USFS, Lake County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are teaming up to improve aquatic habitat along Lake Fork Creek

Lake Fork Creek below Sugarloaf dam near Leadville. Photo credit: Katie Walton Day/USGS

From the US Forest Service via The Leadville Herald:

A popular dispersed-camping area located west of Leadville on Lake Fork Creek downstream of Turquoise Lake and County Road 4 will benefit from a major restoration project developed by the USDA Forest Service, Lake County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The project, which was to start on Sept. 3 and finish in about eight weeks, will improve the overall aquatic habitat in Lake Fork Creek.

The restoration work entails strategically placing large boulders, whole trees, and smaller rocks and logs in a manner that mimics natural features of a stream. Banks and areas where excessive erosion has occurred will be stabilized and planted with native willows, grasses, and sedges. When complete, the project should reduce erosion and sediment that clouds the water and create more deep pools where fish feed and overwinter.

Moving the boulders and whole trees in this spot requires heavy machinery. For this reason, the area will be closed to all public use during implementation. Camping and entering the area will be prohibited from Sept. 3 through Nov. 1. Campers should consider using the eastern side of Forest Road 113 (closer to County Road 4) during this timeframe.

“This project should have a direct and positive impact on the stream’s hydrology, fish habitat, and bank stabilization, and we expect it will restore a more natural-appearing setting for recreationists visiting the area,” said Erich Roeber, district ranger.

Janelle Valladares, San Isabel National Forest fish biologist added, “By improving the habitat, we expect to see more and bigger fish in the stream in the next couple of years.”

The full text of the closure order and a map can be found at the Leadville Ranger District Office, the Forest & Grassland Supervisor’s Office (Pueblo), and on their websites.

Local communities work on river plans — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification @WaterCenterCMU

The Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain Natonal Park and soon descends into the bucolic loveliness of Middle Park. Photo/Allen Best

From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

In late August, I had the good fortune to float down the Colorado River from Silt to Rifle on a bright, sunny day, with cottonwoods just starting to think about turning their leaves to gold. Our guides had never floated this section of river before — there are no big thrills in these river miles. It was beautiful, though. We saw a lot of ospreys and herons, and the traffic on nearby I-70 was unseen and almost inaudible.

Our boats were filled with experts on how the management of land and water affects the flows in the river, the vegetation on the banks, and the living environment for fish and the bugs they eat. One of my companions pointed out places where the cottonwoods were all mature, because the river hadn’t reached that part of the floodplain recently enough for new cottonwood seedlings to sprout. Others discussed a new fish passage around a diversion dam on a tributary stream that had opened up several miles of habitat for trout. We contemplated how algae levels on the river’s bed might be related to nutrients released from an upstream wastewater treatment plant, and observed places where logs placed in the bank had shifted erosion from one place to another, changing the course of the river.

These features of the environment, along with many others, determine what kind of experience people can have on the river, whether they are fishing, boating, or just watching the water flow by. Other factors beyond immediate, local control also affect people’s ability to enjoy the river and its tributaries, both for recreation and the practical work of growing crops and bringing water to household faucets. These include cycles of drought and flood and a worrying long-term decline in streamflows brought about by warming temperatures.

Policy decisions about how to continue to share a shrinking river between seven U.S. states and two countries also matter. If irrigators get paid to spread less water on their land, which is one conservation measure that state leaders are studying, the resulting reductions in seepage to groundwater could affect their neighbors’ wells and the amount of water that trickles back into streams in late summer and fall. And what will the cows eat if less hay is produced locally? But things could be worse if water users face legal requirements to cut back, which may happen if Colorado and the other upstream states fail to meet downstream obligations.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which organized the Silt-to-Rifle float, is wrestling with all of these issues as they work in coordination with the Bookcliff, Mount Sopris and Southside Conservation Districts to develop an Integrated Water Management Plan. They are bringing together irrigators, local government officials, business people and scientists to learn more about connections and trade-offs between different local water uses, stream health and large-scale trends and policy decisions. The goal is to find opportunities to protect and enhance stream health and all the ways people enjoy water in communities from Glenwood Springs to DeBeque. Similar efforts, also known as Stream Management Plans, are underway in other parts of the state, including the Yampa Valley, the Eagle Valley, and the area around Gunnison and Crested Butte.

This kind of work, daunting in its complexity, is important for helping communities chart their own water futures in challenging times. You can learn more about the Middle Colorado plan at https://www.midcowatershed.org/iwmp, and you can learn how other Colorado communities are approaching the challenge at https://coloradosmp.org/.

Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. She is also on the steering committee for the Middle Colorado Integrated Water Management Plan. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

Fremont County flood mitigation work completed

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Canon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

The significant damage caused by the July 24, 2018 flooding in western Fremont County has been cleaned up and mitigation work has been done in case such an event ever happens again.

The force of the water from Butter Creek and Dinkle Ditch/Cottonwood Creek met during the heavy rainstorm, blowing out a stream channel and forcing its way through structures. Debris, trees and rocks washed through the Gillespie family’s hayfield, cutting a gulley and leaving behind a huge mess.

Crews this year cleaned the gulley and reshaped, lined and stabilized the channel.

“The water that overflows out of Little Cottonwood – if we do get a significant flow – it should come out, go right down this channel and safely make its way down to Big Cottonwood Creek,” said Greg Langer, the district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service…

About $1.5 million was spent on restoration and mitigation between the two properties, Commissioner Dwayne McFall said.

Natural Resources Conservation Service funded the design of the stream bank stabilization project, which was designed for a 10-year flood event.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service Emergency Watershed Protection recovery project in the Big Cottonwood area in Coaldale officially started in early Spring and was completed in July. It required a number of agencies, property owners and experts working together to get the job done.

The project was sponsored by Fremont County with matching funds in the amount of $453,850 from the Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management as a grant match.

The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative and the Upper Arkansas River Conservancy District also garnered a grant for more than $250,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the cleanup effort. Additionally, Chelesy Nutter, the executive director of the Arkansas River Watershed Collaboration, partnered with the Colorado Workforce Center who provided labor to remove 120 cubic yards of debris and cut fallen trees.

Luke Javernick of River Science did all of the hydrology work and brought Canon City High School students to do water quality testing. They will continue monitoring for three years, Nutter said. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Trout Unlimited also will be working to explore longterm recovery. Fremont County provided in-kind services with staff time…

Fremont County Manager Sunny Bryant said the last time there was a flood, not only were the properties damaged, but U.S. 50 was threatened and County Road 39 nearly was washed out.

@OmahaUSACE: Public meeting scheduled for flood risk management study in Longmont, Colorado, September 18, 2019

Click to view the August 18, 2019 slides from the USACE.

Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — Omaha District:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with the City of Longmont, Colorado will hold a flood risk management study open house Sept. 18, from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road.

There will be a brief, formal presentation at 4:30 p.m. on information contained in the recently released draft feasibility study report, followed by an open house.

The draft report provides information on the need for the project, current conditions of the project area, identification of opportunities to reduce flood risk, development of various alternatives to reduce flood impacts to life safety and property along St. Vrain Creek, and selection of the proposed plan.

The recommended plan includes a levee on the south side of the Izaak Walton Pond Nature Area, channel widening and benching to contain the 1% Annual Chance Exceedance (ACE) event, replacement of the Boston Avenue Bridge, and a grade control downstream of Sunset Street Bridge.

The draft feasibility report may be downloaded at https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Planning/Planning-Projects/LongmontCO/.

Email your comments on the report to cenwo-planning@usace.army.mil or mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, CENWO-PMA-A, ATTN: Tim Goode, 1616 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68102-4901. Comments must be postmarked or received by Oct. 4, 2019.

This flood risk management study builds on Resilient St. Vrain, Longmont’s extensive, multi-year undertaking to fully restore the St. Vrain Greenway and increase resiliency of the St. Vrain Creek channel to reduce future flood risk to the community. The Resilient St. Vrain project was developed by the City of Longmont in response to the catastrophic flooding in September 2013.

Contact
USACE Omaha District Public Affairs
402-995-2418
omaha.usace-pa@usace.army.mil
1616 Capitol Ave. Omaha, Neb. 68102

Big Thompson Watershed Coalition fundraiser, September 22, 2019

Big Thompson River near RMNP

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Coalition shifting focus to the future

Since the 2013 floods, the Big Thompson Watershed coalition has been leveraging grant money to rebuild and improve the river corridor, making it healthier and more resilient.

Now, the nonprofit is shifting its focus to resiliency for the future, to improvements that will prepare the community for future flood and fire impacts and to ensure long-term river health.

As part of that effort, the coalition is reaching out into the community to make new connections, holding a fundraiser with a goal of $50,000 and has a community bio-blitz planned…

Fundraiser

The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition is a nonprofit that has been operating for five years on grant money and disaster-recovery funds available after the 2013 floods. Two full-time employees handle all the community outreach, grant searches and more behind the scenes for the grant-funded projects.

