over,” Clark explained. “A side benefit is that it forms pools and ripple-habitat structure in between.”

In addition a new head-gate will be installed for the irrigation diversion.

Clark said there is anecdotal evidence that juvenile fish are getting trapped in that area of the river.

“A health trout fishery requires a connected river system,” he said. “When fish spawn higher up in the system, their larvae drift down and need to spread out without obstructions.”

The project is expected to be installed next fall, with cost estimates between $200,000 and $300,000. The Redburn Ranch fish passage project has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Basin Roundtable, and $98,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation board. Trout Unlimited contributed $20,000, and the landowner contributed money as well, Clark said.

“We’re piecing it together,” Clark said. “It is a win-win for ranch management and fish habitat. Plus the pour-overs allow for easier passage for recreational boat passage.”

Meanwhile on the Lower Dolores River below McPhee dam, The Nature Conservancy is committed to improving riparian habitat by eradicating invasive tamarisk and planting native species.

TNC, along with the Southwest Conservation Corp, and the BLM formed the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. So far the effort has created 175 jobs and restored 821 acres.

“The impact of tamarisk is huge — they rob waterways of their health and make recreational access cumbersome,” says Peter Mueller, director of the Conservancy’s North San Juan Mountain Program in Colorado.

But, he adds, “When you get rid of this wicked tree, all of a sudden you can see the light, and you can see the river again.”

Aiding the effort is the spread of the tamarisk beetle, introduced into the West in the 1990s as a biological control agent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture imported tamarisk beetles from Eurasia, where they keep tamarisk in check, and after years of quarantine and testing, released them in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.

“These beetles are one of the most tested biological agents we have and there’s little risk of them harming other plants,” says Mueller.

Over the last three years, the beetles have defoliated a majority of the tamarisk on a 60-mile reach of the Colorado River. From the release site in Utah, the insects have now moved into Colorado and the Dolores River watershed.

The lower Dolores is a more difficult river to tame because damming has altered its flow and flood timing, a condition that favors tamarisk and other exotic species.

“Restoring the health of the Dolores will require not only tamarisk removal, but improved water management and planting of native species,” Mueller said.

Native willow, sumac, and cottonwoods are planted, and native grass seeds are spread around where tamarisk once dominated.


Blanca wetlands provide prime habitat

September 25, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The most important resource at the Blanca Wetlands greets visitors the moment they get out of their cars. Mouths, ears, eyes and loose pant legs are all inviting targets for the bugs, which, more importantly, play a critical role in making the 10,000-acre wetlands a magnet for migrating shore birds and songbirds.

“That’s really our job, I think, out here, is to grow bugs,” Sue Swift-Miller, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said.

Swift-Miller and fellow wildlife biologist Jill Lucero help oversee the wetlands, which sits 8 miles northeast of town, and manage the complex interplay of water management with the timing of bug hatches and bird migrations.

The bird species that come in the largest number include the Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird’s Sandpiper and the American Avocet.

But the wetlands and their bugs also attract species such as the western snowy plover, American white pelican, and the white-faced ibis. Those species and 10 others that visit the wetlands are designated as sensitive species by the agency, meaning they or their habitat are either in decline or projected to do so.

Overall, more than 163 mammals use the wetlands.

That the birds and the bugs are here in such numbers is the result of the BLM’s decision in the 1960s to restore the wetlands by drilling 43 wells into the confined aquifer, the deeper of the San Luis Valley’s two major groundwater bodies. The water, which averages out to roughly 5,000 acre-feet annually, is then funneled into a series of basins that range from fresh water ponds that support both cold- and warm-water fisheries to shallower basins that have a higher salt content than the ocean.

After years of study, Swift-Miller said it’s become evident that bugs need specific water-quality parameters, depending on the species. BLM officials can, with the help of hundreds of miles of canals and culverts, funnel fresh water to certain basins to dilute the salinity or withhold to emphasize it.

The intermittent use of water is particularly important in habitat areas known as playas, which are generally saline basins with clay dominated soils that historically went through wetting and drying cycles in the valley.

While drought and diversions for agriculture have cut wetting cycles, the BLM has found a jump in insects such as fairy and brine shrimp when it’s added water to the playas.

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

“We’re getting macroinvertibrates that have been in cyst stage for years,” Lucero said. “Nobody’s seen them for 50 years and suddenly they’re coming out as we wet an area.”

But choosing when to apply water is just as critical.

“If you’ve got bugs available when the birds aren’t here, you really haven’t done yourself any good,” Swift-Miller said.

The agency’s use of groundwater will soon be coming under a new set of state regulations, as is the case with all groundwater users in the valley. Those regulations, which remain in draft form, are expected to require groundwater users to obtain surface water to offset the injury their pumping causes to surface-water users.

But the BLM’s augmentation efforts began even before the draft regulations thanks to 20 illegal wells the agency drilled in the late 1970s.

While the agency will still have to get more augmentation water, Swift­Miller said it’s possible the agency will get enough to avoid shutting down any wells at the wetlands.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape for that,” she said.

Before the agency and other area water users began pumping groundwater, the Blanca Wetlands was the endpoint in a string of marshes, playas and lakes that extended to the north end of the valley. A map from 1869 shows the Blanca Wetlands as part of a large lake. Aerial photos from the 1940s in the agency’s possession show a string of connected wetlands that run to where the current San Luis Lake State Park sits, at the southwestern edge of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Earlier this year, the BLM approved a proposal that would allow it to buy property from willing landowners in an effort to expand the Blanca Wetlands and improve habitat connectivity. The search for willing sellers would focus on the area that extends north and northeast from the Blanca to the west side of the state park.

Another focus area for expansion sits further north on the western edge of Baca National Wildlife Refuge and runs east to Mishak Lakes.

While expansion funding would need to navigate the gridlock that has dominated congressional budget proceedings, the proposal did make it into the White House’s budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Reclamation: Three Chinook Spotted Above Glines Canyon; First Salmon Return to the Upper Elwha in 102 Years

September 13, 2014
Demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam via The Seattle Times

Demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam via The Seattle Times


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