Grizzly Reservoir update

Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism
Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

The effort to repair the gate at Grizzly Reservoir that forced the lake to be drained, sending water laden with heavy metals into the Roaring Fork River in August, began Friday.

And there are now protocols in place so officials, residents and river users are not caught off guard, as they were when the river turned from its usual gin-clear shade to an ugly yellowish-brown on Aug. 11, if future reservoir work is expected to impact the Roaring Fork.

There could again be some discoloration in the Fork and Lincoln Creek from silt stirred up during the “dewatering” of the work site, according to a Roaring Fork Conservancy press release. The dewatering must occur so the gate can be fixed.

But crews with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., the owner and operator of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System that has purview over Grizzly Reservoir, have set up a silt fence and straw bales and wattles (a formation involving stakes interlaced with slender tree branches) to trap sediment.

Grizzly Reservoir had to be drained because the nonfunctioning gate could have led to a much more serious incident in which the dam failed, said Scott Campbell, the reservoir company’s general manager, shortly after the drainage.

Tests of water and soil samples showed there were levels of iron and aluminum that exceeded state standards for aquatic life. But officials do not believe the material from the 19th-century Ruby Mine will have a long-term impact on the Roaring Fork ecosystem.

Still, the fact that the drainage and discoloration happened so soon after the Animas River pollution disaster alarmed many people, and Campbell has acknowledged that notification about the reservoir work should have been better.

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

Those who criticized Grizzly Reservoir officials for draining the lake in August and sending polluted water down the Roaring Fork River for days take note: You’ve been heard.

“I get it,” said Scott Campbell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. “And I’m sorry I didn’t make those calls” in August warning downvalley communities of the impending drainage.

Now, as repair work is slated to begin on a broken reservoir gate — the reason for the drainage in the first place — officials from Twin Lakes and from downvalley governments and other organizations have established protocols designed to prevent similar surprises in the future.

The new protocols were laid out in a meeting Tuesday at Grizzly Reservoir. They call for government officials in Aspen and Pitkin County as well as those with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to be notified if any changes occur in the operation of Grizzly Reservoir that might affect the Roaring Fork Valley, said April Long, stormwater manager for the city of Aspen.

“They were apologetic and wanted to take the proper steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Long said.

Long said she’s satisfied that the new protocols will prevent another surprise discharge from occurring.

More coverage from Jason Auslander writing for The Aspen Times:

Grizzly Reservoir is a “toxic waste pond,” and if it is ever drained again, people and governments downstream need to know in advance.

That was the word Thursday from Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille, though his fellow board members seemed to agree with the sentiment.

“This is the single biggest water-quality disaster we’ve ever seen in the Roaring Fork River,” Wille said during the board’s meeting Thursday evening. “I just don’t think it was thought through.”

Officials with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which runs Grizzly Reservoir, decided to drain the lake around Aug. 8 in order to fix an outlet gate that was jammed by a tree, according to a report that analyzed water samples taken from the discharge.

Future of public lands fund in doubt after D.C. inaction — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #electionsmatter

Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Outdoors advocates are lamenting the failure of Congress to extend the life of a program that has helped fund public-land projects for half a century, including many in western Colorado.

But some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, say the Land and Water Conservation Fund program is in need of reform.

Congress failed to reauthorize the program before it expired on Wednesday, despite hopes from some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that reauthorization be included in a stopgap funding bill that was passed before that same deadline.

Bennet and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also signed a bipartisan letter from dozens of senators calling for permanent reauthorization of the fund. The letter calls it “America’s most successful conservation and recreation program.”

The letter adds, “Investments in LWCF support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans, in rural communities and cities alike.”

The program uses no taxpayer dollars, and instead is funded primarily by royalties paid to the government by companies doing off-shore oil and gas development.

According to Bennet’s office, the fund “supports the conservation of parks, open spaces, and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”

Regionally, some of the program’s beneficiaries have included the Colorado and Dinosaur national monuments, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, and White River and Uncompahgre national forests.

Will Roush, conservation director for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop group, said that statewide the fund has paid for more than $250 million in conservation and recreation projects.

