Fraser River restoration: “The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year” — Mely Whiting

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group’s pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.

Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.

“We are elated,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed.”

Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.

“To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects,” Alexander said. “We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat.”

Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.

To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river’s main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river’s banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.

The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.

Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel…

The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

For decades, the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County has turned into a trickle every fall as the snowmelt that powers the river dissipates. The low flows have led to warmer water temperatures and less wildlife.

That changed this year, at least along a short stretch of the Fraser. And it’s due to an unusual partnership that includes Denver Water, which diverts most of the river to the Front Range, and Trout Unlimited, which has fought for decades to protect it. The group, dubbed Learning by Doing, focused its efforts on nearly a mile of the river near Tabernash. Work wrapped up on the $200,000 project earlier this fall.

“I had man tears when I saw this for the first time,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was very emotional to see the river look healthier than it has in the 47 years I’ve lived there.”

Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to a preliminary assessment by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We found about a four-fold increase in trout population,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at CPW who surveyed the river both before and after the project was finished. “It was pretty exciting to see that.”

Ewert was cautious not to get too far ahead of his data. He plans to survey the fish population again next year to see if they reproduce like he hopes they will. But he says he’s very encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

Klancke credits cooperation by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and others for this initial success. Before his Trout Unlimited days, Klancke said he was “radical” in his opposition to the diversion of water to the Front Range. He even used to urinate in diversion ditches, he told me last year. He’s since changed his tactics.

“Working with the people who have impacts on your river is far more effective than trying to fight them, or just trying to stop them,” he said.

Fundraising goal met for a 500 AF environmental pool in Chatfield Reservoir

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Denver’s project to ensure at least some water for fish in a 40-mile urban stretch of the South Platte River — even during the winter low-flow months when people practically drain it — is gaining momentum.

A fundraising goal has been met to buy space in Chatfield Reservoir, southwest of Denver, to store an “environmental pool” of water – about 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons), Denver Water officials confirmed last week.

Starting next year, state aquatic biologists plan to release that water strategically, concentrating on 65 or so low-flow days each year. The South Platte still will be one of the world’s most tightly controlled rivers, unable to be a natural river that meanders through a flood plain moving sediment…

Water releases will begin “after the completion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project,” Denver Water officials said, with the water moving from Chatfield through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery. Fish grown there, including rainbow trout, may be used to stock river pools where fish currently struggle to reproduce on their own.

Storing water at Chatfield, built for flood control but now in the process of “reallocation” for water supply, costs $7,500 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons). Denver Water officials agreed to spend $1.8 million and match 19 contributions made by metro county and municipal governments, the Greenway Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. “The pledge drive was successful and complete,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will serve as the owner of the water held in Chatfield for environmental purposes. Water rights owned by the agricultural Central Colorado Water Conservancy District are being used to create that pool.

Aquatic biologists say that, by putting more water into the river, river managers can mimic natural flows, lost after the channelization of the Platte following a ruinous 1965 flood that destroyed structures built in the floodplain.

#ColoradoSprings: Mayor Suthers on the stump for stormwater ballot issue (2A)

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

..Mayor John Suthers is the chief spokesperson for the 2A campaign in radio ads that began airing Oct. 3.

Rachel Beck, a Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC official who’s running the Invest COS campaign committee (aka the “vote yes” committee), reports the ads will continue until Election Day and that other strategies include flyers targeting likely voters and Google and Facebook digital ads. “It’s a pretty broad audience we’re communicating with,” Beck says.

With just 54 percent of likely voters supporting the measure, according to a poll conducted in early August, Invest COS hopes to move the needle to put the measure comfortably over the top. “Our polling showed that people have a high level of understanding of the issue,” Beck says, adding the campaign is focusing on explaining “that this is the right solution, what the components are and what they can expect to get in return if they support the measure with their vote.”

[…]

The measure, if approved, would require every household, including renters, to pay $5 a month on their water bill to fund stormwater; owners of nonresidential property would pay $30 per acre. Property owners of developed land larger than five acres would pay fees set by the city’s stormwater manager, based on the area of impervious surface on the land. The city itself would also pay the fee, which Suthers says in an interview would cost about $100,000 a year. The fees would be collected for 20 years.

