Dolores River restoration project underway in Dolores

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From the Cortez Journal (TJ Holmes):

Bill Coughlin, owner of Western Stream Works based in Ridgway, and Danny Bankston contracted with the U.S. Forest Service out of the Dolores Public Lands Office to complete a stream restoration project, part of a comprehensive plan that started with a Colorado Department of Transportation and forest service project to plant willows and improve parking at the Dolores River-Lost Canyon Creek confluence in 2006. “This is not an erosion problem, but what could we do to enhance the asset,” Coughlin said last week in the river bed. “It’s a continuing effort of the forest service to improve the area for recreation.” The Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Montezuma County and the town of Dolores also are partners in the project.

The project’s goals are to encourage the river to flow along the north side of the channel for rafting and to create additional wetland habitat, Coughlin said. “Our goal is to make (the river) look like we were never there, so it’s not overly contrived,” he said. The lines of boulders – called “vein arms” – being placed by Bankston might look natural, but they serve a specific purpose. They will keep the water rolling away from the bank, especially the southern bank, and following the path of least resistance along the northern bank. Smaller rocks and “fines” – very small rocks and sandy soil from the bed – will be deposited on the boulders in a process known as “chinking, just like a log cabin,” Coughlin said. The river will deposit its own fines over time, especially during high runoff. For the trout, holes will be dug behind the boulders. “We’re working with the river, not against it,” Coughlin said. “This is fine tuning, replicating what nature does. My goal is to make it look like we were never here. That’s the real magic.” By next spring’s runoff, the work will look even more natural, he said. Both the fishery and recreational opportunities will improve. The division of wildlife supports the project from that standpoint, Coughlin said, and much of the work that makes good fish habitat – eddies and rapids and holes – is fun for kayakers too. The weather may have curtailed planting willow trees and other stream-side shrubs this year, but Coughlin hopes to do some follow-up planting in the spring, perhaps with a group of science students from Dolores Middle and High schools…

The beach at the confluence will be preserved as part of what the Dolores Public Lands Office has re-named Wagner-Rotary Park in honor of Bill Wagner and the section of river from the Fourth Street bridge to the confluence generally known as Rotary Park, said Penny Wu, recreation specialist at the office. “We’ll protect the beach and place some rocks to prevent people from driving up the river,” Coughlin said. “We’ll also protect and improve the take-out to mitigate erosion.” In addition to placing the boulders to help direct the river flow, work to improve fish habitat and planting vegetation, Coughlin has plans to place more flat boulders at the beach area of the confluence to enhance the area for visitors. The work is formally called fluvial geomorphology, which means simply “the science of rivers,” Coughlin said. He has spent 20 years in the field of hydrology and said the fairly young field is always changing. The project ultimately “will help with low flow and help control (the water) at high flow, and it’s a good opportunity to create fish habitat,” he said.

Wu stopped by the river to observe the process and while there spotted four bald eagles and a red-tailed hawk soaring above Dolores.

More Dolores River coverage here.

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