According to the Center for Western Priorities conservation group, more than half of members in the U.S. House of Representatives support the program. But it says U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, “is holding LWCF hostage,” having vowed to block the program unless reforms are made, but not introducing a bill or allowing consideration of the program’s renewal.

In a statement released Sept. 25, Bishop countered that it’s special interests who “seek to hijack LWCF to continue to expand the federal estate and divert even more monies away from localities.”

He said any reauthorization of the fund will prioritize funding for local communities as originally intended under the program.

Bishop has been an advocate of transferring federal lands to state control.

In a statement, Tipton said that the Land and Water Conservation Fund “is a valuable tool for conservation, but after 50 years, some reforms are needed to ensure it is still achieving its original mission and that the federal government is properly managing the lands it already has.

“Managing nearly 640 million acres in the United States, the federal government is by far the largest landowner in most Western states. Rather than increasing LWCF funding in order to obtain more federal property, land management agencies should focus on managing the lands they already have. LWCF reauthorization provides an opportunity for reforms that support addressing the growing maintenance backlogs for national parks, roads, trails and facilities.”

Building a new vision for the High Line Canal — The High Line Canal Conservancy

Highline Canal Denver
Highline Canal Denver

Here’s the release from the High Line Canal Conservancy:

High Line Canal Conservancy launches a public outreach planning process to create future visions for the High Line Canal, preserving the recreational and environmental amenity for generations to come.

With the support of Denver Water, Arapahoe County and other governmental organizations along the High Line Canal (Canal), The High Line Canal Conservancy (Conservancy) is building a strong coalition of community leaders and stakeholders to support region wide, long-term planning for the future of the Canal. Over the past several years, these organizations have discussed a vision for the long-term care of the entire Canal corridor, comprising 71 miles long and 100 feet wide, focusing on its critical importance as a recreational and natural amenity to the Denver metro region. The Canal is at a turning point in its future that calls for reassessment and planning that will preserve and protect the Canal for all people forever.

“The 71 miles of the High Line Canal urban trail surpasses the scale and impact of any similar existing or proposed initiative in the U.S. today. The High Line Canal is a unique opportunity to create a significant enduring recreation and cultural greenway legacy – celebrating the rich and diverse physical and social mosaic that we call Denver.” – Tony Pickett, Conservancy Board Member, Vice President, Master Site Development The Urban Land Conservancy.

The Conservancy has commenced the planning initiative through the release of a request for qualifications for a visioning process consisting of extensive public outreach. This broad visioning process will collect the interests, attitudes and needs of citizens – resulting in an exciting future vision for preserving and enhancing the Canal along its entire reach. The Conservancy recognizes the role of the Canal as an invaluable recreational and environmental resource for the Denver metro region and is committed to:

  •  enhancing its recreational opportunities;
  •  preserving the vegetation and wildlife along the corridor; and,
  •  providing practical solutions for the water channel.

“Through the generosity of Denver Water and the stewardship of the Conservancy and its partners, we see a tremendous opportunity to fully realize the potential of the Canal as an extraordinary amenity for the metropolitan community. Much like the national Rails to Trails program, a historic utility shall be repurposed as a regional recreational treasure.” – Nina Itin, Conservancy Board Chair, Community Leader.

For information on the RFQ process, please visit the Conservancy blog: The Conservancy seeks planning teams to submit qualifications for the upcoming High Line Canal Outreach and Visioning Phase of the greater master planning process by October 12, 2015. A group of teams will be selected for a follow-up request for proposals process.
About the High Line Canal Conservancy

The Conservancy was formed in 2014 by a passionate coalition of private citizens to provide leadership and harness the region’s commitment to protecting the future of the High Line Canal. With multijurisdictional support and in partnership with Denver Water, the Conservancy is connecting stakeholders in support of comprehensive planning to ensure that the High Line Canal is protected and enhanced for future generations.

High Line Canal Regional Context map via the High Line Canal Conservancy
High Line Canal Regional Context map via the High Line Canal Conservancy

Progress restoring Tenmile Creek, Peru Creek and other streams in Summit County

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

Mining, logging and railroad and highway construction in generations past dumped sediment in the Tenmile Creek near Copper Mountain.

