The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Cutthroat Trout Habitat Restoration Project

Thanks to the very hard work of our volunteers, the U.S. Forest Service, and National Forest Foundation, the Watershed Council was able to complete our cutthroat trout habitat restoration project on Shrine Pass before the snow began to stick. Over 3 miles of a closed Forest Service road, which was contributing sediment to Turkey and Lime Creeks and degrading spawning habitat, was scarified (making it impassible to 4-wheel drive traffic) and reseeded with a native seed mix and erosion control fabric to return it to its natural state.

In total, three miles of stream bank, 10 acres of watershed, and 20 acres of wildlife habitat were enhanced. These efforts will establish a healthy riparian buffer which will improve instream water quality by filtering sediment and pollutants that would otherwise enter Turkey and Lime Creeks.

Keeping natives alive on Abrams Creek — Colorado Trout Unlimited

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Living with less water—that’s the reality facing all of us who depend on the Upper Colorado River for our drinking water, food production, and outdoor recreation.

A recent scientific paper found that the Upper Colorado River Basin has lost 7 percent of its flows in last three decades due to higher temperatures caused by human-induced climate change. In a basin that supplies water for 40 million people and where every drop is used and accounted for, that’s only the latest red flag that our world is changing and that we need to take collective action to keep our rivers and communities healthy.

That’s why projects like Abrams Creek are so important.

This tiny creek outside of Gypsum has a rare population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout that’s genetically unique and the only aboriginal trout population in the Eagle River watershed. And because Abrams Creek has a lower elevation than many cutthroat streams, say biologists, its native trout might be better adapted to warmer temperatures—another reason why this vulnerable fish population is important to preserve.

For more than a century, however, Abrams Creek has been dewatered by irrigation diversions that drastically reduce its flows in late summer and fall. The trout have been hanging on, but they’re seriously pressured. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has called this population the “highest priority” for cutthroat conservation efforts in Western Colorado.

In 2016, Trout Unlimited’s Mely Whiting helped negotiate a deal with the local irrigation company, Buckhorn Valley Metro District, which agreed to pipe their irrigation ditch and thereby reduce leakage by 40 percent, with the water savings going back into the creek to keep the fish healthy.

The biggest hurdle was money. Piping the irrigation ditch along several miles of ditch would cost more than $1 million.

A year later, says Whiting, this fundraising goal has been met, thanks to efforts by TU, Eagle Valley Trout Unlimited, Buckhorn Valley, CPW and the Eagle River Watershed Council, who secured grants from a variety of sources, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Basin Roundtable, Bureau of Reclamation and the town of Gypsum, as well as donations from BLM, Colorado’s Species Conservation Fund and local busnesses Fortius Realty, NAI Mountain and Alpine Bank.

“Turns out, a lot of people were ready and willing to step up to protect this jewel of a stream,” says Whiting. Because of these collective efforts, she says, the project is officially a go. Construction is expected to start next year on piping the ditch, and the future of Abrams Creek cutthroats looks bright.

In an age of changing climate and paralyzing partisanship, it’s easy to get discouraged about the prospects for our rivers and streams.

One lesson of Abrams Creek: In a world of less water, there’s hope for preserving the health and quality of our rivers, fish and wildlife if we dig in and work together on solutions.

For more information and to donate to the project, go to TU’s Abrams Creek project page.

Randy Scholfield is Trout Unlimited’s director of communications for the Southwest.

Water Update — Colorado Central Magazine

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s my latest column for Colorado Central Magazine

MINUTE 323

Several tributaries of the Colorado River get their start in the crags of the Central Colorado mountains. Storied rivers: Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and the powerhouse Gunnison. They’ve all faced the footstep of humankind. The mines dotting the slopes, hay fields, ranching, orchards and cornfields bear witness and are now part of the allure of the high country. Folks cast a line, shoot rapids and enjoy the scenery of those waterways.

On September 27, 2017, the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico inked Minute 323, the amendment to the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty for Utilization of Water covering operations on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers. (The Rio Grande is another of Central Colorado’s contributions to the Western U.S. economy.)

