Gore Creek cleanup plan nears approval — The Vail Daily

From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

State officials in 2012 placed Gore Creek — as well as a number of other mountain-town streams — on a list of ecologically impaired waterways in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean the creek is the equivalent of a Rust Belt river that can catch fire. Still, humans have affected Gore Creek’s aquatic life — particularly bugs that are the food supply for fish.

To help repair that damage, town officials have been working for some time on a plan called Restore the Gore. The plan’s design so far has included working with consultants, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and residents. The plan has also been the subject of six hearings at the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. The Vail Town Council is the final step to putting the plan — and its 217 recommended actions — into place. Council members Tuesday took a close look at the plan, with an eye toward final approval at the board’s March 15 evening meeting.

MINIMIZING POLLUTANTS

The plan in its current form has a good bit of regulation in it — including what people can spray on weeds they’re legally obligated to control.

But a majority of the recommendations fall into two categories: specific projects and management practices.

The identified projects cover nearly the length of Gore Creek, from the Interstate 70 runaway truck ramp nearest to town to the parking lots at the town’s two supermarkets. The projects run the gamut from restoring creekside vegetation to creating an artificial wetland area — a natural pollutant filter — to catch cinders falling off of I-70 to working to treat runoff from supermarket parking lots.

Gary Brooks, an engineer who is part of the town’s consultant team, said the idea behind all of the projects is to either dilute or interrupt pollutants that would otherwise make their way into the stream.

EDUCATION IS KEY

Education and management practices are similarly broad. Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia said education is a significant part of virtually every element of the plan, from helping homeowners to teaching the landscaping companies those property owners hire.

Those educational efforts seem to be well-received so far. Bertuglia said an informational meeting for landscaping companies in 2015 drew between 80 and 100 people, most of whom were company owners.

Landscape companies that take a sustainable landscaping class — organized in cooperation with the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and scheduled for the spring of this year — can earn a creek-friendly certification from the town. Those companies can use that certification in their own efforts to line up clients for the coming season.

And residents in general seem interested in learning more, Bertuglia said.

“I’ve been inspired by how the community has gotten behind this effort,” Bertuglia said.

VAIL RESORTS INVOLVEMENT

Responding to a question about Vail Resorts’ involvement in the plan, Bertuglia said the environmental team from the company has been involved in drafting the plan, and this winter has moved one of its major snow piles on the valley floor so it will have less impact on the creek when the pile melts.

PRICE TAG FOR PROJECTS

All of these efforts will cost money, of course. Just one project — the stormwater treatment project at the I-70 truck ramp — has an estimated price tag of more than $150,000. Better treatment of runoff from the supermarket parking lots will certain cost more. Another project, a 2017 redo of Slifer Plaza, carries an estimated price of more than $1.3 million, much of which will be spent on replacing an aging storm sewer that runs from north of the Vail Village parking structure into the creek.

The best use of taxpayer money will be a key element of the plan.

The Pueblo County Commissioners approve reveg. along SDS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners adopted a resolution Monday to approve findings on revegetation and land restoration efforts by Colorado Springs Utilities under its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The findings would allow the release of about $674,000 in bonds held for the 17-mile route of buried SDS pipeline through Pueblo County.

The resolution paves the way for other issues in the permit, the largest concerning stormwater issues dealing with SDS.

The findings for the revegetation items were heard in a public hearing Jan. 25.

“We attempted to be as thorough as we possibly could with this discussion and as fair as we could, not only with the applicant, but also critically important to us, fair to our own citizens,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

“We want to establish a precedent that any of the conditions that are associated with this project are perpetual and continue as long as the SDS pipeline is in place and functioning.”

As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities must establish about 90 percent of the vegetation that was there before the project and was disturbed by construction.

“Our experts have gone through and analyzed the area and they say that it has substantially been met,” Hart said.

“There are some areas that still need some work and so that’s what our findings show.”

Hart said the resolution also is in place to make it clear that over time Pueblo County and Colorado Springs will be watching the revegetation to make sure that it maintains itself as well as the restoration.

Hart said the next big obstacle is stormwater issues related to the pipeline.

