South Platte Master Plan — a stream corridor evaluation – is complete

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The South Platte Master Plan is a study of flood mitigation and recovery possibilities along 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Morgan-Weld county line to the Nebraska State Line. Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the plan will suggest ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.

Five big problem areas were identified in the evaluation, according to Brian Murphy, project director for CDM Smith of Denver, the contractor on the flood study. They were the amount of sediment the floods of 2013 and 2015 deposited in the study area, basically clogging the river and making flooding worse; uncontrolled water in ditches and canals, which can back up and cause damage to structures, homes, and fields; the railroad railroad right of way southwest of Messex, which contains the river along the northwest shoreline but worsens flooding on the opposite shoreline; the hunting lands along the river that provide game habitat but also blocks water flow during a flood, causing the water to spread out into neighboring cropland; and the washed-out headgates of the Henderson-Smith and Lowline ditches, which essentially turn those ditches into another channel of the river.

Stakeholders attending the meeting may have gotten some ideas of how to tackle those challenges from a 90-minute presentation by Jerry Kenny, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. That program comes from an agreement among Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the U.S. Department of the Interior to preserve habitat for whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeons, four species on the endangered species list. The program maintains water at an adequate level along an 80-mile stretch of the Platte River the Nebraska cities of Lexington and Grand Island in an area call the Big Bend Area.

Kenny’s description of challenges faced in maintaining habitat for those four species brought home to the stakeholders how the river system has been affected by settlement all along its length. For instance, sediment – mostly sand – that once washed downstream past what is now Sterling and settled in the Big Bend area to create habitat for those species no longer makes it that far. Instead, repeated diversion of the river for irrigation reduces and slows down the water flow during what was once rapid spring runoff, depositing the sediment here.

That problem is exacerbated by Lake McConaughy on the North Platte near Ogallala, which traps sediment that once drifted down into Big Bend.

Kenny told the meeting that some of the challenges have been met by practices in all three of the states that have increased stream flow in the Platte River. Most notable in Colorado is the Tamarack Recharge Project near Crook, in which water is pumped into small reservoirs when there is no irrigation demand on the river, and allowed to seep back into the river so more water is available downstream.

Kenny also showed the group slides of off-stream water storage projects that have been used to create wetlands and much-needed sand islands in the project area. Presumably, some of those ideas could be used to mitigate flooding and provide some off-channel water storage in the South Platte basin as well.

After the meeting Morgan County Commissioners Jim Zwetzig and Laura Teague said they are encouraged by the “collaborative effort” shown in the PRRIP agreements…

Project manager Brian Murphy said one of the biggest challenges, once ideas and practices are identified, will be finding the dollars to do it. The PRRIP get about half of its funds from the federal government, and there is tremendous incentive in the form of a mandate to save endanger species. There is no such incentive, other than reducing unpredictable costs of recover, in flood mitigation.

“The big question is, what are the things that can bring dollars to fund this project,” Murphy said. “What are the drivers? There’s been a lot of discussion of duck habitat, open space, trails, and I think it’s going to come down to those things.”

On a more positive note, he said, the PRRIP process has broken new ground when working with the federal permitting process. Some of the techniques that project uses, such as tilling riparian areas to keep vegetation down, are considered agricultural, and so don’t need federal permits.

Monday’s meeting was the third since the plan was introduced to the public in February.

Folks battle leafy spurge on the Yampa River

From the Craig Daily Press (Lauren Blair):

A coalition of ranchers and environmentalists, politicians and bureaucrats, and Jimmy-Buffett-loving river recreationalists came together Friday to learn about a quiet scourge overtaking the banks of the Yampa River known as the leafy spurge.

The plant itself looks innocent enough, with little yellow flowers that turn entire sections of river bank into a sea of green and yellow. But the demure-looking weed is extremely aggressive and invasive, and has wreaked havoc in states like Montana and North Dakota, where more than 2 million acres of ranch land have been put out of production due to the noxious weed.

Formed in 2015, the Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project brought together partners in Routt and Moffat counties to tackle the growing infestation, which first took root more than 40 years ago…

The problem has eluded an effective solution for decades, as the conditions unique to river banks challenge all variety of treatments from chemical to biological to mechanical.

