West Clear Creek cleanup: “But who can make instream flow part of the deal?” — David Holm

May 31, 2015
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

After years of delay, state and federal agencies this month confirmed they will clean the water by building a $15 million treatment plant — a project that had the goal of restoring fish habitat. The plant is a key step in a federal Superfund cleanup that has dragged on for 32 years. But fish are still out of luck.

Local town leaders want to divert the cleaned water for people, frustrating the agencies and those who want fish to return to the creek. It’s a case of how Colorado’s population growth and development boom are intensifying competition for water.

“It isn’t ideal,” said David Holm, director of the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation. “Would it be better if we had a deal to ensure ample in-stream flow in North Clear Creek? Yes. But who can make in-stream flow be part of the deal?”

The mining towns-turned-gambling meccas Black Hawk and Central City have asserted that, under Colorado’s water appropriation system, they can use senior water rights that they own to tap the cleaned creek. Black Hawk plans to build thousands more hotel rooms, hiking and biking trails, a reservoir and, possibly, a golf course — all requiring more water.

More Clear Creek Watershed coverage here.


Dolores River Restoration Partnership annual report

May 9, 2015


From Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

In a presentation to the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners at their meeting Wednesday, Nature Conservancy Southwest Colorado Project Director Peter Mueller updated the board on the work of the Dolores River Restoration Partnership, a private-public partnership that works to preserve the wildlife and ecology of the river that starts in the San Juan Mountains and runs to its confluence with the Colorado River near Moab…

In 2014, according to Mueller, the DRRP developed and approved a transition plan for long-term monitoring and maintenance of the river, which sets forth strategies for fundraising, communications, governance and physical conservation work needed to support the diversity and health of the Dolores River’s riparian corridor for the next five years.

The DRRP works to preserve the habitat surrounding the Dolores River, and it has done well at that in the six years since it started implementing its ecological goals. But that’s not all DRRP wants to accomplish, Mueller said…

A significant part of DRRP’s workforce comes from Conservation Corps crews, which are made up of young adults typically aged 18 to 24, “consistent with out commitment to the next generation of stewards,” according to the DRRP’s 2014 annual report.

In 2014, 49 members of those teams contributed a combined 13,400 hours of work restoring the Dolores River, including an average of 130 hours per person of training…

In addition to ecological and social goals, the DRRP 2014 annual report outlines the economic impact the partnership had on the local community. According to the report, the total amount of money that went into the local economy because of the group’s expenditures, job creation and partnerships was $1,182,800.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association awarded the DRRP the 2014 Colorado Collaboration Award at a ceremony in October, a state-wide award that goes to an organization that exemplifies collaboration between many different entities, and it comes with a $50,000 prize, which the DRRP says will be used to “support long-term stewardship of the Dolores River.”

At the time, Colorado Nonprofit Association President and CEO Renny Fagan applauded the DRRP for its success at bringing different groups together to work toward a common goal.

“The Dolores River Restoration Partnership is an outstanding example of how nonprofits, businesses and government agencies are working together,” Fagan said. “Collaborating isn’t always easy. It takes a lot of work and commitment, but when we get together and identify our common goals, we can accomplish remarkable things.”

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


Colorado: Water sharing a good deal for rivers

May 2, 2015

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

State water board, conservation group team up to create innovative new water rights agreement

By Bob Berwyn

Photos courtesy Colorado Water Trust

* Tools like the Little Cimarron agreement could be used to improve environmental conditions in many of the state’s rivers, and the evolving Colorado Water Plan can help identify places where deals like this could be used. Read more about the Colorado Water plan here.

FRISCO —For thousands of years, the Little Cimarron River trickled out of the snowfields of the San Juan Mountains, coursing unimpeded through steep alpine canyons and rolling sagebrush foothills before merging with the Gunnison River.

