Beavers Offer Help for Western Waters: Beavers are a key partner in protecting and restoring western streams, watersheds, and habitat — @AudubonRockies

Beaver wetland in the Cameron Peak Fire perimeter. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

Colorado and the West face unprecedented drought conditions, impacts from wildfires, and water scarcity driven by climate change. These changes threaten our local and regional water supplies, our food supply, bird habitat, economies, and our quality of life. Beavers can help mitigate these impacts. Beavers re-shape the landscapes where they live, creating wet meadow complexes in an otherwise dry area. These diverse wetlands provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife. Beaver wetlands even survived Colorado’s largest wildfire, the Cameron Peak Fire, and continue to provide critical water quality and wildlife habitat functions, a weighty win-win.

To learn more, Audubon Rockies staff went into the Poudre Canyon to capture images of the stark, burnt landscape surrounding vibrant green vegetation and clear flowing water at the Cameron Peak burn scar. We also caught up with an ecohydrologist and researcher who specializes in beavers, Dr. Emily Fairfax, to ask questions about the resilience and benefits of beaver complexes. Here’s what we learned.

Watersheds are our primary water infrastructure. How do beaver wetlands help watersheds and water supplies be more resilient to and recover from wildfire?

Beaver wetlands can store an enormous amount of water on the landscape—both in the surface water ponds and canals as well as underground in the soil that surrounds them. These wetlands accumulate water during wetter periods when there is a lot of precipitation or runoff. Then when it’s dry and the incoming water supply is “cut off”, the water stored in beaver complexes is still accessible to nearby plant roots, keeping them green and lush. Plants become particularly dangerous fire fuels when they’re dry, but the plants in beaver complexes are well-watered so they’re much less flammable than the surrounding areas. It’s like trying to start a campfire: you want to gather the driest materials possible; you don’t go and gather a bunch of wet leaves.

The vegetation in this beaver wetland rebounded vigorously after the Cameron Peak Fire. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

How do beaver wetlands support ecological services directly related to rivers and water supply downstream?

Beavers have three main impacts on river water: they slow it, spread it, and store it. Importantly, they do not stop water altogether. Historically there were a lot more wetlands throughout the American West than what we see today, including many more beaver wetlands. So when we think about beavers changing how and when water is delivered downstream, it’s important to remember that we’re currently in the altered flow regime and adding wetlands nudges the riverscapes back towards a more natural and resilient state.

One or two beaver wetlands might not make a big difference in how and when a river flows. Yet there are many examples—especially in the Rocky Mountains—of 10’s to 100’s of beaver complexes, one after another, fundamentally changing the flow regime of a river or stream. The more beaver complexes you have, the larger their effect will be. In many places, snow has the primary job of slowing and storing water. But as the climate continues to change and precipitation shifts from snow-dominant to rain-dominant in parts of the West, something else is going to need to start slowing and storing water so that it’s available in the summer when plants need it. Beaver wetlands are one thing that can help do that.

Beaver dams and the wetlands they create can store an enormous amount of water. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

As climate change reshapes our water supply availability through deep periods of drought and intense localized storms, how are beaver wetlands able to help?

Beaver wetlands are very complex, broad landscape features. Their resilience to droughts and floods and fires all go hand-in-hand. When a flood wave travels down a narrow, confined stream channel, it has a lot of power, moves quickly, and can be really destructive. But when it hits a beaver wetland, the flood wave is routed in the broad pond and along the canals. This causes it to physically spread out over the entire floodplain and gives water time to sink into the soil. The volume of water is the same in both situations, but when it’s spread out by the beaver wetland it loses power and some of it is stored locally instead of all the water just ripping downstream. Then when you do have a deep, prolonged drought, enough water has been stored in the beaver wetland and surrounding soil to sustain the ecosystem and keep habitat intact.

Beaver wetlands allows floodwaters to spread out and sink into the soil. This becomes extra valuable after severe wildfires, which often lead to floods. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

Can you describe how beaver wetlands sustain key habitat for birds and other wildlife?

