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Summer Tour of the Upper Arkansas Basin
Otero Pump Station:
In the 1960’s Aurora Water partnered with Colorado Springs Utilities on the Homestake Water Project. The project collects water into Homestake Reservoir, pipes it to Turquoise Lake, and then pipes it down to Twin Lakes Reservoir, and eventually pipes the water through the Otero Pump Station. The water is pumped to the front range through the Homestake Pipeline to Spinney Reservoir for use by Aurora Water and to Rampart Reservoir for use by Colorado Springs. Tour attendees had the opportunity to tour the Otero Pump station, which pumps 114 MGD through eight pumps at 2,250 horsepower (HP), one pump at 900 HP and one at 450 HP. The project is an impressive engineering feat.
Arkansas River Diversion Project:
The next stop on the tour was the Arkansas River Diversion Project, which is a replacement of the diversion from the Arkansas River to the Otero Pump Station. Tour attendees got a first look at the diversion in mid-construction. The re-design of this diversion involved experts in recreational hydraulics, river intakes structures, fishery biology, and experience with the Arkansas River. The design included 1-D and 2-D modelling, and a 1/12th scale prototype 3D model was built to test the functionality of the design. Furthermore, the project received funding from multiple agencies including the CWCB and CPW to cover the added incremental cost of the components for recreation and fisheries. The project is anticipated to finish in 2020, and it will have three channels comprised of a fish ladder, spillway and recreational boat chute. This multi-agency project will not only improve the functionality of the diversion structure for water supply, but it will also open the upper river to new recreation opportunities and provides fish passage.
Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project:
The Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project has successfully performed the first fen transplant. The project has many partners, including several local municipalities, state agencies, federal agencies, and the Colorado Mountain College. Fens are a unique type of wetland that are found at high elevations. Fens have three unique characteristics: they have at least 16 inches of organic soil, they have plants that have adapted to nutrient rich water sources and saturation, and have a nutrient rich groundwater supply. Organic soils can take thousands of years to form, making it impossible to create from scratch on human time-scales. The Fish and Wildlife Service has classified fens as Category I Resources and has determined that fens are unmitigable. As a result of this policy, projects may be deemed infeasible if fens are located in potential areas of disturbance, such as on lands for proposed reservoirs or recreation facilities. The purpose of the research project was to demonstrate one possible method that could replicate the form and function of a naturally occurring fen. The project design was to transplant relic soil and vegetation to a spot that previously had hosted a fen, but was harvested for peat back in the early 1940s. We got to see first-hand how well the transplanted fen is taking to its new home. It looks beautiful and full of life. We even got to feel how squishy the soil is! Brad Johnson, the project’s professional wetland scientist, shared the results of his vegetation survey with us and everything seems to be working better than expected. The project is currently in monitoring, which will continue for several more years. The federal agencies and other partners have visited the site several times since construction and continue to be involved.
US Fish and Wildlife Fish Hatchery:
Our bus pulled up to the stately historical building, something you might expect to see as a proud town hall or hotel building. Inside, however, it is full of row after row of fish tanks! The USFWS has operated the Leadville Fish Hatchery since 1889. They raise sport fish, endangered fish, and Laramie Toads. And since we are a water-focused group, our tour included a sneak peak into the water treatment facility specifically designed to kill the whirling disease. The double filtration system, combined with UV lights, has kept the facility disease free. It is impressive to learn about how the genetic variations of the fish are considered before breeding, how the eggs are collected, and how much effort goes into the keeping everything flowing smoothly. They are open to the public and it is worth the drive to check it out yourself!