CPW: Hermosa Creek native cutthroat restoration project moving along nicely

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The multi-year project to restore native Colorado River cutthroat trout to more than 20 miles of the Hermosa Creek watershed is continuing this summer. The project is a cooperative effort of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the largest native trout restoration project ever done in the state. The work is critical for bringing this species back to western Colorado.

Located about 30 miles north of Durango, wildlife biologists identified the Hermosa Creek area as a prime spot for restoration more than 20 years ago. The first project was completed on the upper East Fork of Hermosa Creek in 1992. Cutthroat trout now thrive in that section. A second part of the project was completed in 2013 on the main stem of Hermosa Creek above Hotel Draw; and the native trout are thriving in that section of water.

All the projects include construction of rock barriers that prevent non-native trout from migrating into the restored sections of stream. Agency officials hope that the entire project will be completed by 2018.

On Aug. 4-5, crews will apply an organic piscicide to a 2-mile long section of East Hermosa Creek below Sig Creek Falls to just above the confluence with the main stem of Hermosa Creek. The piscicide, Rotenone, will eliminate non-native fish species—primarily brook trout. Rotenone has been used for years throughout the world for aquatic management projects because it breaks down quickly in the environment and poses no threat to terrestrial wildlife or humans. CPW biologists also use a neutralizing agent just below the treatment area to prevent any fish kills downstream.

Short sections of Relay Creek and Sig Creek above will also be treated.

The work area will be closed to the public during the operation. An administrative campsite will be reserved for use by CPW and USFS employees during the treatment work. Signs are posted in the closed areas and the public is asked to observe the closure.

Visitors below the treatment area might see rust-colored water–-that is the color of the neutralizing agent. Anglers will still have full access to Hermosa Creek and the upper section of East Hermosa Creek. Any cutthroat trout caught must be returned to the water.

Because of the complexity of the habitat along the East Fork, the section will most likely be treated again next summer to assure elimination of non-native fish. If all goes as planned, native cutthroats will be stocked into the stream late next summer.

While the project is scheduled for the first week of August, project managers will be keeping an eye on the weather as recent rains have swelled the creeks in the area. If the water is running too high, the project could be delayed until next summer.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the most important native cutthroat trout restoration endeavors in Colorado. After completion of the lower East Fork section, more work will be done in the coming years on the main branch of Hermosa Creek. The end-point of the effort will be just below the confluence of the East Fork and Hermosa Creek.

“This project is especially important because it connects several streams in a large, complex watershed,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in the Four Corners area. “The connectivity provides what biologists call ‘resiliency’ to the system. There are more stream miles available to the fish which allows for more genetic exchange. It also makes the fish less susceptible to disease and to large sedimentation events such as fires, mudslides or avalanches.”

Every year Colorado Parks and Wildlife deploys significant resources for native trout restoration efforts. Colorado’s native trout include: the Colorado River cutthroat trout; the Rio Grande cutthroat trout; and the Greenback cutthroat trout.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

“Whitewater park features are not suitable fish habitat” — Jim White

Durango whitewater park plans
Durango whitewater park plans

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Whitewater advocates have anecdotally noticed more fishermen near whitewater rapids, and they are working on gathering data to show how the parks can benefit fish.

But Colorado Parks and Wildlife data show the parks degrade fish habitat and their ability to migrate upstream, said Jim White, a biologist with the department.

“Whitewater park features are not suitable fish habitat,” he said.

Human-made parks create fierce velocities that make it hard for fish to migrate over them. Fish must also battle a washing-machine effect in the human-made pools, he said.

The parks are also being built in or near towns, where whitewater rapids would be less likely to occur.

“By the time you get down to broader valleys … they are not typically natural features,” he said.

However, engineers and advocates – including Scott Shipley who designed the improvements to Smelter Rapid – argue whitewater parks can be built to improve fish habitat, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is basing its conclusion on limited studies.

“As far as hard science goes, there is very little hard science on the issue,” said Shane Sigle, with Riverwise Engineering.

Despite the disagreement, proponents on both sides are interested in compromises that help protect fish. Some 30 whitewater parks are operating across the state, and they are boosting tourism and driving local economies, according to professionals in the field.

Smelter Rapid in Durango is an example of such a compromise. It was not quality-fish habitat to begin with, so it made sense to build permanent structures in that section, White said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also supported the Whitewater Park, saying construction of the permanent features secured a recreational-water right that helps protect fish from low flows, he said.