Beavers do an outstanding job of both creating and maintaining stable, highly biodiverse habitat. They are incredibly resistant to disturbance, and that makes them an attractive place to call home for many different animal species. If you live in or around the beaver wetland, your home is less likely to wash away, dry out, or burn. And if you’re a species that needs reliable water, that is getting increasingly rare in the West. But it’s abundant in beaver wetlands. Beavers also create a mosaic of water temperatures, water depths, shading, and land covers by simply going about their daily lives chewing trees, digging canals, and building dams. They can transform even heavily degraded, simple streams into complex, heterogeneous wetlands capable of supporting a vast array of plants and animals with differing ecological needs. The beavers are doing it to ensure their own survival, but the secondary benefits for other species cannot be overstated.

A plethora of species live in the diverse habitats that beaver wetlands provide. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

Is there anything else you would like to add on the importance of beavers and their wetlands now and into the future?

Beavers and humans coexisted for thousands and thousands of years prior to the European-North American fur trade. Many Indigenous people on this continent know how important beavers are for creating and maintaining wetland habitat. I’m optimistic for beavers and their wetlands in the future; more and more people are getting interested and involved in beaver-based restoration and conservation every day. I just want people to remember that listening—not just to statistics and model outputs, but also to people and stories—is probably the fastest and most successful path forward.

All of us depend on natural systems for clean and reliable water. Beavers and the diverse habitat they support can be a key Western water security strategy—for people, birds, and other wildlife. Models show that climate change and historic drought will continue to affect the Colorado River Basin and further increase the severity and frequency of wildfires. These fires are devastating to communities, wildlife, and Colorado’s rivers and waterways. In the wake of Colorado’s three historic wildfires in 2020 and future wildfires, beaver activity and wetlands, and beaver mimicry low-tech process-based restoration techniques can help reduce the impacts of wildfires on water supplies and assist in wildfire recovery by sustaining wet-meadow and riverscape plant communities.

@DenverWater, @BoulderCounty to consider settlement proposal to end Gross Reservoir lawsuit — The #Denver Post

Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

From The Denver Post (Sam Tabachnik):

Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.

Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.

“The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”

Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement…

The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.

But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project…

Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.

Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land…

In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.

A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.

Your Voice Matters for #Colorado’s Rivers: Engage in the #COWaterPlan Update Process — @water4colorado

From Water for Colorado:

During the development of the Colorado Water Plan six years ago, Water for Colorado came together to help ensure Coloradans’ voices were heard in the creation of the plan. In the end, 30,000 public comments were submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, making it one of the largest and most celebrated examples of civic engagement in state history.

It’s time to once again ensure Coloradans’ voices are heard as the Colorado Water Plan undergoes an update. As you may have read about in last week’s blog post, the state’s nine Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) that inform the Water Plan are in the process of being updated, and it’s time for us all to get involved to ensure the long term health of our water and rivers. The month-long public comment period on BIP drafts has opened and runs through November 13, allowing residents to provide input on what they want to see in their community’s plan.

The eight major river basins, plus the Denver metro area, are shown on this map from the South Platte River Basin Roundtable. Each basin has its own roundtable, made up of volunteers, to address local water issues.
Credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

Basin Implementation Plans aren’t just important to the local basins and watersheds; they help build the scaffolding of the Colorado Water Plan overall. Crucially, the BIP public comment period is the first opportunity to engage community members, decision-makers, and all water stakeholders (that means you!) – especially those who may have been left out in years past – to ensure their voices are being heard.

Meaningfully commenting on your local plan can be as simple as asking your Basin Roundtable representatives to prioritize and protect local river flows and ensure opportunities for river enjoyment and recreation by all. To help you do this, Water for Colorado is collecting comments, which will then be submitted on your behalf to your local Basin Roundtable once the public comment period ends on Nov. 13.

If you want to get involved but are unsure of what to say or how to comment, we’ve used the expertise of our nine organizations to compile a few key recommendations that encompass what we believe is necessary for ensuring healthy and thriving rivers and watersheds as we face unprecedented climate change.


Manage rivers to benefit healthy flows for all communities, recreation, and fish and wildlife across the state by encouraging flexible, collaborative water-sharing and conservation programs to enhance environmental and recreational flows.


Actively manage our watersheds‘ forests, streams, and wetlands, the source of our clean drinking water, to improve their resilience to drought and fires by incorporating nature-based solutions that protect, sustainably manage and restore headwater streams, riparian corridors, and wetlands. This includes scaling up projects that utilize natural process based restoration methods (e.g. beaver mimicry structures and other natural approaches) that result in beneficial ecological and hydrological processes to ensure communities and habitats are more resilient to a changing climate.