“It was just sort of 100 years of abuse,” said Jim Shaw, board treasurer for the nonprofit Blue River Watershed Group, which led the restoration effort.

Climax Molybdenum was the biggest offender. The mine’s dams, built to contain toxic drainage from waste rock, failed, and blowouts caused tons of sediment to rush down the steeper parts of the creek and settle in the flatter parts, destroying habitat and wiping out native flora and fauna.

The 1970 Clean Water Act forced Climax to improve its water treatment process, and the mine was no longer an issue, but the damage remained, Shaw said.

In 2013, a multi-year $800,000 effort began to restore the roughly 2,800 feet of stream impacted. Contributing partners included Climax, Copper Mountain Resort, the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CDOT, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, the National Forest Foundation and the town of Frisco.

Now Shaw said the project is essentially done except for three days of re-vegetation work next week and some planting of shrubs and willows in June. The wetlands have been created, and the oxbows — or U-shaped river bends — have been completed…


As the Tenmile closes on completion, so does another watershed improvement project across the county.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Reclamation and Mining Safety (DRMS, pronounced dreams) have been leading a collaborative cleanup effort of the Pennsylvania Mine for the last few years.

In early September, the partners installed a second bulkhead deep inside the mine above Peru Creek east of Keystone. The two bulkheads, or giant concrete plugs, will greatly reduce or eliminate negative impacts from the mine’s acid drainage to water quality and fish habitat.

About eight years ago, the Penn Mine experienced a blowout and sent orange water down into the Snake River and Dillon Reservoir. It’s not the latest mine in Summit County to do so.

The Illinois Gulch Mine above the Stephen C. West Ice Arena blew out a couple years later, and the Blue River ran orange and red through Breckenridge and again into Dillon Reservoir.

Now the EPA and DRMS are doing preliminary investigative work in Illinois Gulch, in partnership with the private property owner who owns the land where the mine pollution is coming from, in hopes of starting a cleanup.

“That issue everybody understands, but there hasn’t been a group to take it on yet,” Shaw said. “The state has made it clear that they’ll find money to help.”


For now, the water quality restoration focus in Summit is shifting to the Swan River.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Basin Roundtable together awarded a $975,000 grant to the county to support a large-scale restoration project on the Swan in March.

The restoration area includes about 3,500 feet of river along Tiger Road, 11 miles northeast of Breckenridge, on public land jointly managed by the county and the town of Breckenridge where dredge mining turned the riverbed upside down.

Over the last month or two, the same contractors who did the Tenmile project studied the first quarter of the Swan River project. Work on that section will start in 2016 and finish in 2017, said Brian Lorch, director of the county Open Space and Trails Department.

The county is leading the project with many of the same partners as the Tenmile stakeholders as well as the town of Breckenridge, Trout Unlimited and two private landowners. The $2 million project is also supported in part by a tax increase voters passed in 2014.

The plan for the rest of the Swan River restoration is less certain as the upper three-quarters is covered by rocks about 40 feet high.

Shaw said the project partners could tackle restoration over perhaps 15 years as an excavation company removes and sells the rock. The other option is to pursue larger grant funds and private donations that would expedite the effort but mean maybe 10 times higher costs and more complicated logistics…

Another restoration project in the works lies on the Blue River north of Breckenridge.

The town plans to start a restoration project in the coming years through a 128-acre town parcel known as the McCain property, which borders Highway 9 to the west, north of Coyne Valley Road.

Lorch said the collectives that have made local restoration projects possible deserve credit as do the various stakeholders, which include nearly every government agency and nonprofit concerned about water quality or fisheries in Summit County.

The West Salt Creek Landslide: A Catastrophic Rockslide and Rock/Debris Avalanche in Mesa County, Colorado

Click here to download the report from the Colorado Geological Survey. From the website:

On May 25th, 2014 the longest landslide in Colorado’s historical record occurred in west-central Colorado, 6 mi southeast of the small town of Collbran in Mesa County. Three local men perished during the catastrophic event. The landslide was 2.8 miles long, covered almost a square mile of the West Salt Creek valley and the net volume displacement was 38 million yd3. The fast-moving (40-85 MPH), high-mobility landslide was caused by an initial rotational slide of a half-mile-wide block of Eocene Green River Formation. The resultant rock failures, rockmass disaggregation, and mostly valley-constrained rock avalanche, dropped approximately 2,100 ft in elevation as a rapid series of cascading surges of chaotic rubble composed of fragments of pulverized rock, vegetation, topsoil, and mud. Local seismometers recorded a magnitude 2.8 earthquake from the event with a seismic wave train duration of approximately 3 minutes. The toe of the landslide came within 200 ft of active gas-production wellheads and loss of irrigation ditches and water impacted local ranches and residents.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The West Salt Creek landslide changed over the summer, as a water course formed to drain much of a pond formed by the slide and as the slide itself compacted and settled into place, according to scientists who are studying the event.

“Continuing threats to nearby residents remain,” warns the Colorado Geological Survey in a new report on the landslide, which took the lives of three men on May 25, 2014.

Clancy and Dan Nichols — father and son — and Wes Hawkins died in the slide while they worked to clear an irrigation ditch. The Colorado Geological Survey report is dedicated to their memory.

Collbran, six miles below the slide, is in no danger, but ranchers and others in the area should be aware of the threat looming high above, especially in the spring, when the “sag pond” is most likely to refill, said Colorado State Geologist Karen Berry.

“The biggest unknown is what will happen when the sag pond fills and spills” into the West Salt Creek Valley, most likely with the spring thaw, Berry said.

The sag pond was formed when 35 million cubic yards of the Green River Formation faltered and slid down, the report said.

The slide covers nearly a square mile atop the West Salt Creek valley and in some cases is as much as 123 feet [deep], the report says.

The slide left a 65 million cubic-yard slump block tipped 15 degrees toward the mesa, creating a “V,” the bottom of which is the pond. according to the report.

The sag-pond water percolated through the slump block forming what geologists call a “pipe,” or conduit that lowered the level of the pond by about eight feet.

“At some point, the stream (West Salt Creek) is going to try to re-establish itself,” Berry said.

How that will work is still an unknown, said Jeff Coe, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist who has studied the slide.

“We don’t know where it will stop and we don’t know what the response will be” as snows melt and feed into the West Salt Creek drainage, Coe said. “That slump block continues to evolve. I’d like to get through a few more springs before I say we’re off the hook.”

Mesa County has built a sophisticated monitoring system intended to detect changes in the slide.

The most recent study cleared up a lingering question for Tim Hayashi, senior engineer for Mesa County, who has led the county’s monitoring of the landslide.

It wasn’t clear why the slide traveled three miles down West Salt Creek Valley, Hayashi said, until the study made it clear that more was going on than just a single slide.

“It wasn’t one enormous slide,” Hayashi said. “It was several large slides” that pulsed down the mountain, one after the other.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, also has been monitoring the north side of the Mesa with special radar, Coe said.

“Those data are still showing shifts, not real large ones,” Coe said. “The whole West Salt Creek slide is compacting and small areas on the slump block are changing.”

There is no evidence that a catastrophic change is imminent, Coe noted.

The USGS is preparing its own report on the landslide, he said.

The 2014 landslide took place at the same place as a slide that occurred in the Holocene period as it transitioned into the Eocene, at least 11,700 years ago, the report noted.

Studies of the slide could shed light on similar looming threats, Berry said.

“What we hope to do is, take what we’ve learned and look at landslide susceptibility for Grand Mesa and Mesa County in general,” Berry said.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

The 55-page Colorado Geological Survey study says risks remain specifically because of water that has collected in a depression near the slide’s head, creating a “sag pond.”

“A failure of the sag pond or the remaining rock slide could create a similar event to what happened,” Karen Berry, the state geologist, told The Denver Post on Thursday…

The report also highlights how there are areas throughout the Grand Mesa and Colorado that are also at risk for breaking away.

“Mesa County, and especially Grand Mesa, contain hundreds of active and inactive landslides,” the report says. “Fortunately, many of these features are in remote or underdeveloped areas and have caused little damage.”

CPW is restoring Greenbacks to Herman Gulch in Clear Creek County

Herman Gulch via
Herman Gulch via

From CBS Denver (Matt Kroschel):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife set up a camp with more than 20 people working around the clock along the banks of the Herman Gultch in Clear Creek County. They are working to kill all the fish that live in the waterway currently, and then restock that waterway with the greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish.

