Right helps to restore [Alamosa] river — The Pueblo Chieftain

Alamosa River
Alamosa River

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Efforts to restore the Alamosa River passed another milestone earlier this month when the water court in the San Luis Valley signed off on an in-stream-flow right.

The decree issued to the Alamosa Riverkeeper allows the storage of up to 2,000 acre-feet in Terrace Reservoir that can be released after irrigation season when the dam’s headgates would otherwise be closed.

“The development of a fishery has already started to revitalize the local economy and reconnect the community to the river,” said Cindy Medina of Alamosa Riverkeeper.

Medina’s group, along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, applied for the right.

The restoration of the fishery comes more than three decades after pollution from the Summitville Mine created a dead zone on a stretch of the river above the reservoir.

The cleanup of Summitville and the installment of a permanent water-treatment plant there thanks to federal stimulus funds in 2009 improved water quality above the reservoir to allow for fish stocking.

The return of the fishery even prompted Jose Trujillo to open a bait and tackle in Capulin.

“The locals are very excited to see what the fishing conditions will be in the lower part of the river near town,” she said.

The in-stream-flow right could allow the fishery to improve below the reservoir by providing water to the river after the end of the traditional irrigation season.

The group currently holds about 500 acre-feet and would have to buy more water to reach the limit of the right.

Medina said the flows, which have been operated on a temporary permit, have extended the river enough to reach Gunbarrel Road, which sits roughly a mile west of Capulin.

She’s hopeful that once the riverkeeper has bought enough water to fulfill the right it would extend the river another 4 miles outside irrigation season.

In addition to restoring the river, Medina said the in-stream flows also would bolster groundwater levels in the area.

She said that fact helped gain the support of the Terrace Irrigation Co., which owns the reservoir, and other irrigators in the area.

Summitville Mine superfund site
Summitville Mine superfund site

Rio Grande Basin: Water rules receive no opposition — yet — The Valley Courier

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

So far, the only “statement of objection” filed in connection to the proposed Rio Grande Basin groundwater rules is one in favor of them.

Because of the way the response process is set up, all reactions to the rules must be submitted as “statements of objection.” However, “statements of objections” may be submitted in support of the rules.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said on Monday the only response filed so far in regard to the basin groundwater rules was a “statement of objection in support” by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

He said no objections against the rules have yet been filed.

During a recent water meeting Pat McDermott from the Division 3 office explained that if there are no objections to the rules as written, they will move forward through that meticulously worked its way through the rules over the course of about six years to try to iron out any problematic “wrinkles” in the rules before they were promulgated.

The public has also been involved during that process, with all of the advisory group meetings open.

Wolfe officially filed the groundwater rules on September 23 at the Alamosa County courthouse. The rules apply to hundreds of irrigation and municipal wells in the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. They set up the means to halt the drawdown of the Valley’s underground aquifers and restore the aquifers to more robust levels. They also are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact compliance. the water court for approval and implementation.

Objectors have a specific amount of time to file responses after the rules have been published. The rules have been published in newspapers as well as in the water court resume.

If there is opposition to the rules, the water division will try to work out issues with objectors short of a water court trial.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe is hoping to eliminate or at least minimize the number of objections to the rules and has gone to great lengths to accomplish that goal. He developed a large advisory group, for example, The rules are clear “that nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water .”

The rules are also clear that they “are designed to allow withdrawals of groundwater while providing for the identification and replacement of injurious stream depletions and the achievement and maintenance of a Sustainable Water Supply in each aquifer system, while not unreasonably interfering with the state’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact. The rules apply to all withdrawals of groundwater within Water Division No. 3, unless the withdrawal is specifically exempted by the rules, and the rules pertaining to the Irrigation Season apply to all irrigation water rights.”

McDermott reminded folks attending a recent Rio Grande Roundtable meeting that once the rules go into effect which could be sooner than later if there are no objections well irrigators will have a limited time to either join a water management sub-district or submit their own augmentation plans. Those measures will have to be taken in the next year or two.

By 2018, he added, the water division will have the ability to shut down wells that have not come into compliance under the rules.

“This is an exciting time,” he said. “It’s time for us to do the right thing. We have done it in Division 1 and 2, South Platte and the Arkansas, and it’s very important to get it down here.”

Part of the groundwater rules define the irrigation season for this basin, which ended in most parts of the Valley at midnight on November 1. Unless Cotten has good reason to decide otherwise, the irrigation season will run from April 1 to November 1 for all irrigators, including those using wells as their irrigation water sources.

See the full groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin at http://water.state.co.us/

On another note, McDermott said Colorado is in good shape with Rio Grande Compact compliance this year and may in fact over deliver the amount of water it is required to send downstream to New Mexico and Texas. This winter should bring a fair amount of moisture, McDermott added. He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting above normal precipitation and slightly below normal temperatures for the next several months in this region.

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Peanut Lake restoration project underway to prevent breach — The Crested Butte News

Sunrise over Peanut Lake via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise over Peanut Lake via Bob Berwyn

From the Crested Butte Land Trust (Mark Reaman) via The Crested Butte News:

Heavy equipment started rumbling around Peanut Lake this week for a fall restoration project.

Work has begun by the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) to shore up the lake. The Riparian Restoration Project is meant to reduce the risk of a breach of the lake, located just west of Crested Butte below the Lower Loop trail. A natural riparian floodplain buffer between the lake and the Slate River will be created through the $130,000 project.

“We broke ground yesterday [October 28, 2015] morning with an excavator and loader, amidst the wind and rain, after a year of studying and planning with a team of ecologists,” said CBLT stewardship director Danielle Beamer. “Things are going well on the ground—we’ve been able to transplant large, whole mats of willows and vegetation, which will really benefit the regrowth of the wetlands and the river banks. We were running out of time, so we are really grateful that the community stepped up to help us out.”