“That is the biggest of the issues. We are working on that right now,” Hart said.

“Pueblo County is suffering terribly from the conditions that are going on in Colorado Springs. So we are looking for good action to begin to control that problem.”

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

Urban Waterways Restoration Study: Upcoming Alternative Meetings – Public Meeting #2

From email from the Urban Waterways Restoration Study:

Open House #2
for the
South Platte River:
Wednesday
January 20th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm,
R.E.I.
1416 Platte St.

2 hrs of Free Parking available for this meeting in R.E.I’s underground parking structure.

Open House #2
for
Weir Gulch:
Tuesday
February 2nd, 5:30 – 7:30pm,
Barnum Rec Center
360 Hooker St.

Give us your feedback on alternatives

  • Open House Format from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Formal Presentation of the preliminary alternatives’ range of options will be from 6:00 – 6:45 p.m for South Platte and from 5:45 – 6:30 for Weir Gulch.
  • This is a family-friendly event. Light refreshments will be provided. Spanish language interpretation will be available. Other language interpretation can be provided by contacting us at our website.
Denver City Park sunrise
Denver City Park sunrise

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

Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District
Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

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

Progress made during 2015 set to help improve watershed

The Eagle River, its tributaries and streams and the 55 miles of the Colorado River that runs through Eagle County are directly related to our economic wealth. A healthy watershed means a strong tourism economy, the main driver in our area. And it’s not only about the money. The water attracts wildlife — moose, bear, eagles and foxes frequent our waterways. It’s drinking water for our entire
community. It is important that the visitors and residents of Eagle County understand this, and also understand the threats to and condition of our watershed, especially as the population grows. The more each of us knows about the issues affecting our watershed, the more able we are as a community to take steps as needed. At the policy making level, awareness will help our representatives make educated and responsible decisions.

Eagle River
Eagle River

This year was a busy year for Eagle River Watershed Council. One exciting accomplishment was launching new projects on the 55 miles of the Colorado River in Eagle County, each recommended in the 2014 Colorado River Inventory and Assessment. Among these are restoration projects that foster new alliances with the ranching community. Through collaborative efforts with private landowners, federal agencies and other nonprofit organizations, we have improved the health of this stretch of the Colorado River and provided an example of
progressive environmental attitudes toward the watershed.

Gore Creek
Gore Creek

GORE CREEK IMPROVEMENTS
Deserving recognition at year end is the town of Vail for its efforts along Gore Creek. The town of Vail is committed to improving the health of its gold medal stream. In 2015, Vail completed the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan and has moved forward with the implementation phase of the program. Key components of the plan are to revise land-use regulations, repair damaged sections of the riparian zone and work with Colorado Department of Transportation to improve stormwater runoff systems near Interstate 70. Vail has identified 42 restoration projects and 61 stormwater runoff enhancements. Eagle River Watershed Council is excited to be working with the town of Vail to implement revegetation projects that will serve as examples of beautiful, river-friendly landscaping. The Watershed Council will continue to lead the Urban Runoff Group to create similar action plans for downstream communities.

Eagle Mine
Eagle Mine

MAKING DIRTY WATER CLEAN AGAIN
While the images from the Gold King Mine Spill shocked us, the reality is that amount of acid mine runoff is spilled into Colorado’s mountain streams every two days from thousands of abandoned mining sites. We’ve seen what the Eagle Mine is capable of doing to our river when left unchecked. In fact, this is where the Watershed Council has its roots. Every minute, 250 gallons of acid mine runoff flow into a water treatment plant in Minturn created solely for the treatment of Eagle Mine water. The plant removes an astounding 251 pounds of metals each day. The Watershed Council’s diligent efforts have held the responsible party accountable and have helped to develop a strategy to prevent a major event like the one in Silverton.

The Basin of Last Resort has been a problem for years. This is the pond on Vail Pass which catches traction sand from I-70 and prevents it from migrating into Black Gore Creek, a tributary to the Gore. The basin has reached a critical level more than once, and the permitting process to remove the sand has been cumbersome in the most bureaucratic sense. The Watershed Council is helping CDOT to design and implement a plan that allows more efficient access to the basin so that it can be cleaned more regularly. This approach will likely not be implemented until 2017, but the end result will be a long-term solution.