That changed when European settlers arrived in the region. Eager to tame the rugged land, ranchers and farmers took to the hills with shovels and picks, diverting part of the river’s flow to water hayfields and pastures. The back-breaking work brought the imprint of civilization to the area…

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@USGS: Dam Removal Study Reveals River Resiliency

May 1, 2015

Here’s the release from the USGS and USFS:

More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published today in Science finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed.

“The apparent success of dam removal as a means of river restoration is reflected in the increasing number of dams coming down, more than 1,000 in the last 40 years,” said lead author of the study Jim O’Connor, geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Rivers quickly erode sediment accumulated in former reservoirs and redistribute it downstream, commonly returning the river to conditions similar to those prior to impoundment.”

Dam removal and the resulting river ecosystem restoration is being studied by scientists from several universities and government agencies, including the USGS and U.S. Forest Service, as part of a national effort to document the effects of removing dams. Studies show that most river channels stabilize within months or years, not decades, particularly when dams are removed rapidly.

“In many cases, fish and other biological aspects of river ecosystems also respond quickly to dam removal,” said co-author of the study Jeff Duda, an ecologist with USGS. “When given the chance, salmon and other migratory fish will move upstream and utilize newly opened habitat.”

The increase in the number of dam removals, both nationally and internationally, has spurred the effort to understand the consequences and help guide future dam removals.

“As existing dams age and outlive usefulness, dam removal is becoming more common, particularly where it can benefit riverine ecosystems,” said Gordon Grant, Forest Service hydrologist. “But it can be a complicated decision with significant economic and ecologic consequences. Better understanding of outcomes enables better decisions about which dams might be good candidates for removal and what the river might look like as a result.”

Sponsored by the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, a working group of 22 scientists compiled a database of research and studies involving more than 125 dam removals. Researchers have determined common patterns and controls affecting how rivers and their ecosystems respond to dam removal. Important factors include the size of the dam, the volume and type of sediment accumulated in the reservoir, and overall watershed characteristics and history.


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

April 28, 2015
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.


Denver waterways Weir Gulch, Harvard Gulch S. Platte R. get attention — The Denver Post

April 23, 2015

Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) with details about planned recreational development along the river through Denver

Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) with details about planned recreational development along the river through Denver


From The Denver Post (Joe Vaccarelli):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Denver and other local agencies will be spending the next few years exploring ways to improve the South Platte River, Harvard Gulch and Weir Gulch as part of a comprehensive plan for the waterways.

The Urban Waterways Restoration Study will look into improving the ecosystem, reduce flood risk and adding recreational opportunities at all three sites. The South Platte will be studied between Sixth and 58th avenues.

“It’s a huge coordinated effort,” said Selena Klosowski, project manager for the Urban Waterways Restoration Study with Denver Public Works.

Weir Gulch runs into the South Platte River and generally ranges from 10th Avenue to Jewell Avenue and west to Alameda Parkway. The Harvard Gulch watershed is bounded by the South Platte to the west, Interstate 25 to the east and Evans Avenue to Mansfield Avenue.

Other local entities involved with the study include the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.

Residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the study and give feedback at three upcoming meetings. Three more meetings are coming in the fall, and another one in the spring of 2016. All meetings will have translators present for non-English speakers. The study should be complete by spring or early summer 2017.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver pulse flow — one year later

April 16, 2015
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From Arizona Public Media (Vanessa Barchfield):

One year ago the governments of the U.S. and Mexico worked together on a historic project to send water down the parched Colorado River Delta in Mexico…

University of Arizona geoscientist Karl Flessa said Tuesday that the eight-week flooding helped to germinate and establish cottonwoods and willows that will live for up to 50 years, demonstrating that even a small amount of water can have long-lasting effects on an ecosystem.

But, Flessa said, the impact of the water varied.

“In some places the pulse flow did enormous amount of good work in establishing vegetation and sustaining that vegetation. In other parts of the river it didn’t really make that much of a difference,” he said.

He and his team are studying why that was the case.

“So we’re really trying to map out the river and identify those prime restoration sites.”
Future efforts will be targeted in those conservation sites that responded best to the returned flow of water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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