Saturday’s eighth annual Clear Creek Watershed Festival was a fun and educational experience for children and their parents. More than 20 local businesses, government agencies and nonprofits put together booths and stations for families to visit. For each station visited, the attendee would have her “passport” stamped. A full passport book earned a prize.
The event was started as a way to celebrate and educate the community, specifically children, on the importance of the watershed and how best to keep it clean…
Organizers Chris Crouse and Dave Holm said the festival is a way to teach attendees about watershed use and cleanliness factors, including wildlife/urban balance, high altitude, land-use impacts. The Clear Creek watershed not only supplies water for several communities, they said, it also supplies several breweries and Water World in Federal Heights.
This year, Crouse and Holm said, they tried to promote the event at schools as much as possible, as an opportunity to stimulate learning outside the classroom. And, overall, they anticipated about 500 people to visit the festival throughout the day…
Cannon said the festival is a great way to “get people exposed to what’s going on” in terms of water cleanliness. Cannon displayed various types of bugs from Clear Creek. He said the presence of certain bugs is “used as an indicator of healthy water,” and that it’s important to keep Clear Creek clean and safe.
“Anything that keeps kids connected to the environment is a good, healthy thing,” he said.
The Vasquez Canal Project is a multi-year multi-million dollar project that continues efforts by Denver Water to improve existing water diversion infrastructure. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project focuses on removing sections of the existing Vasquez Canal and replacing removed sections with a 114-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipe.
Work on the project has occurred in previous year with Denver Water replacing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal over the past two decades. Officials from Denver Water say they plan to replace about 2,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal in 2016, leaving roughly 15,000 feet to be replaced in the future.
Officials from Denver Water did not provide an overall projected cost on the project pointing out that, “funding allocation for this project is reassessed annually”. In previous year the project averaged around $750,000 per year in costs. Future projected cost estimates on the Vasquez Canal Project total between two to three million dollars annually.
Monies used for the project come directly from Denver Water which is funding operation, as it does all operational and capital projects, through water rate fees, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and system development charges for new services.
Work on the Vasquez Canal Project consists primarily of excavation and earth moving to facilitate the canal upgrade. “Crews will demolish the old concrete liner and covers, excavate the area and install the new 114-inch pipe, piece by piece,” stated Denver Water Communication Specialist Jimmy Luthye. Luthye explained Denver Water plans to, “work aggressively to complete this project in the next few years in an effort to replace aging infrastructure and improve the safety and strength of the entire water system.”
Ames Construction is the contractor of record for the project. For the past 20 years though, as previous sections of the Vasquez Canal have been replaced, employees of Denver Water performed the upgrade work. According to Denver Water this is the first year work on the project has been contracted out.
The Arapaho National Forest prepared an environmental assessment of the Vasquez Canal Project. All construction work on the project is being conducted entirely on National Forest System Lands. According to Denver Water that environmental assessment determined, “there would be no significant environmental impacts.” Officials from Denver Water went on to state, “They approved the project along with required best management practices, design criteria and monitoring designed to protect the area during construction.”
The Vasquez Canal is part of Denver Water’s historic water diversion network that brings mountain runoff to the Front Range and Denver Metro area. The original canal was completed in the late 1930s. According to Denver Water, information on the original construction of the canal is fairly limited but officials from the municipal water supplier stated, “we suspect that some of it (Vasquez Canal) was originally dug by hand because the canal had to be cut into the side of a steep mountain… making it difficult for machines to access.”
In the late 1950s Denver Water covered the originally open Vasquez Canal, effectively creating a tunnel. A drought during the early 1950s prompted the action, which was intended to mitigate evaporation as water traveled through the diversion system.
Water utilized by the Denver Water’s diversion system follows a zigzagging path of infrastructure as it descends from snowmelt in the high Rockies to homes along the Front Range.
Diversion structures in the Upper Williams Fork River send water through the Gumlick Tunnel, formerly known as the Jones Pass Tunnel, where the water passes under the Continental Divide. From there water travels through the Vasquez Tunnel, which brings the water back through to the other side of the Continental Divide, where it enters into Grand County and Vasquez Creek. The water is then diverted through the Moffat Tunnel back under the Continental Divide for a final time and into South Boulder Creek, feeding into Gross Reservoir, a major water storage reservoir for Denver Water.
Park Rangers were enforcing and informing visitors of the tubing and swimming restriction along Clear Creek on Saturday.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office announced the restriction on Thursday, citing dangerous conditions because of high water.
These temporary restrictions apply to Clear Creek in unincorporated Jefferson County, as well as those portions of Clear Creek within the City of Golden, including Vanover Park.
Colorado’s Own Channel 2 spotted two people with tubes ready to hop in the water were stopped short by onlookers who informed them tubing was restricted.
Water activities prohibited by the order include all single-chambered air inflated devices such as belly boats, inner tubes, and single chambered rafts, as well as “body-surfers” and swimming.
Kayaks, paddle boards, whitewater canoes and multi-chambered professionally guided rafts and river boards are exempt, but are encouraged to observe extreme caution due to the safety concerns surrounding swift moving water and floating debris.