The Watershed Council is fortunate to have an incredibly-competent staff, expert consultants and a compassionate board of directors to guide it. But it is the support of the Eagle County community that allows us to succeed; the individuals and businesses who donate, the municipalities, the volunteers. We have a dedicated and reliable group of people who regularly attend our events. We thank you for your continued participation and want to let you know that there is always room for more. Please join us as a volunteer or at our Watershed Wednesday educational series, where we discuss and dissect relevant water topics. Also, if you share our values, then please donate or contact us about aligning your business with the Watershed Council’s Business Partner Program.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

Saving the Fraser River — Grand Water #ColoradoRiver

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Drive around Grand County for a little while and you’ll notice our profusion of bumper stickers with slogans admonishing you to “Save the Fraser River”.

For many folks in the valley their bumper stickers are a sign of solidarity but for others such statements are more than mere words, they represents a visceral call to action. The issues and obstacles that confront the Fraser River are deeply rooted and solutions can be difficult to agree on, let alone implement. The Fraser River and its tributaries experience what is called an altered flow regime, meaning the natural stream flows of the river have been altered. According to Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited located in Grand County, currently around 60 percent of the native flows of the Fraser River are diverted out of the valley.

“One of the problems is the stream bed is native but the flows are not,” Klancke said. “Over half are diverted out of the Fraser valley. When you have diminished flows like that the stream loses its velocity. The river needs enough velocity to flush sediment out of the rocks on the bottom.That is where the macroinvertebrate life is.”

Macroinvertebrate life, or bugs, live within the voids in the rocks on the bottom of the river, Klancke said. As the river loses its velocity the flows are not able to flush the sediment out from the rocks and the amount of bug habitat is diminished, which has a corresponding effect on the amount of bug life on the river. The amount of bug life on the river has a direct correlation to the amount of fish within the river.

The reduced native stream flows also have a strong impact on the temperature levels within the streams and rivers. “When you have diminished flows the stream becomes wide and shallow and it heats up in ways it never did before,” said Klancke. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand. We are seeing temps in some places higher than that.”

In an effort to address both of these issues several western slope interests along with eastern slope diverters such as Denver Water have partnered together to form a group called Learning by Doing. Learning by Doing is a cooperative group that seeks to address the environmental impact concerns of Grand County organizations while still providing sustained diversion of water to the Front Range. The group has been developing project ideas and in the fall of 2016 they expect to begin a large rechanneling project on the Fraser River called the Fraser Flats Habitat Project.

Project organizers are planning to rechannel approximately half a mile of the Fraser River on the Fraser Flats, just outside of the Town of Fraser. The works is being done on a section of the river owned by Devil’s Thumb Ranch. So far around $100,000 have been raised to fund the project with roughly half of those funds coming from Denver Water and the other half coming from Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Trout Unlimited also has a $5,000 grant they will apply to the project, allowing for an additional 135 feet of rechanneling.

“The idea of rechanneling is to match the stream bed to the stream flows,” said Klancke. “We create a channel within a channel.”

In the simplest terms the rechanneling work is accomplished by physically digging a deeper channel within the center of the existing streambed where water can recede to at low flow times. The new channel provides a deeper and narrower pathway for the stream to follow, increasing the velocity of water while also decreasing temperatures. The work must be performed carefully so as not to damage the natural streambed either. The native streambed remains essential for allowing larger flows of water during spring runoff. Along with digging a new channel within the Fraser River workers will also move and adjust rocks to create a healthy ratio of riffles to pools within the river.

The collaborative project is the first from the Learning by Doing group and represents a very exciting step forward for people like Klancke who spoke highly of Denver Water and that organizations willingness to engage in the process and work to further the proposed actions. Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead echoed his views.

