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

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

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.

A look at the state of the whitewater business along the Arkansas River


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A nearly 7 percent increase in Arkansas River rafting business last summer bodes well for a further rebound in the industry, yet some fear the river is slowly losing its share of the market. The Arkansas River reported 191,307 boaters last summer, up 6.6 percent from 2013, according to a report issued this week by the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

While the Arkansas River remains the most rafted river in the state by a large margin, it has lost about 3 percent of its market share to other rivers, according to the rafters group.

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

One river showing big gains is Clear Creek west of Denver. Clear Creek reported 72,224 rafters last summer, up from 61,172 in 2013 and 35,422 in 2012.

“Clear Creek has been drawing substantially because of its convenience to Denver,” said the outfitter association’s Joe Greiner of Wilderness Aware Rafting in Buena Vista. “They are taking more (of the) people who used to come to the Arkansas River from Denver.”

The main staging area for Clear Creek rafting is Idaho Springs on Interstate 70.

Greiner said rafting on the Arkansas remains “well off its peak” of just over 252,000 customers in 2001. That peak was followed by an all-time low of 139,178 boaters during the drought year of 2002.

It was a plunge that the local industry hasn’t fully rebounded from. In 2007, the river came close with 239,887 boaters. Then came the Great Recession and a string of summers marred by drought and wildfires.

Rafting is big business.

The $23.7 million in direct 2014 expenditures on Arkansas River rafting multiplies to an overall economic impact of $60.7 million when spending for items like lodging, gas and food is factored into the equation.

Greiner credits strong water flows and the absence of major wildfires as big contributors to the increased business last summer. Last summer’s river-related deaths totaled 11 — three of which were attributed to commercial rafting accidents — but were not seen as scaring away business.

“The public is more educated and not reacting to headlines like they used to. People are taking responsibility for which section of the river they choose based on their physical limitations, river conditions and experience,” Greiner said.

If the Arkansas River is to get back to its past peak season of 250,000 customers, Greiner thinks the Browns Canyon national monument status designation would do the trick. The canyon, located between Salida and Buena Vista, is being considered for the federal status. [ed. President Obama signed the executive order designating Browns Canyon as a nation monument on February 19, 2015.]

“It would put a star on the map and people would plan their trip around that. If they find out the best way to see the national monument is by raft I think it would improve the status of the river,” Greiner said.

Friends of Browns Canyon have lobbied in Washington, D.C. and gotten positive feedback.

“There is a good chance of it,” Greiner said.

Another positive sign for this year’s rafting season is the snowpack.

“It is in pretty good shape although it has been warm and we’ve lost some (snow), if you look at the three critical gauges, they are all above average,” Greiner said.

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

Clear Creek: A river runs though it — The Clear Creek Courant

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Here’s part II of the series on Clear Creek from the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh). Here’s an excerpt:

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek.

Through the mountains and down to the plains, Clear Creek has rushed along its jagged banks long before civilization ever found it and the gold hidden within. Its discovery led to industry, economy and community. The tie binding the stream to the people living along its banks will not be broken easily.

A commitment

Several thousand mines are estimated to crisscross the county. Lasting repercussions of the mining industry led to more than 100 efforts to clean up the stream and mitigate the mining pollution in the last decade.

According to David Holm, the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation’s executive director, stream mitigation is a “forever commitment.”

“Once you’re going down that road, you’ve really made a forever commitment for maintenance,” Holm said. “So mine drainage is like that. It is a forever problem.”

Mine waste removal and restoration of stream banks are projects that, once completed, are ultimately removed from the Clear Creek remediation radar screen, Holm said.

Clear Creek always had a “metal footprint” because of the natural mineralization in the mineral belt, which the stream cuts across, Holm said.

“So there’s no question that there would have been iron, manganese, aluminum in elevated levels, and probably a little bit of a diminished pH,” Holm said. “The tremendous increase in exposure to the weather and elements of the mineral zone, brought about by mining, definitely has increased that footprint, and we will never eliminate that additional increased footprint.”

However, the stream is cleaner today than in recent memory, thanks to efforts by the Watershed Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

A new industry

The mining industry, once so reliant on the stream, has dwindled to nearly nothing. In its place, a recreational industry has grown by leaps and bounds.

Since 1991, rafting companies using Clear Creek have experienced more than a 7,000 percent increase in customers. This increase comes at an ideal time, when the county is looking to transition to a recreation-based economy, with Clear Creek considered the area’s crown jewel.
The increase in visitors to the county had nearly a $19 million economic impact in 2013, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

Association executive director David Costlow said the meteoric rise in recreation over the years is in large part due to the stream’s close proximity to Denver and to the relatively relaxed regulations for outfitters launching in Clear Creek.

Costlow said a lot of companies based on other rivers, such as the Arkansas, now bring customers to Clear Creek.

Last year, 61,000 “user days” were reported on the stream. A user day is how the rafting industry tracks customers and equates to one customer spending time on the river during one day. In 1991, the Colorado River Outfitters Association noted, Clear Creek had just 800 user days. Today the area has 15 rafting outfitters, with several owning locations in the area and putting in additional features such as zip-lines.