A team of ecologists had informed the land trust that a breach was likely sometime in the next ten years, but when it would occur was impossible to predict. The lake is there primarily as a result of beaver dams and is actually about three feet above the Slate.

“There are three main components of this week’s project,” explained Beamer. “First, we’ll remove a manmade gravel berm on the eastern side of the river. This berm has prevented the Slate’s natural migration, and forced it towards Peanut Lake’s eastern bank, so much so that the lake’s bank is seriously eroding. At the same time, we’ll realign a short segment of the Slate River, which will widen the area between the river and Peanut Lake, significantly lessening the likelihood that the river will break through the lake’s fragile bank. This will return the river and lake to a more natural environment. Finally, we’ll plant willows and other wetland plants—some this week, and more early spring, to restore acres of healthy wetlands, and ultimately benefit the wildlife of the wetlands, including the blue heron, beavers and elk.”

The work is expected to take about ten days. “We expect to finish the restoration work by the end of next week at the latest—it’s a little weather-dependent, but the crew is ready and willing to work through the weekend if need be. We’ll also monitor the area closely for the next five years,” said Beamer.

“Preventing a breach of Peanut Lake is one of our main objectives,” continued Beamer. “By increasing the extent of the wetlands between the river and the lake, the wetlands can act as a sponge, absorbing the heavy flows of spring run-off. We’ll do what we can, and hope that the landscape can return to a more natural system that will protect the lake as well.”

The work is expected to create about an additional 2.5 acres of wetlands in the area after volunteers help plant approximately 1,000 willows.

Funding sources include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Tip for the Trust, the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund, and New Belgium Brewery. CBLT executive director Ann Johnston said the CBLT also received some very generous gifts from community members.

As for any trail reroutes, Johnston said, “We’re working closely with CB Nordic to reroute a portion of the winter Beaver Trail.”

Trustees approve contract for hydroplant, hatchery flood work — Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park
Estes Park

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):

The Estes Park Town Board approved on Tuesday night a professional services contract and a design-build contract to the FlyWater/Otak team for the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.

The Fall River channel and stream banks between the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary and downstream of the western-most Fish Hatchery Bridge (Project Reach) experienced significant damage as a result of the 2013 flood and now pose a public safety hazard.

This damage included the loss of fish habitat, damage to the channel, significant bank erosion, and areas of considerable deposition. Approximately 100 feet of the historic 30-inch iron penstock connecting the Cascade Dam and the Hydroplant was exposed due to stream bank erosion.

The proposed project work consists of approximately 3,250 linear feet of stream bank stabilization and channel restoration along a reach of Fall River. The project reach is defined by 2,700 feet from the Hydroplant Museum going west to the border of Rocky Mountain National Park and 550 feet going east of the Hydroplant Museum defined as the Upper Fish Hatchery reach. These contract agreements include finalizing the remaining portion of the design and completing all construction work.

Estes Park Environmental Planner Tina Kurtz explained to the board that the $300,000 two-phase project will be funded in two ways.

Kurtz said a CDBG-DR grant for $150,000 is pending the Environmental Assessment which should be completed later this month. The funding request is expected to be granted in December. An additional grant for $150,000 from Colorado Senate Bill 14-179 requires a 1-to-1 match. The CDBG-DR grant would be considered that match…

Later on Tuesday night, the town board voted to reallocate $780,000 in the CDBG-DR grant from the Scott Ponds and put it toward the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.

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.

CPW is restoring Greenbacks to Herman Gulch in Clear Creek County

Herman Gulch via TheDenverChannel.com
Herman Gulch via TheDenverChannel.com

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

@OmahaUSACE to begin ecosystem restoration project along Lower Boulder Creek

Lower Boulder Creek Restoration site map via Boulder County Open Space
Lower Boulder Creek Restoration site map via Boulder County Open Space

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Omaha District):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, in partnership with the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department, will hold a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of an ecosystem restoration project along an approximately one-mile stretch of Lower Boulder Creek. The ceremony will take place on Thursday, October 8, starting at 12:30 p.m. MDT at the project site, which is located between N 109th Street and Kenosha Road in Boulder County approximately 3.5 miles west of the Boulder County-Weld County line and 8 miles east of the city of Boulder. Limited parking will be available along the Boulder County property access road located just east of the 109th Street Bridge. See attached map. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will take place at the Goodhue Farmhouse located at the Carolyn Holmberg Preserve, 2009 S. 112th Street, Broomfield, Colorado.

BACKGROUND: Lower Boulder Creek once meandered across a broad floodplain that supported numerous wetlands, streamside vegetation, and associated native fish and wildlife populations. Since European settlement, the project reach and its associated habitats have been dramatically degraded by activities including upstream development, water diversions, pollution, non-native species, and gravel mining. During past on-site mining activities, the project reach of Lower Boulder Creek was channelized, and earthen levees were constructed along portions of its banks, thus disconnecting the channel from its historic floodplain and creating an impoverished stream and riparian environment. The project area is currently in a highly degraded state, which without active ecological restoration would take decades or longer to improve.

In 2011, the Omaha District completed a feasibility study which identified a feasible project to restore habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, restore wetland and stream values, reduce invasive species and provide other ecosystem improvements. A construction contract was awarded to American West Construction LLC of Denver, Colo. for $2.6 million, which includes realigning the one-mile section of Lower Boulder Creek to restore natural meanders, in-stream habitat, and the creek’s floodplain and planting native riparian, wetland, and upland grasses, forbs, trees and shrubs along the stream and within the floodplain to greatly improve wildlife habitat. The project is expected to be complete by Fall 2016.

Click here to go to the Boulder County Open Space website for all the inside skinny.