An important part of Minute 323 are environmental flows for the Colorado River Delta. Most everyone knows the river doesn’t reach the sea any longer. Environmental streamflow was initiated under Minute 319 signed by then Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

In March 2016 a diverse group of conservationists, biologists, irrigators and government officials effected a release of 100,000 acre-feet of water from Morelos Dam into the dry Colorado River Delta. There was a line of vehicles racing point to point along the river to witness the river’s front. At San Luis Rio Colorado, most of the residents went down to the river to celebrate the return of the river although many had no memory of running water in the sandy channel.

There was a great deal of success from channeling some of the streamflow to restoration sites in the Delta. Within weeks, new growth sprouted – cottonwoods and willows. Much of the diverted water served to replenish groundwater supplies. Wildlife immediately started using the habitat.

There probably won’t be a repeat of the Colorado River once again reaching the sea. The environmental flows in Minute 323 are planned to be set to work in the restoration of the Delta. It was great to see the river reach the sea but the conservationists want to concentrate flows like irrigators do for maximum yield.

Another feature of the deal allows Mexico to store water in Lake Mead to better manage their diversions for agriculture. The U.S. is also helping to rebuild and upgrade Mexican infrastructure. Under Minute 319, Mexico was allowed to continue storing water, and that water was used for the pulse flow. The idea is that greater efficiency in Mexico will lead to more storage in Lake Mead.

Currently, Arizona, California and Nevada are working on a drought contingency plan to stave off a shortage declaration in Lake Mead. Arizona’s Colorado River allocation takes a big hit under a declaration. Mexico’s water in Lake Mead will help. Negotiations about the drought contingency plan will now move forward with greater certainty with the signing of Minute 323.

The final signatures for the Minute came from Roberto Salmón (Mexico) and Edward Drusina (U.S.). There were several officials from President Obama’s administration in attendance, including Jennifer Gimbel and Mike O’Connor. The negotiations started before last year’s election but did not conclude before the inauguration.

Minute 323 is an important piece of the puzzle for administering the Colorado River.

Central Colorado is joined at the economic hip with the Colorado River. A lot of transbasin water flows down the Arkansas River from the Twin Lakes and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects. Some is pumped over to South Park by Colorado Springs and Aurora but most of it goes down to Lake Pueblo and the Fry-Ark partners. Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security pump some back north in the Fountain Valley. Cities along the river divert and treat the water for their populations. The water also is used to grow the famous crops in the Arkansas Valley: Rocky Ford melons, Pueblo chile, corn and others. Timing the releases from Twin Lakes and Turquoise Reservoir also contributes to the rafting economy. 100 miles of the Arkansas River are designated as gold medal fisheries. Transbasin flows help the riparian habitat.

SHORT TAKES

• Comments about managing the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area are due by November 10, 2017. Check out the AHRA Plan Revision page on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.

• Congratulations to Wet Mountain Valley ranchers Randy and Claricy Rusk for winning the Dodge Award for a lifetime of conservation from the Palmer Land Trust.

• Congratulations to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife folks at the Roaring Judy Hatchery for successfully spawning the line of Cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek during the Hayden Pass Fire.

• James Eklund has moved on from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Becky Mitchell is the new director.

• Coloradans cam now legally collect rain off their roofs. Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May.

• R.I.P. Gary Bostrom. He was one of the driving forces behind Colorado Springs’ $825 million Southern Delivery System.

John Orr works for a Front Range water utility where he keeps one eye on the sky to monitor Colorado snowpack. He covers Colorado water issues at Coyote Gulch (www.coyotegulch.blog) and on Twitter @CoyoteGulch.

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

@EPA and the State of Colorado release plans to protect water quality, enable land reuse at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site

Eagle Mine

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Mylott):

Actions build upon prior cleanup efforts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) have released two final Records of Decision for environmental remediation at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in Eagle County, Colorado, following the consideration of input received through a public comment process. Both documents, specifying measures to protect water quality and facilitate site reuse, focus on further reducing exposure to heavy metal contamination created by nearly one-hundred years of mining activity at the site.

“These actions reflect both EPA’s and CDPHE’s commitment to efficiently evaluate conditions and protect human health and the environment at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site,” said EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Betsy Smidinger. “Together, we are strengthening the water quality improvements we have achieved in the Eagle River and providing opportunities to bring lands back into safe, productive reuse. EPA remains committed to improving environmental conditions and human health for Americans that live and work near Superfund sites.”