“You can see the growth on Clear Creek pretty rapidly. It was just 30,000 (user days) not too long ago, and now it is around 60,000,” Costlow said. “It’s a fun river, a lot of rapids per mile.”

‘Mining recreation opportunities’

County officials see the stream as a large piece in the area’s economic puzzle. In 2010, Clear Creek Open Space, with the help of funding from a Federal Highway Administration grant, created the Lawson Whitewater Park. The park includes boulders that create specialty chutes and waves for kayakers and other boaters along the 450-foot stretch of Clear Creek just upstream from Mile Hi Rafting. The park also has parking and a changing station with environmentally friendly toilets.

County Commissioner Tim Mauck said Clear Creek saw little to no rafting 15 years ago, and now it is the second busiest river in Colorado. The county is working on a Greenway Project, which it hopes one day will create an uninterrupted recreational space following the stream from one end of the county to the other.

Earlier this year, officials met for a groundbreaking ceremony for a $13.9 million project that will link Clear Creek and Jefferson counties with a 10-foot-wide concrete trail for 6 miles, improve stream access, and link the Oxbow parcel with Mayhem Gulch.

“Looking for recreational opportunities is really something we need to position ourselves to take advantage of,” Mauck said. “The stream is the lifeblood in so many ways, not just physically to the necessities of life, but we’re drawn to it in ways that just make obvious sense.”

Mauck said Clear Creek offers a diversity of recreational opportunities such as rafting, kayaking, angling and gold panning, and the county needs to continue to transform itself and take advantage of the creek, but now in a different way.

“It’s (now about) mining the recreation opportunities,” Mauck said.

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.

Georgetown: Meter replacement project nearly complete

Georgetown Colorado
Georgetown Colorado

From the Clear Creek Courant (Beth Potter):

Georgetown is about to complete its water-meter replacement program, and rather than asking homeowners to foot the $550 installation bill, the town took out a loan and got a grant to cover the cost. The town is replacing 660 meters because they were not accurately recording how much water homeowners were using. The town board discussed the issue for two years, trying to determine the best way to foot the cost.

The town received a $170,000 grant in 2013 from the state Department of Local Affairs and has taken out a loan for $211,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to pay the rest of the cost. The loan is for 30 years at 4.1 percent interest, according to town administrator Tom Hale.

Residents will repay the debt through increases to their water bills, though Hale is unsure how much the increase will be. The $211,000 loan is part of a larger amount the town has borrowed to pay for renovations to the Georgetown Lake dam. He expects water rates to reflect the entire loan repayment in 2016.

Georgetown mayor Craig Abrahamson said having residents pay for the new water meters through small increases in their water bills would be “an easier pill to swallow” for most people.

The town hired a company from Utah to replace the meters, which will allow a meter reader to drive down the street to collect meter data.

The primary purpose of replacing the meters, Abrahamson said, is to improve their accuracy and help the town better assess how much water residents actually use.
More than 87 percent of Georgetown’s 597 water users needed new meters. The radio-read meters cost $400, and installation costs $150. The remaining 75 were installed within the last couple of years and don’t need to be replaced.
Based on readings from the new meters, the town may determine whether it can lower water rates.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Conservation front and center in Broomfield


From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to conservationcenter.org/.

Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=1098.

More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=439.

More conservation coverage here.

Westminster piloting native grasses to replace Kentucky bluegrass in some parks


From The Denver Post (Austin Briggs):

The new grass coming up on the west side of Kensington Park isn’t replacing a die-off — it’s replacing grass that was killed off.

Parks officials this year used an herbicide to kill the Kentucky bluegrass that had been there prior to planting native seeds — including fescue, rye and Canadian bluegrass.

The new ground cover will conserve water and save the city money, said Jessica Stauffer, the community outreach coordinator for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Library department.

“We went $200,000 over budget last year in watering costs for our parks,” Stauffer said. “The native grass being seeded stays greener longer and means fewer taxpayer dollars used for maintenance.”

In addition to Kensington, England and Oakhurst Park II are also being re-seeded in select spots totaling 8.4 acres away from playgrounds and high-traffic areas.

The new blend, which will grow between eight to 10 inches tall, won’t need to be mowed because it will follow a natural cycle of dormancy and growth, said parks supervisor Jerry Magnetti.

“We’ll do a second seeding this fall,” Magnetti said. “It’s a low-grow, low-maintenance seed mix that will fill in and look beautiful, especially in the fall and cooler months.”

While it’ll take another year or two for the grasses to establish, the goal is to see how this experiment works and perhaps apply it to a citywide program amid a long-term drought and rising water costs.

In 2005 the Department of Parks, Recreation and Libraries used 216 million gallons of water at a cost of $863,675 and in 2012 this grew to 319 million gallons and $1,362,975.

An acre of established native grass with trees and shrub beds costs about $500 a year to maintain, compared to $2,100 for Kentucky bluegrass.

More conservation coverage here.