Authorities said the water of the Arkansas River where the rescue happened [ed. 3 young people rescued from the Arkansas River Tuesday, June 7] was flowing fairly fast. Earlier in the day, it was measured at 4,300 cubic feet per second — fast but not unusual during the annual spring runoff.
Rapids on the Roaring Fork River are expected to peak this weekend, said Aspen Fire Department Chief Rick Balentine, citing information from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
Balentine said the currents are “dangerously high” now and cautioned those on the water to wear some form of safety flotation device.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88 percent of people who drown in boating accidents are not wearing a life vest, Balentine said.
He cited another Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stat noting alcohol is a factor in 70 percent of water-recreation accidents.
“These are pretty stark facts,” Balentine said. “If you see somebody about to do something stupid, say something…
On Thursday, the river flow hit around 1,640 cubic feet per second, Ingram said.
River officials often draw a parallel between one cubic feet per second and one basketball — meaning 1,640 cubic feet per second is the equivalent to about 1,640 basketballs rushing down a river at once.
Ingram expects the Slaughterhouse area, one of the faster, more thrilling sections of the river, to reach between 1,800 and 2,200 cfs this weekend.
The National Weather Service in Denver extended a flood advisory for the Poudre in Larimer County and Weld County. The river isn’t projected to reach flood stage through early next week, but residents can expect minor flooding of low-lying areas along the river, according to the advisory.
South Platte River Basin snowpack sat at 194 percent of its historical average on Friday morning and was even higher earlier this week thanks to remnants from spring snows. That’s significant for the Poudre, which is fed by mountain snowpack in addition to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project.
As temperatures soar into the 90s this weekend, snowmelt will push the river to 6.7 feet at the canyon mouth by Sunday morning, the advisory said. Flood stage is 7.5 feet, and the river stood at 6.2 feet Friday morning.
At 6 feet, water covers the bike path and trail along the river in and near Fort Collins.
Colorado has twice as much snowpack than normal for this time of year, according to the latest snowpack report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The cool, wet weather in May contributed to the exceptional water supply Colorado appears to have heading into the summer. According to the report, as of June 6, the state was at 201 percent of the average for snowpack, compared to last year’s 95 percent.
“This should be a good year waterwise for cities and for farmers; that’s the bottom line,” said Brian Werner of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
The fact that snow is still visible in the mountains at this time of year means the runoff should last longer than it usually does, which in turn means less water will be pulled from reservoir storage later in the year, he said.
And the snowpack is especially good in the northern Colorado area. The majority of remaining snowpack in Colorado exists in the northern mountains, especially in watersheds such as the South Platte and Upper Colorado, which are above 10,000 feet.
As of June 6, both river basins that feed into northern Colorado — the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin — were above 200 percent of the median snowpack.
As for reservoir storage, the state is currently at 108 percent of average, according to the June 1 update from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is exactly where the state was last year, as well.
The Upper Colorado River Basin is at 110 percent of average for reservoir storage and the South Platte River Basin is at 112 percent of the average.
Werner said the Colorado-Big Thompson project is 20 percent above normal, which is promising at this point in the year. The Colorado-Big Thompson project is a series of reservoirs, pipelines, diversions and ditches that provides water to municipalities, farmers and other water users throughout northeastern Colorado.
Werner said going into summer, farmers and cities should be in good shape if nothing drastic occurs within the upcoming months.
“We shouldn’t have any major water worries this year,” he said.
The number of people taking commercial rafting trips on Clear Creek this year was likely higher than 2014, which would make 2015 the third straight year of improvement for the industry, according to the Colorado Rafting Association.
The association saw more than 72,000 commercial customers in Clear Creek in 2014. The association hasn’t finished compiling figures for 2015 year, said executive director David Costlow, but “my guess is this year it will exceed that,” he said.
“That’s big business for Clear Creek County,” Costlow said.
According to the organization’s 2014 report:
• 60,644 people took commercial rafting trips on Clear Creek in 2011.
• 35,422 took Clear Creek trips in 2012.
• 61,172 took Clear Creek trips in 2013.
• 72,224 took Clear Creek trips in 2014.
Idaho Springs-based company Raft Masters had 6,036 visitors in 2015 — up about 7 percent from last year, said owner Dennis Wied. The company has been running trips in Clear Creek for about 10 years.
“Rafting on Clear Creek is becoming really popular,” Wied said. “Initially our Clear Creek operations made up 25 percent of our total operations between Clear Creek and the Arkansas River. Now it’s more like 40 percent.”
Wied said the county’s proximity to Denver has helped boost its image, especially for people wanting to make day trips…
Costlow said other areas have higher fees than Clear Creek. He pointed to the Arkansas River, which is called the most rafted river in the world.
“The fees there are such that a lot of (rafting companies), although they still run there, they’ve transferred a lot of their business to Clear Creek …,” Costlow said. “That’s why Clear Creek County gets the increase in revenue.”
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.
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.