The amended Record of Decision finalized for Operable Unit 1 (OU1) at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site adopts site-specific arsenic remedial goals and modifies surface water cleanup levels for cadmium, copper and zinc to meet more recent standards established for the site by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in 2008. Water quality monitoring in the Eagle River indicates that these standards for cadmium, copper and zinc are not attained in March and April of most years. The OU1 Record of Decision requires institutional controls to protect existing remedial features and expands the current groundwater collection system in Belden and at the mouth of Rock Creek to further reduce metals loading to the Eagle River.

EPA and CDPHE have also finalized a separate Record of Decision for Operable Unit 3 (OU3) focused on soil remediation necessary to protect human health should future residential development occur. EPA created OU3 after a developer purchased a large portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 2004 with plans to develop the property into a private, residential community. The Record of Decision for OU3 includes a combination of the following elements for areas proposed for development: excavating soil; placing a soil exposure barrier; grading the site; placing institutional controls and conducting monitoring; and/or demolishing structures.

The Eagle Mine Superfund Site is located in Eagle County, Colorado. The site is defined as the area impacted by past mining activity along and including the Eagle River between the towns of Red Cliff and Minturn. Mining activities at the Eagle Mine began in 1879 and continued until 1984. EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL), commonly known as the list of Superfund Sites, in 1986 because of the mine metals discharge, uncontrolled mine waste piles and the close proximity of the population to the mine and associated features. To better manage the site, EPA divided it into operable units.

EPA and CDPHE issued a final Record of Decision for the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 1993. Over the years, all required environmental cleanup work has occurred at the site under a number of state and federal directives. EPA declared all cleanup construction activities complete at the site in 2001. Remediation conducted to-date has resulted in significant improvement in water quality and reduction in risk to human health and the environment. Continued operation of the existing remedy, including drawdown from the mine pool and treatment at the water treatment plant, is required to maintain this condition. Contaminant concentrations in surface water and groundwater have decreased significantly, and the aquatic ecosystem continues to show signs of recovery.

For more information about the Eagle Mine Superfund Site, please contact: Ms. Wendy Naugle, On-Site Coordinator, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246, Wendy.naugle@co.state.co.us, or Ms. Jamie Miller, Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202, miller.jamie@epa.gov

You can also visit one of the following Websites: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/eagle-mine, https://www.epa.gov/superfund/eagle-mine

Stream management plans emerging for Eagle, Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers

The view on Homestake Reservoir in 2014. The reservoir is a key component of the upper Eagle River watershed and is part of a system that diverts water from the basin. The reservoir, and potential new water storage facilities, will likely play a role in a new integrated water management plan being developed by the Eagle River Watershed Council.

By Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
EAGLE — The Eagle River Watershed Council is moving ahead with an environmental and recreational needs assessment for the Eagle River basin as part of its effort to create an integrated water-management plan for the river and potentially its tributaries.

To do so, the organization is pulling together disparate groups for some difficult conversations about how the river is used — a requirement of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

“We decided the time is right to call all the people into the room,” said Holly Loff, executive director of the Watershed Council.

The Eagle-based nonprofit organization wrapped up meetings last week with representatives from stakeholder groups such as river guides, private land owners, conservation groups, local governments, federal and state agencies, ranchers, water commissioners and trans-mountain diverters in the Eagle River basin, which include the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. Representatives from each of the groups are scheduled to participate in a joint meeting this week.

The goal of the talks is to understand the concerns of stakeholders, which will help develop the objectives for the integrated water-management plan. Such plans are also often called “stream management plans.”

In addition to input from stakeholders, a study of the Eagle River basin is also compiling previously collected water-quality data. This information will guide future river-management efforts, as well as permitting and approval processes for future water projects. Loff described the project to members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Monday, Sept. 25, at a meeting near Kremmling.

The Eagle River flows past Wolcott in the spring of 2015. The Eagle River Watershed Council has begun talking with regional stakeholders about an emerging integrated water-management plan for the Eagle River.