Presumed to be extinct by 1937, several wild populations of what were thought to be greenback cutthroat trout were discovered in the South Platte and Arkansas river basins starting in the late 1950s. According to the CPW, those discoveries launched an aggressive conservation campaign that replicated those populations across the landscape so that they could be down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Momentum for preserving the native jewels continued to build, and in 1996 the greenback was designated as Colorado’s state fish. Efforts to establish new populations were proceeding along a track that suggested the recovery plan benchmarks might soon be met, and the subspecies could be delisted entirely.

Currently, biologists estimate there are less than 5,000 wild greenback cutthroat in the state, but once this project is complete, they hope to double or triple that number.

“We choose this creek in particular because once we clear out the invasive fish species that live in these waters it will be impossible they will be able to get back into the creek to compete with the greenback cutthroat once we stock them here,” Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist, South Platte River basin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said.

Biologists are using a substance called rotenone to kill the fish that currently call the creek home. They add the liquid upstream of a temporary water treatment and testing center at the bottom of the stream. Once the substance does its job they then dilute and consternate the deadly substance. The process turns the water a purple color for a few hundred yards downstream of the treatment center, but water samples taken downstream from that location show the water quality is back to safe levels as it enters Clear Creek.

Right now, biologists are raising thousands of greenback cutthroats in fish hatcheries in Lake and Chaffee counties.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

CMU: Water Center renamed Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center to honor west slope water rights activist


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Several members of the community came together Thursday at Colorado Mesa University to celebrate the renaming of the school’s water center in honor of Ruth Powell Hutchins, a longtime proponent of the preservation of water rights on the Western Slope.

The newly named Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at CMU performs and facilitates interdisciplinary and collaborative research, education, outreach and dialogue to address water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Hutchins, who died in 1997, worked to protect the water rights of small farmers and other water users, according to the university. She was one of the founders of the Mesa County Water Association, which evolved into the Water Center at CMU.

Hutchins’ children recently established an endowment for the center in honor of their mother.

The unveiling of the center’s new name was held on the third floor terrace of Dominguez Hall to a full crowd, including three generations of the Hutchins family, members of the Colorado Mesa University Board of Trustees and CMU President Tim Foster.

Her son, Will Hutchins, spoke at the event about his mother’s work.

“I want to thank CMU for honoring our mother,” Will Hutchins said. “With respect to my mother, there are two things to keep in mind — she was a straight-laced Vermonter and her dream.”

He said his mother grew up in a community where the traditional New England town meeting was a way for people to get involved in their town government.

“Public service meant exactly that — not a way for a person to financially better themselves at the public trough,” he said.

He said his mother and father, John, met at a dude ranch and had a dream to own a “farm to raise their family on.”

In 1955, the Hutchinses bought a farm in Fruita, he said. There, Ruth Hutchins began to get involved in the community through volunteer work.

“Any time you have money in the public sector, there are a lot of people trying to get their hands on (it),” Will Hutchins said, referring to water rights issues. And, he added, the result was not necessarily for the benefit of the public.

He said his mother studied water rights issues and eventually was able to “go to the water buffaloes — people like politicians, prestigious lawyers, lobbyists, engineers — and talk to them on her own terms” about these issues and her concerns.

Foster said the university “gets to name” a number of its facilities after people in the community, but “few as iconic as Ruth.”

“Ruth Hutchins was one of my very favorite people. She was a combination of Annie Oakley, Margaret Thatcher and Mary Poppins,” Foster said in a news release issued by the university. “She truly cared about water issues, not only in the Grand Valley but statewide and nationally. She was committed to making the system work better and to the importance of meeting agricultural water needs. We are honored to have the water center carry her name and are deeply appreciative of her family’s generosity.”

Hutchins’ son, Tad, said he was honored to be at the naming.

“(It shows) that the good deeds you do will outlive you as an issue,” he said.

“I’d like to think Mom would be proud of this (center)” that provides information to anyone interested in water issues.

CMU spokeswoman Dana Nunn said the renaming of the center was not a condition of the endowment.