“The most exciting aspect to this project is that all the parties to Learning by Doing are beginning work before it is technically required under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement,” Lochhead stated. “This is due in large part to the partnerships and relationships that have developed over the past few years, and the value we place on the environmental resources in Grand County. We don’t want to lose momentum, and the fact that Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Trout Unlimited and others in the county have stepped up to move this effort forward is a great indication of our common commitment. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to enhance the health of the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

Learning by Doing plans to put the rechanneling project out for bidding in mid Jan. and hope to have a contractor chosen by the end of Feb. Work on the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2016.

#COWaterPlan: “We’re recognizing now…that recreation and river health is one of our primary values” — Nathan Fey

From the Public News Service – CO (Eric Galatas):

Conservation groups are gearing up to make sure their voices are heard as Colorado’s Water Plan heads into the implementation phase in the new year.

Nathan Fey, Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, said the last 100 years of water development have been focused on meeting demands at the tap along the Front Range and for agriculture, but added that he’s encouraged the state is embracing new priorities.

“We’re recognizing now, for the first time in Colorado, that recreation and river health is one of our primary values,” he said. “This plan has called out kind of a new ethic, and that is: we’ve got to protect our rivers. Because it supports this very robust recreation industry.”

Fey said river recreation in Colorado pumps $29 billion into the state’s economy, and the Colorado River basin accounts for $9 billion alone. He said people who care about rivers shouldn’t just leave the plan’s rollout to the state and utility companies, adding that American Whitewater will urge its members to join upcoming roundtables to make sure the plan’s stream and headwater protections go into effect.

Colorado’s Water Conservation Board projects that the state’s population, which surpassed 5 million people in 2008, will reach 10 million by 2050 – and most growth will occur in cities on the Front Range.

Fey said it’s important for residents to know that water used for golf courses, lawns and showers comes from the Western Slope. Conservation efforts, which feature prominently in the water plan, will be critical for its success, he said.

“We need to conserve water to support what we like today, to make sure that it sticks around into the future,” he said. “The more water we conserve now, the less it means we have to take water from somewhere else in the future – whether it’s out of the river or it’s from our food producers.”

If the collaboration, flexibility and innovation that helped produce the plan is carried forward into implementation, Fey said, he’s confident Colorado’s homes, agriculture and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival can all get the water they need. The water plan is online at http://coloradowaterplan.com.

US 36 mitigation: “The project was a good marriage of interests” — Patrick Hickey

From the Forester Daily News (Janet Aird):

US 36 Habitat Mitigation Project

Several wetland drainages, including a protected and critical willow habitat in the riparian zone of South Boulder Creek, are home to two federally protected species: the tiny Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and the beautiful but elusive Ute ladies’ tresses orchid, says Patrick Hickey, project manager and wetland and wildlife specialist with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). This type of habitat is generally threatened by development throughout Boulder and the Front Range of Colorado.

In 2004, a project to widen US Highway 36, which connects Boulder and Denver, threatened one of these wetlands. CDOT began consultations with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to minimize impacts and mitigate for the unavoidable ones.

CDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), USFWS, and the city of Boulder collaborated on the project, which took place on a parcel known as the Granite Property, a degraded 24-acre parcel of land just about a mile downstream of the protected wetland.

The Granite Property had suffered from extensive grazing and dumping and had an abundance of noxious weeds. Weeds are designated as noxious when they are injurious to natural habitats, ecosystems, humans, livestock, or agricultural and horticultural crops.

“The project was a good marriage of interests,” says Hickey. “The city wanted to protect the site from being developed. We met our environmental obligations by purchasing and restoring the parcel for mitigation, which will be managed as a nature preserve by the city.”

The project took place in the spring of 2014. The new habitat includes a considerably larger area than was originally affected by the highway widening, because the USFWS requires a larger amount of land to mitigate for the land that is lost. The FHA provided most of the funding.

CDOT created, restored, or enhanced 15.9 acres of wetlands and restored 8.4 acres of upland buffer habitat, for a total of 24.3 acres.

The main goal of the project was to recreate a matrix of habitat types on the Granite Property to suit the two threatened species. This included willow habitat, a relatively dense combination of grasses, forbs (wildflowers), and shrubs. The secondary goal was to transplant some of the orchids, along with large segments of the wetland sod associated with them, says Hickey.