The result is that debate continues about how to deal with the destructive plant, and for now, officials have focused on keeping the infestation from spreading…

The project received $30,000 in funding from the Colorado Department of Agriculture in 2016; Moffat and Routt counties each received $10,000 to fund projects to target infestations, and $10,000 went to landowner education and outreach.

Additional county and federal funds also flow towards containment efforts on private, county and federal lands, but for a weed that sends roots as deep as 60 feet down and is able to broadcast its seeds up to 30 feet, as well as send them downriver, available resources have been outmatched.

“For our economy’s sake, from a recreational standpoint, an agricultural standpoint and an environmental standpoint, it’s a big issue,” said Todd Hagenbuch with Natural Resources Conservation Services.

Hermosa Trail to be Impacted by Construction of Fish Barrier

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

Construction activities will begin in the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area on Monday, July 10, 2017 to erect a fish-migration barrier on Hermosa Creek as part of the ongoing Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project. Trail users and visitors to the area should expect to encounter delays and closures until October 1, 2017. The barrier is being installed on the main stem of Hermosa Creek downstream of its confluence with the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. About one-half mile of the Hermosa Creek Trail from its northern trailhead must be widened to allow heavy equipment to access the construction site. The trail widening is temporary and will be rehabilitated to the extent possible. Tree removal is expected to be minimal.

Throughout the construction project, trail users traveling in both directions may encounter temporary delays of up to one hour. Short-term closures lasting up to a full day are also possible, especially when heavy equipment is being moved in and out of the area. No more than four days of closures are expected during the three-month project, but construction schedules are subject to changing conditions. Public notices will be posted when trail closures are expected. The project is not expected to affect fishing, because flows will be bypassed above the construction site; however, some sedimentation is expected downstream. The barrier represents the final and most important phase of the Hermosa Creek Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project, which began almost 30 years ago. The goal is to protect native cutthroat trout above the barrier from non-native fish located downstream.

For more information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970 884-2512 or Clay Kampf at 970-884-1403.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Elkhead Reservoir fish barrier appears to be working as designed

Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Lauren Blair):

Installed last September, a net designed to keep non-native, predatory fish at Elkhead Reservoir from entering the Yampa River appears to be fulfilling its purpose, though it may be too soon to tell.

This spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducted its first count of the two species of concern, northern pike and smallmouth bass, in the stretch of water between the net and the spillway, where water leaves the reservoir and enters Elkhead Creek, which feeds into the Yampa.

“In our first sample this spring, we didn’t see any indication that the net was failing,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre.

The count was taken before the reservoir filled with spring runoff and water began spilling over the spillway. Another count taken this fall, after the reservoir is done spilling, will give biologists an even better idea of how the net is working.

“This is a big spill year,” Eyre said. “When it’s spilling, it can suck trees and other debris through, damaging the net.”

Officials are hoping the net, made of a sturdy polyethylene mesh, will hold up to any debris that gets swept its way, and divers will check and clean the net once a year.

The net is one piece of a multi-pronged approach to protect four species of endangered fish in the Yampa River, the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker…

The net will hopefully keep the predatory fish contained, but with so many factors affecting the species, biologists won’t necessarily be able to determine the precise impact of the net on endangered fish populations…

The life span of the $1.2 million net is only estimated at about seven years, Eyre said, which is why CPW is also hoping to check northern pike and smallmouth bass populations through its new, annual Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Boaters taking advantage of McPhee Reservoir with closures on other SW #Colorado flat-water

From The Cortez Journal:

McPhee Reservoir is seeing increased use this summer because of decreased opportunities for motorized boating on other Southwest Colorado reservoirs that have been closed to guard against the introduction of aquatic nuisance species, according to the San Juan National Forest.

And to accommodate boaters during the July Fourth holiday, the inspection station for the House Creek boat ramp will extend its hours to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Tuesday, the forest said in a news release.

The inspection station at the more crowded McPhee boat ramp will remain open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. All other access points to McPhee Reservoir have been gated to prevent uninspected boats from entering the reservoir.

McPhee is one of a few reservoirs in Southwest Colorado with mussel inspection stations that allow for motorized boating, public affairs specialist Ann Bond said in the news release.

