CWCB: Colorado Watershed Symposium Succeeds At Preparing Coalitions to Move Forward on Stream Recovery

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Kevin Houck):

More than 150 community leaders last week resolved to work together in strong coalitions to focus on rebuilding streams and watersheds damaged by last fall’s flooding.

The Colorado Watershed Symposium, a daylong event July 18 in Loveland with the theme “Working with Watersheds: It’s More Than Just the River”, included presentations on disaster-relief funding, watershed master-planning, and intergovernmental agreements. Most importantly, representatives from nine watershed coalitions met and developed joint plans for the “next steps” in restoring their watersheds.

The symposium was sponsored by the Colorado Recovery Office, the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Molly Urbina, Colorado’s Chief Recovery Officer, told participants: “Each of you have taken a collaborative approach to watershed planning, even though it may be easier to plan alone. If nothing else, this past year has taught us just how interdependent we are. Every action in the watershed impacts another point in that watershed, up or down stream. We are in this together.”

The nine watershed coalitions in attendance echoed Urbina’s call for continued collaboration. Representatives from each coalition shared best practices from their public outreach programs and emphasized the need to continue involving private stakeholders in the recovery process.

“Creek restoration cannot happen in a vacuum. It must be accomplished along with efforts to restore public and private infrastructure and floodplain management.” said Julie McKay, director of the Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain coalitions. “It’s really great to be able to compare experiences and approaches of all the coalitions across the Front Range.”

“When you win the hearts and minds, you win the river,” said Gordan Gilstrap, of the Little Thompson Coalition. Dave Skuodas of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District echoed Gilstrap’s sentiments. “Even though we have the power to dictate, we choose to facilitate. We want people down in the stream using it and recreating in it. We want people to take ownership in the creek.”

Carol Ekarius, director of the highly successful Coalition of the Upper South Platte, delivered the day’s keynote address, emphasizing the need for coalitions to consider a broad array of potential issues when they create master plans. “The flood doesn’t start in the corridor; the flood starts in the shed,” said Ekarius. “I tell people we’re a watershed collaborative, forest collaborative, and emergency response collaborative. It allows us to do all kinds of work.”

Each of the nine coalitions split into breakout sessions to coordinate next steps. In their informal discussions, many expressed interest in becoming formal non-profit organizations. They also agreed that Colorado’s watersheds are interconnected and that any successful recovery effort has to take into account both the upstream and downstream portions of the river.

“I was pleased at how the various coalitions came together and focused on how they can move forward,” said Chris Sturm of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is very important, because the coalitions will be very well positioned for disaster relief funding as it becomes available.”

Representatives from the Big Thompson, Boulder Creek, Coal Creek, Fall River and Fish Creek, Left Hand, Little Thompson, St. Vrain, Upper Fountain and Cheyenne Creek, and South Platte all reported different challenges and expressed interest in continued coordination on recovery issues.

All stakeholders recognized the difficulties of the recovery process and emphasized the need for effective long-term recovery planning. The Symposium is part of a larger series of events that work toward achieving coordinated and efficient recovery planning. For those interested in attending the next event, the 2014 Sustaining

Colorado Watersheds Conference will be held in Avon on October 7-9 at the Westin Riverfront Resort.

The flooding affected 24 counties. It triggered nine small dam failures, damaged or destroyed nearly 225 water-diversion structures, damaged an estimated 32,000 acres of croplands and swept away $540,000 in state-owned stream-gauge equipment. During the floods, many northern Colorado waterways experienced 100-year or 500-year events.

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