The city already was maintaining Smelter Rapid for whitewater features prior to construction of the park. The Army Corps of Engineers anticipates the grouted structures will limit the disturbance from continued maintenance, said Kara Hellige, senior project manager for the corps.

In addition, the corps requires the city to monitor the stability of the structures and banks, water quality and the movement of sediment after construction.

The monitoring required at Smelter Rapid and other parks should help engineers better understand how human-made rapids impact rivers.

More whitewater coverage here.

Is Silverton ready for a cleanup? — The Durango Herald

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):

The stream of heavy-metal pollutants gushing out of Silverton’s mines and into its waterways has grown so toxic that between 2005 and 2010, three out of the four trout species living in the Upper Animas River south of Silverton have disappeared.

Yet for two decades, vocal Silverton residents have torpedoed the Environmental Protection Agency’s many attempts to designate Silverton’s worst mines as Superfund sites, which would allow the agency to clean up the pollution and make any parties it deems responsible pay for it.

Though the environmental catastrophe has, if anything, worsened, Silverton residents long have argued against Superfund, saying federal intervention would sully the town’s reputation, deter mining companies and appall tourists.

Until now, that is.

Even three years ago, it was impossible to imagine, let alone hear, a Silverton resident publicly clamoring for federal intervention in Cement Creek, said Mark Esper, editor of The Silverton Standard. Yet in the last year, he said, there have been signs that locals’ hostility to Superfund is softening.

[Last February], Skinner said a Superfund listing would “raise property values here, provide great jobs that people here can do, bring new people in and get more kids in the school.”

Silverton resident John Poole said, “Many people, including myself, think Superfund, frankly, is the best thing that could happen to Silverton. It’s certain to open up jobs. In Leadville, Superfund certainly didn’t hurt tourism.”

There’s still local animosity toward Superfund. In 2014, at meetings of the Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) and the San Juan County Commission, residents such as Steve Fearn, co-coordinator of the ARSG, warned a Superfund designation would hamper, if not ruin, Silverton’s economy.

Poole said he thought the notion of Silverton’s overwhelming opposition to Superfund was “grossly overblown.”

“As far as I’m concerned, all the opposition is coming from a few people with conflicts of interest, who oppose the EPA because they profit financially from keeping the myth of mining – the idea that mining will come back to Silverton – alive,” Poole said.

More water pollution coverage here.

US Senators Bennet and Gardner, along with US Representative Tipton pen letter requesting the opening of Lake Nighthorse

Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Michael Cipriano):

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, penned a letter to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López requesting open access to the Lake Nighthorse Reservoir at the earliest possible date.

The La Plata County reservoir was completed in 2011, but a recreation plan has not yet been agreed on, and the area has remained closed to the public.

Lake Nighthorse is currently being managed by a coalition of partners that helped build the original reservoir.

The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District commissioned a report that found recreation at Lake Nighthorse could stimulate upwards of $12 million in annual economic benefits for La Plata County.

“Given this momentum, we encourage the Bureau to expedite and prioritize its environmental analysis of the proposal, which would clear the way to open the lake to public access,” the letter reads.”

The letter also says that as of March 6, all members and partners of the Animas-La Plata Project’s Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association have endorsed the assessment of a draft recreational plan for the lake.

Several other entities have also expressed support for recreation at the reservoir, including the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, and the city of Durango.

“Given this impressive show of support throughout the region, we urge the Bureau to redouble their efforts to analyze and adopt an agreeable plan that will open Lake Nighthorse to recreational access as soon as possible,” the letter reads. “We look forward to your response including a timeline for next steps and to the resolution of this issue.”

Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she is looking forward to the city’s residents being able to enjoy the area for swimming, fishing boating and other recreational uses.

“I am pleased to see that all the partners are now on board to initiate a process that we hope will open Lake Nighthorse as soon as possible,” Marbury said. “I appreciate our congressional delegation showing leadership on behalf of Southwest Colorado to support our efforts to open Lake Nighthorse to the public.”

More Animas-La Plata project coverage here and here.

A look at the current southwestern Colorado #drought #ColoradoRiver

Colorado Drought Monitor February 24, 2015
Colorado Drought Monitor February 24, 2015

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Years of drought and overgrazing have dried out the fields in southwestern La Plata County. Dust easily blows away in the wind.

