From Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay):
Ahead of the start of the waterfowl migration into Colorado, Colorado Parks and Wildlife technicians and officers are finishing up construction for a habitat improvement project at the Jackson Lake State Wildlife Area (SWA).
The habitat improvement project starts by being more efficient with its water.
Crews are installing 2,750 feet of piping – which is greater than the length of nine football fields – for the water delivery system into the managed wetlands. The addition of the infrastructure will be highly more efficient and hands off than the old ditch system that required nearly daily maintenance and clearing when the irrigation season is open.
“It is a big-scale project, but the idea is to make it simpler while saving time and money,” said Wildlife Technician Cory Bullen. “If we can get the water directly into the wetlands without all that loss we were having it saves the ditch company water and saves our water.”
Crews were able to secure a 2018 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Wetland Grant Award to the tune of $120,000 to pay for the vast majority of the $143,000 project bill. The remaining $23,000 was funded out of the local CPW area budget and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service.
The Jackson Lake SWA, located just to the north of Jackson Lake State Park in Morgan County, is 394 acres that is open to dove, rabbit and waterfowl hunting. The waterfowl is the main attraction of hunters, and in the Central Flyway first season that runs Oct. 12 through Dec. 2, the SWA averages around 650 waterfowl hunters with another 200-plus participating in the second season, Dec. 19-Jan. 31.
The majority of the first season hunters used to be in the first three weeks of the season before the irrigated wetlands, which at Jackson Lake SWA there are six of them on eight huntable areas, would begin to skim, or freeze over, by mid-November.
With the infrastructure in place, there is the ability to put a lot more water into the shallow wetlands earlier, not lose as much, and still have water within our rights available to use later in the season. Previously all the water would go out at once.
“A project like this will benefit the habitat and gives us the potential for more options on when we can irrigate,” said Wildlife Officer Todd Cozad. “We should be able to make it better for the waterfowl by having the ability to provide more open water for them. Hunters will be able to benefit from this as well with enhanced opportunities.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the west head gate was turned on and water reached the furthest pond in just five minutes. In years past, that used to take 1-2 days to get there with the old ditch system.
Other species aside from waterfowl that will reap the benefits from the project include greater sandhill cranes and the northern leopard frog.
Additional state wildlife areas in Morgan County with quality waterfowl hunting include Andrick Ponds, Brush Prairie Ponds and Elliott.