Studying the river

Loff said the study area would include the length of the Eagle River, from its headwaters at Tennessee Pass to its confluence with the Colorado River at Dotsero. And the two-year planning effort will include a look at the prospect of additional storage in the river basin, as envisioned by a project described in the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which includes a potential new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek below the existing Homestake Reservoir.

The Eagle River watershed plan, which was drafted in 2013 by the Watershed Council, lacks an understanding of environmental and recreational water needs, Loff said, a void the new effort seeks to fill. Carbondale-based Lotic Hydrological will be the hydrological consultant on the project and will perform field data collection and analysis.

The 2013 plans noted that “significant concerns were voiced” about conditions of streams in the Eagle River basin, including “continued impacts from mining, damage to riparian habitats, increasing demands for water, the lack of adequate in-basin storage, impacts from untreated urban and road runoff, the possibility of climate change and the prospect for future population growth and development.”

In addition to its work with various local stakeholder groups, the Watershed Council will soon be seeking input from residents of the Eagle River basin about its river-management plan.

“We do want this to be something the community feels they have a voice in,” Loff said. “The community will most certainly be asked to be involved.”

Eagle Park Reservoir, in the headwaters of the Eagle River basin. Water officials are looking at expanding the capacity of the reservoir.

State funding

The Boulder-based River Network has selected the Watershed Council as one of four organizations in Colorado to receive direct support and assistance in applying for state funding of the project.

Loff said funding for the study would come from the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program, which is overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with matching funds coming from a variety of sources, including stakeholders. But it is too soon to put a price tag on the project. Loff said the current process with stakeholder groups is helping to determine the scope of work. Only then can the Eagle River Watershed Council create a budget.

“It is unfortunate that we don’t have the scope, objectives or budget complete yet, but when you consider the fact that those are being established with the help of all of the stakeholders from the various groups, I think most would agree that it is the best approach and a good investment of time if we want this to be a strong plan with buy-in from all parties,” Loff said.

The upper Roaring Fork River, east of Aspen, near the river's confluence with Difficult Creek.

Plans for other rivers

The Watershed Council’s integrated water management plan for the Eagle River is one of many such stream management plans in development across the state. In 2015, the Colorado Water Plan called for 80 percent of priority streams in the state to be covered by stream management plans that address the needs of diverse stakeholders.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, for example, is working on a river management plan for 75 miles of the Colorado River from above Glenwood Canyon to DeBeque, according to the council’s executive director, Laurie Rink, who also briefed the members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Sept. 25. The plan will also include tributaries to the river along that stretch, but not the Roaring Fork River, which flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs, as the Roaring Fork Conservancy has previously studied it.

Link said Middle Colorado Council’s effort was also “very much a stakeholder driven process” and that there would be a “very heavy push on stakeholder agreements” as part of the planning process. Rink also said that her group’s aim is to eventually thread together the various river-management plans being developed in the Upper Colorado River basin, including the Eagle River plan.

The upper Roaring Fork River chundering through the Grottos around 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016 after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed and the natural flows of Lost Man and Lincoln creeks had been turned back into the river.

Roaring Fork advisors

In the Roaring Fork River basin, City of Aspen officials and a technical advisory group are working on a management plan for the upper reaches of that river above its confluence with Brush Creek, which flows out of Snowmass Village.

Aspen’s technical advisory group is made up of roughly 25 stakeholders and includes Pitkin County officials, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Salvation Ditch Company, among others.

April Long, an engineer for the City of Aspen whose title is “clean river program manager,” is overseeing the Roaring Fork River management plan. Long said the group met twice during the summer. The meetings with the technical advisors were not open to the public, but Long said the city will seek public feedback as the plan progresses.

Lotic Hydrological is also the consultant on the Roaring Fork plan. Long said officials are using a hydrological simulation computer model, as well as historical data from river gauges, to predict and evaluate different flow scenarios with and without certain diversions.

“You can turn those diversions on or off and see how the river responds when you manage flows differently,” Long said about the model, and can ask, “If you wanted a certain type of ecosystem, what sort of flow do you need?”

Long expects a draft plan of the Roaring Fork River plan to be released in late November.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily News, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. The Glenwood Post published the story in its print version on Monday, Oct. 9.