There was no requirement to relocate the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, which uses several of the drainages across some 3 acres within the highway project limits, including one that was directly adjacent to the constructed wetland. The year before the project began, the threatened area was mowed so the mouse would hibernate elsewhere during the winter.

“We hoped if we created a better habitat on the Granite site, then the adjacent mouse population would be able to expand its local range. The assumption was, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he says. “We intend to monitor the site to determine if that is true.”

Jacobs Engineering, based in Pasadena, CA, designed the wetland and CDOT provided support. Both Jacobs and CDOT provided construction oversight. Rocky Mountain Excavation of Castle Rock, CO, was the prime contractor and did all the major earthwork.

Generally, the water table in these wetland areas ranges from zero to 24 inches below the surface during the growing season. Part of the Granite Property was already wetland. Rocky Mountain excavated another half of the land to create a larger one.

“The lower surface elevation was necessary to connect the wetland habitat to the supporting water table,” explains Hickey.

On the driest land, Rocky Mountain excavated some 6 inches, primarily to remove the weed-infested soil. Crews excavated other areas to a depth of 3 feet to allow more diverse wetland vegetation to grow. No groundwater was exposed.

Western States Reclamation, which has offices in Frederick and Loma, CO, and in Kayenta, AZ, handled all the vegetative and erosion control components of the project except for the mowing. Crews used heavy equipment to drive pilot holes into the cobbly gravel soil for the coyote willow (Salix exigua) stakes and planted more than 9,700 stakes in specific areas of some 6.4 acres of the wetland.

They also planted 6,000 riparian shrubs, including chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), golden current (Ribes aureum), Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii), and Western snowberry (Symporicarpos occidentalis) in more than 13.7 acres. They overseeded with native grasses such as blue grama (Chondosum gracilis), side oats (Bouteloua curitipendula), and sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus). In addition, they put in native pollinator attractors such as prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), sidebells penstemon (Penstemon secundiflorus), and white sagebrush (Artemisia ludoviciana).

In the protected wetland, the orchids were growing in an area of about a tenth of an acre. Transplanting them posed an interesting challenge.

“The orchids don’t come up every year,” says Hickey. “We surveyed the site for several years to understand where they were occurring.”

Western States Reclamation dug up five orchid plants by hand and excavated large sections of the soil associated with them. This ensured that their root systems would be undamaged. It also ensured that seeds, mycorrhizae, bacteria, and other elements necessary to the orchids’ health and reproduction would be transferred to the constructed wetland.

Within the constructed wetland, Rocky Mountain excavated an existing 40-foot by 800-foot section of a swale to approximately 18–24 inches deep. Western States Reclamation crews placed the orchid sod in the swale, which raised the soil level up to that of the surrounding land.

“We overseeded the wetland areas to increase species diversity,” says Hickey. “The local native grasses and forbs weren’t really present anymore.”

The same upland wetland species were used throughout, including Canada wildrye (Elymus Canadensis), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), Dudley’s rush (Juncus dudleyi), purple verbena (Verbena hastate), large leaf avens (Guem macrophyllum), and golden banner (Thermopsis montana).

The city of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Program will maintain the site, he says. “The city is very active in open-space preservation. This parcel will be closed to the public and maintained as a nature preserve.”

Western States Reclamation is maintaining the wetland, mainly watering, weeding, performing noxious weed control, and other vegetative maintenance, with the assistance of LT Environmental in Arvada, CO, which is responsible for the weed monitoring and reporting.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results of the project,” says Hickey. “We had a very wet year with some big flood cycles, which is helpful for the plant communities we’re trying to establish.”

Approximately four months after construction, the willow habitat had expanded. Approximately 90% of the planted willows were doing well. The native herbaceous understory species also had expanded. Some 95% of the planted shrubs survived, and the native seed was germinating well.

“I give a lot of credit to Western States Reclamation,” says Hickey. “I think their execution of the project was very good, which is reflected in the early seeding and planting success. That’s a function of their maintenance effort and favorable climatic conditions. They really exceeded our expectations.”