Last year, from March until May, dust storms caused problems for students, drivers and farmers, and without enough precipitation, the dirty storms could return…

The area from Breen into New Mexico and west of Black Ridge to the La Plata County line was hit hard last year by dust, said Sterling Moss, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Durango.

The recent snowfall earlier this week dumped about a foot of snow near Breen and Kline, and more snow is expected to accumulate this weekend.

“This is a huge blessing, but we are still way far from being out of the woods,” said Trent Taylor, owner of Blue Horizons Farm Inc.

The entire river basin, which includes the Dolores, Animas, San Juan and San Miguel rivers, would need to receive 218 percent of historical snowfall to get back on track, said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

“I don’t think we’ll make it to normal snowpack this year,” he said.

A long dry spell in January and February left local conservationists and farmers nervous. In mid-February, Moss dug down to test soil moisture as wind dried the field of winter wheat all around him.

In southwestern La Plata County, snow should have blanketed the field near County Road 119 for weeks. But instead, Moss didn’t even find enough moisture in the soil to support the wheat through harvest.

“I’ve never seen a February like that,” Taylor said.

The newly fallen snow could ease the situation. If it melts slowly, it can soak deeper into the soil than rain does.

But re-establishing healthy fields is key to preventing dust storms through the spring winds.

Moss and his office have been working with landowners to plant grass in areas dedicated to conservation reserves to keep the top soil from blowing away. These areas are dedicated to wildlife habitat, and landowners receive a government subsidy for not working the land. This helps farmers survive in the worst drought years, Taylor said.

But it has been challenging.

“A lot of grass has been planted that hasn’t been established yet,” Moss said.

The stands of grass are key to keeping valuable topsoil in place. An inch of topsoil can take 100 years to accumulate, he said.

But without precipitation at the right time, the grasses won’t grow. This year, Moss might recommend planting grass or another cover crop in mid-summer in hopes the monsoons will come.

In the past few years, fall rains have brought most of the moisture for the year.

Leaving the stems from last year’s crop in place also can prevent wind and rain erosion and keep the soil cooler, said Abdel Berrada, a soil scientist with Colorado State University.

This stubble helps conserve soil, but it also provides habitat for pests, like cut worms that may require herbicide, Taylor said.

Planting trees as wind breaks or setting up snow fences can help keep the dust down. But trees can’t thrive when there’s very little water…

“Growing plants on bare bones soil with little to no water can be an uphill challenge,” said Darrin Parmenter, county extension agent for Colorado State University.

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low Graph February 25, 2015 via the NRCS
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low Graph February 25, 2015 via the NRCS

Lake Nighthorse: “This water would really help our future” — Manuel Heart

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council signed a resolution Tuesday supporting the delivery of water from Lake Nighthorse to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

“This water would really help our future,” Chairman Manuel Heart said.

The resolution stemmed from a series of recent meetings between city officials and the tribe about the potential recreational use of Lake Nighthorse, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city likely will send the resolution to Colorado’s U.S. senators and House members to help support the tribe as it seeks funding for infrastructure to deliver water.

Lake Nighthorse was built to provide Native American tribes, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, with water they are entitled to receive, said Justyn Hoch, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has water rights to about 31 percent of the water stored in the lake, but Congress has not funded infrastructure to bring it to the reservation, she said.

Congress has funded a pipeline to the Navajo Nation, which is nearing completion. It will deliver water to the Shiprock area. In addition, the Southern Utes could access water from Lake Nighthorse by releasing it back into the Animas and taking it out of a river diversion, she said.

However, the infrastructure for the Ute Mountain Utes was dropped from federal legislation in 2000, Heart said.

The tribal leadership already has met with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R.-Cortez, and has plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R.-Colorado, this year to talk about the need to fund a delivery system.

The additional water would allow for greater economic development on the reservation, Heart said. The reservation covers about 600,000 acres southwest of Cortez and has one of the largest farms in Montezuma County.

Ute Mountain Ute Councilor Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk also voiced her appreciation of the resolution because the reservation currently has limited water resources. While securing water delivery is a priority for the tribe, she expects it to be years before the tribe receives an appropriation.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.

Healthy Animas, healthy animals: quality of water & vegetation is the focus of a $159K project — The Durango Herald