Two seasoned political activists are working separately against the measure. Laura Carno, a political strategist who ran the campaign of the city’s first strong mayor, Steve Bach, in 2011, has set up a new campaign committee called Springstaxpayers.com. She says she’s raised less than $10,000 and plans a radio and digital campaign, plus TV if more money comes in. “The message will be that the city of Colorado Springs has plenty of money,” Carno says. “They just need to prioritize it.”

Ultrasonic range finder deployed on Cache la Poudre river to measure streamflow

Photo credit Iowa Flood Center.

From the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa:

Stream Stage Sensors

Design

The sensors were developed as a student project to design an affordable, yet effective way to measure stream and river heights. The sensors are solar powered and attached to the side of bridges. A sonar signal is used to measure the distance from the water surface to the sensor and data is transmitted via a cell modem to IFIS where the data is publicly available.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

As Thursday morning’s fog and autumn chill gave way to sunlight and intensely blue skies, Dan Ceynar of the Iowa Flood Center toiled to install a sensor on a pedestrian bridge over the Poudre River near Bellvue.

The sensor is different than conventional gauges along the river that rely on hydraulics to measure the height and flow of the water. This self-contained device uses a sound pulse to measure the distance between the water surface and the bridge.

“It’s basically an ultrasonic range finder,” he said. “We have it pointed at the water level, so what gets reported back is the elevation of the water above sea level. It’s an automated stage gauge.”

Measurements are taken every 15 minutes, day and night. The sensor is powered by a battery charged by a solar panel. It transmits signals using a cellular connection.

Ceynar is a project engineer with the Iowa Flood Center, or IFC, based at the University of Iowa…

About 250 ultrasonic sensors have been installed in Iowa, which Ceynar described as river-rich and flood-prone. The Bellvue monitor is the second to be placed outside the state…

Riverside has modeled maps along that stretch of the river that show where water would go in a flood event, said Sean McFeely, product manager for the company.

Data from the sensor will be used to refine the inundation maps. Coordinating data from the sensor with inundation mapping could have far-reaching ramifications, McFeely said. Project partners included Colorado State University and the University of Kansas.

At roughly $5,000 a piece, the ultrasonic sensor is significantly less expensive to build and maintain than hydraulic gauges, which require time-consuming calibrations to ensure their accuracy.

Why a #ColoradoRiver reunion with the sea isn’t a guarantee — @HighCountryNews #Minute323 #COriver

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

Here’s a report from Emily Benson writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole analysis. Here’s an excerpt:

For many people, the 2014 “pulse flow,” a large release of water from Morelos Dam, on the U.S.-Mexico border, was the defining feature of the 2012 agreement. The agreement also addressed drought, reservoir storage and environmental restoration in the Colorado River Delta. The 2014 release reunited the Colorado River with the Gulf of California for the first time since the late 1990s; it was both a scientific and symbolic success as communities along the Colorado River saw its dry channel once again fill with water. But the pulse flow also showed that a single release of water may not be the most efficient way to revitalize the Delta. So while the new agreement, called Minute 323, includes environmental water releases, it doesn’t specifically call for another pulse flow.

San Juan Water Commission amends operating rules

Navajo Lake

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The San Juan Water Commission approved the amendments during its Wednesday meeting in Farmington. Commissioner Jay Burnham, who represents Farmington, abstained from the vote because the city is still waiting for legal analysis on the changes.

Burnham favored tabling the amendments for a month, but the commission approved the amendments to enable a pending application for water rights to be reviewed and presented to the commission next month.

One amendment will allow the executive director, Aaron Chavez, to approve short-term emergency allocations. The short term is defined as less than 90 days. The San Juan Water Commission can approve longer emergency allocations of up to a year. The commission consists of representatives from the county, cities and rural water associations.

Commissioners also discussed a template agreement for temporary water allocation of reserve water for member entities. The commission directed staff members to create options for temporary and permanent allocations because of concerns that an entity could be granted water for 10 years and have to fight to keep the allocation after that term expired…

The template would help the commission get permission from the Office of the State Engineer to create points of diversion to send water to various entities. If the commission does eventually adopt a template, it would serve as a guidance and not be set in stone for every allocation.

“Each instance is going to have its own issues and nuances,” said Commission Chairman John Beckstead, who represents San Juan County.

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.