Water is one of the few things that truly connects us all, so we must support clean water and healthy river access for everyone by ensuring ongoing opportunities for public outreach and engagement to ensure diverse, inclusive, and equitable engagement on basin-level water planning efforts.


Support our local food, local families, and wildlife through water-smart agriculture practices such as upgrading agricultural infrastructure to provide multiple environmental and recreational benefits, promoting soil health, and developing markets for lower water use crops.


Support water-smart planning for our new growth (including limits to areas of non-essential turf grass) and increase water reuse and recycling. Reduce current legal and financial barriers to the adoption of water conservation and efficiency programs and practices.


Encourage basin funding prioritization of multi-benefit projects enhancing river and watershed health, which includes support for the development of regional funding programming (ex: 2020 7A ballot measures) and the efficient implementation of all state and federal funds.

Now that you have a deeper sense of the types of updates that would benefit not only the local plans, but eventually the statewide Water Plan update for the sake of our rivers and communities at large, visit our action alert and take just a few moments to make your voice heard!

Investment #water speculation bill clears the Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee: Despite opposition from agriculture interests — @AspenJournalism

The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that are irrigated with water from the canal.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bill aimed at outlawing water investment speculation, even as they acknowledged their attempt to address the complex problem is an imperfect one.

On Wednesday, members of Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee voted to put forth a bill in the 2022 legislative session that aims to prohibit a buyer of agricultural water rights from profiting on the increased value of the water in a future sale. The measure is an attempt to prevent out-of-state investors from making a profit off a public resource that grows scarcer in a water-short future driven by climate change.

The draft bill gives the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine a purchaser up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring. Those making a complaint could also be fined up to $1,000 if state officials deem a complaint frivolous. A second section of the bill also directs the board of directors of mutual ditch companies to set a minimum percent of agricultural water rights for one purchaser to hold that would trigger the presumption that they are engaging in investment water speculation.

Western Slope state Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Eagle County, and Don Coram, R-Montrose County, and Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Boulder County, are sponsoring the bill.

At the beginning of Wednesday’s discussion, Donovan vented her frustration with what she called mixed messages from water managers. Most seem to agree that stopping investment water speculation is important, but no one can agree on the best way to do that.

“There was a general agreement that investment water speculation was an important issue to work on, so much so… that we invested taxpayer dollars in order to turn out a report,” she said. “We have put resources into addressing this issue and now the feedback is ‘don’t do anything, slow down.’”

Donovan was referring to a report released in August by a work group, which was tasked with exploring ways to strengthen the state’s current anti-speculation laws. The group, made up of water managers and policy experts from across water sectors, came up with a list of concepts on how to prevent water investment speculation. But they did not give clear recommendations to legislators because they could not come to a consensus on which concepts to implement.

Upper #SanJuanRiver Basin #snowpack, #drought, and #streamflow report — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

Snow report

Wolf Creek Ski Area got another round of snow, with 6 inches falling throughout the day on Tuesday, Oct. 26, according to its snow report.

The ski area has received 28 inches so far this season.

According to the U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 3 inches of snow water equivalent as of 10 a.m. on Oct. 27.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins were at 431 percent of the Oct. 27 median in terms of snow pack.

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 80.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27.

Based on 86 years of water records at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 29 cfs, recorded in 1967.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1942 at 870 cfs.

The average flow rate for this date is 133 cfs.

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 66.2 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 645 cfs in 1999.

A new lowest recorded rate was recorded this year for this date, earlier in the day, at 40.4 cfs.

Based on 59 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 158 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 4,140 cfs in 1973.

Colorado Drought Monitor map October 26, 2021.

Drought report

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was last updated on Oct. 19.

The NIDIS website indicates 100 percent of Archuleta County is ab- normally dry.

The percentage of the county in a moderate drought is listed at 69.81 percent.

The NIDIS website also notes that 47.66 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, which is up slightly from last week’s report of 42.68 percent.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 9.12 percent of the county, mostly the southwestern portion of the county, remains in an extreme drought, consistent with the previous report.

The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

No portion of the county is in an exceptional drought.