The McPhee boat ramp has seen an 85 percent increase in inspections this summer from last year, Bond said.

“Because of the increased usage, parking areas and boat ramps are experiencing congestion, especially on weekends,” she said. “The U.S. Forest Service urges visitors to use parking areas and ramps as efficiently as possible to lessen congestion.”

The Forest Service encourages boaters to prep their craft before launching to reduce time at the ramp and to follow traffic signs to ensure safety for all visitors. Boaters who park vehicles without trailers are asked to use overflow parking areas to leave the larger parking areas available for trailers. Weekday users will find less crowded conditions.

Weekend users are encouraged to use the House Creek boat ramp, which is often less crowded.

Inspection stations are working smoothly, with previously inspected boats carrying documentation and tags moving through the process within 10 minutes. Boats that have not been cleaned, drained and dried – and require decontamination procedures – are urged to enter inspection stations during weekdays, because the decontamination process takes more time.

For more information, contact Tom Rice at 970-882-6843.

Unintended consequences: Tamarisk leaf beetle is extending range into Flycatcher habitat

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

Exotic beetles released by the U.S. government to kill exotic trees along the upper Colorado River have munched a destructive path into central Arizona, officials have confirmed, proving to be more mobile and resilient than predicted.

The tamarisk leaf beetle now threatens the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and other birds that have adapted to the non-native tamarisk that grows so thick along some of the region’s rivers. The beetles can strip a tree of its leaves, ruining it as a home for the birds.

Arizona environmentalists and biologists worry the beetle’s June 8 discovery in Wickenburg dooms many of the remaining flycatchers. Salt River Project has invested millions of dollars and 2,400 acres in mandated habitat protections throughout the Gila River drainage as a condition of raising Lake Roosevelt and displacing old nesting areas.

Some people, like suburban Buckeye’s mayor, are cheering the prospect of a natural thinner for the shrubby tamarisks crowding the Gila River, where thickets of the trees are blamed for flood and fire risks.

But no one knows how much farther the beetles will spread if they find new paths into the Gila River drainage area, which stretches north and east on the Verde and Salt Rivers and south on the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers.

An Arizona biologist found beetles and their larvae living in tamarisks on the Hassayampa River, a Gila tributary west of metro Phoenix. The insects had previously moved south from Utah’s Virgin River to Lake Mead and then down the lower Colorado. From there they moved east along the Bill Williams River and its tributaries.

Now they’re within striking distance of the heart of what remains of flycatcher country.

Gila River watershed.

#NM and #Colorado invasive mussel regulations

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

From KOB.com (J.R. Oppenheim):

“All it takes is one boat that is infested with the species that goes in the water body and infests the water body. Once they get in the water body there is really nothing to do to get rid of them,” said Robert Walters, CPW invasive species specialist.

It is Zebra and Quagga Mussels that the crews are trying to get rid of. The boat they worked on came from Lake Powell, an infected body of water, and the mussels are apparent in many places that the boat has been in in the water.

“If these were to get into one of these water, the cost would impact everyone not just the users of the water but people using the electricity and facilities,” Walters said.

Colorado and New Mexico both are aggressively inspecting boats before they hit the water this season. It’s to prevent all the trouble the mussels could cause in pipes and infrastructure, even eventually killing native fish.

CPW said money spent inspecting and decontaminating boats is a drop in the bucket compared to fighting mussels after they take hold.

“We couldn’t do this without the participation of the boat owners,” Walters said.
The key is clean, drain and dry. All boat owners are encouraged to do that every time they take the boat out of the water. For boats in infected waters, both states require disinfection services, which is available at many major waterways.

New Mexico has rules in places that:

  • Require all watercraft arriving from out of state must receive an inspection prior to launch.
  • All watercraft when on a New Mexico roadway must have their boat plugs pulled.
  • Inspections stations for 2017 can be found at:

  • Navajo Reservoir (Pine and Sims Ramps)
  • Conchas Reservoir (Main entrance)
  • Ute Lake (North Ramp & Logan Park Marina)
  • Elephant Butte Reservoir (Marina del Sur)
  • Any NMDGF office (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
  • Typical times are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • To learn more, see these websites:

    http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/ais
    http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BoatInspection.aspx