Eagle: Officials meet to discuss need, financing for new water treatment plant

Eagle circa 2010

From The Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):

Interim Town Manager Tom Boni launched the discussion by noting the proposed Lower Basin Water Treatment Plant, which would be built upstream from the existing Eagle Wastewater Treatment Plant, is the town board’s top priority.

“How do we supply reliable water to the town of Eagle now and into the future?” Boni said.

Boni said discussions about the plan construction actually began 10 years ago, when the town realized it was approaching capacity at its existing 4.3 million-gallons-per-day water plant during the summer months when residents water their lawns and landscaping. Usage during the summer brings the plant operations to 80 percent of capacity.

WHAT ABOUT CONSERVATION?

Chris Lehrman, consulting engineer with SGM of Glenwood Springs, has been working with the town on the plant project. He noted the new facility has been planned so that it can expand to treat as much as 5 million gallons per day, but the initial operation would be at the 2.5 million-gallon-per-day level.

“One of the comments we had seen over the past few months is, ‘Can we put off this new plant with conservation?'” Lehrman said.

He said the short answer is no.

Lehrman explained that Eagle already has engaged a number of conservation efforts, including improvements to its water-delivery system to prevent leaks and institution of summertime watering restrictions. But he said Eagle cannot solve its long-term water needs through conservation alone.

While the capacity issue is one of the driving needs for the new plant, according to Lehrman, the town’s system also lacks redundancy — the ability to find alternate ways to deliver water in the event of a break in one part of the delivery system. Part of the new plant design would address that issue.

As for the location of the plant, Eagle doesn’t have the water rights it would need to expand the existing water plan located up the Brush Creek Valley.

The importance of riparian habitat

Here’s a guest column from Pete Wadden that’s running in The Vail Daily:

One of the few things that almost all people can agree on is the calming effect of flowing water. Waterfront property is highly sought after and, as a result, is typically sold at a premium. People often landscape their waterfront property to create an unobstructed view of the river or creek in their backyard.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

In many places in Colorado, our desire for easy access to the water is having unintended consequences. It may not be surprising to most readers that there is a web of interaction between waterways and the ecosystems that surround them. Riparian corridors, the swaths of water-loving plants that grow along creeks or rivers, protect those waterways from pollution and erosion and provide shade, nutrients and habitat for aquatic animals. When riparian buffers disappear, rivers and creeks suffer.

In the town of Vail, the loss of riparian habitat has had a measurable impact on Gore Creek and several of its tributaries. In 2012, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment listed Gore Creek for failing to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for aquatic life. Other rivers and creeks in Eagle County and across Colorado are beginning to show a similar pattern of decline.

NATURAL FILTRATION SYSTEM

As wetlands and forests are replaced with pavement and turf lawns, services provided by those natural ecosystems are lost. Pavement directs rain and snowmelt into storm drains that flow directly into the creek. The shallow roots of turf lawns do not filter pollution from groundwater the way the roots of willows and other native shrubs do.

The town of Vail sees the impaired health of Gore Creek as a serious issue and has undertaken several programs to try to reverse the creek’s declining water quality. In 2017, the town completed several major riparian restoration projects along Gore Creek. The goal of those projects was to restore native vegetation along creek banks in order to better filter runoff and prevent erosion while maintaining access to the creek for anglers and other users.

PROJECT RE-WILD

The causes of Gore Creek’s recent decline are diverse and widespread. As such, this is not a problem that the town can solve on its own. In order to encourage private property owners to restore riparian habitat on their land, the town of Vail has unveiled Project Re-Wild, a public-private cost-share to assist private property owners with the design of riparian restoration projects. Interested property owners along Gore Creek or its tributaries can learn more about this exciting opportunity under “Programs” at lovevail.org or by calling me at 970-479-2144.

Aquatic health is an issue that impacts the whole community, and the responsibility for maintaining our rivers and creek lies with all of us. Please consider joining the town of Vail in its efforts to Restore the Gore.

Pete Wadden is the town of Vail watershed education coordinator. Contact him at pwadden@vailgov.com, or visit lovevail.org to read more about the town of Vail’s environmental and sustainability efforts.