To help keep a staff of two going into the future and to meet the organization’s operations needs, the coalition has a fundraiser planned for Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery.

The event, which costs $60 per ticket, will feature dinner, a live cellist, fly-fishing demonstrators, tours of an adjacent watershed project, an art auction and time to soak up the river…

The theme centers on “inspirations and aspirations” of the river, and the event gives people a first-hand look at one of the completed river projects. Speakers also will talk about watershed issues…

Tickets are available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co…

New connections

A major project for the watershed forum in the coming year is to create a plan for the Big Thompson River for 15 miles through Loveland with a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The coalition will lead a team looking at river health as well as the community’s needs and wants surrounding both recreation as well as responsible development along Colo. 402.

The coalition has launched an advisory committee that includes Loveland and Larimer County officials and likely will include ditch companies as well as members of the coalition board. They plan to reach out into the community for input on needs and desires and to consider a balance between those and river health.

The goal is to create a clear understanding of the river corridor and its many demands and to end with a prioritized list of specific projects that are feasible, could be funded with grants and achieve that balance, Gutman explained…

Community bio-blitz

The coalition is looking for 10 to 30 community members to participate in a bio-blitz, which is where groups fan out over different sections of the river at the same time and collect data on water quality, plants and bugs. The idea is to have a “flash understanding” of the ecosystem that morning, Sept. 28.

The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition will not be only agency participating. In fact, volunteers will be collecting data over three different watersheds in the region and then meet in Lyons to share ideas and to have a celebration.

The hope is that those residents, once taught to collect data, would be willing to volunteer with another piece of the coalition’s long-term goal — monitoring the success of completed projects…

Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co…

Big Thompson Watershed Coalition

Fundraiser: 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery, including music, art auction, tours of a project site, speakers, dinner and drinks. $60 per ticket, available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co

Bio-blitz: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, different locations on the Big Thompson River. Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co

Funding Available for Projects Addressing Forest Health, Wildfire Risk — Colorado State Forest Service

Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

Wildfires are both natural and inevitable – including in wildland-urban interface settings where millions of Coloradans live. These fires can be particularly destructive in areas where forests are unhealthy, unmanaged and unnaturally dense.

The grant program is designed to reduce risk to people and property in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

For those interested in taking action, but who have lacked the means, funding is now available to help address this risk.

The Colorado State Forest Service announced today that it is accepting proposals from Colorado HOAs, community groups, local governments, utilities and nonprofit organizations seeking funding to restore forested areas, improve forest health, and reduce wildfire risk on non-federal land in the state.

Approximately $1 million in total funding is available.

The Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program helps fund projects that strategically reduce the potential wildfire risk to property, infrastructure and water supplies and that promote forest health through scientifically based forestry practices.

Reduction of hazardous fuels

The competitive grant program is designed to reduce risk to people and property in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and support long-term ecological restoration. Applications must not only promote forest health and address the reduction of hazardous fuels that could fuel a wildfire – such as trees and brush near homes – but also utilize wood products derived from forest management efforts.

Long-term ecological restoration and the protection of water supplies are among the goals of the grant program. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

The state can fund up to half the cost of each awarded project; grant recipients are required to match at least 50 percent of the total project cost through cash or in-kind contributions. Projects can be located on private, state, county or municipal forestlands.

Program funds also are allowable to fund the purchase of equipment that directly supports and expands on-the-ground opportunities to reduce hazardous fuels.

Applicants must coordinate proposed projects with relevant county officials to ensure consistency with county-level wildfire risk reduction planning. Follow-up monitoring also is a necessary component of this grant program, to help demonstrate the relative efficacy of various treatments and the utility of grant resources.

The CSFS will work with successful project applicants to conduct project monitoring and conduct site visits to assess effectiveness and completion of projects.

Additional emphasis will be given to projects that:

  • Are identified through a community-based collaborative process, such as a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP)
  • Are implemented strategically across land ownership boundaries; are conducted within a priority area identified in the Colorado State Forest Action Plan
  • Utilize the labor of an accredited Colorado Youth or Veterans Corps organization
  • Include forest treatments that result in the protection of water supplies
  • Applications must be submitted electronically to local CSFS Field Offices by 5 p.m. MST on Oct. 23, 2019. A technical advisory panel convened by the CSFS will review project applications and make funding recommendations. The CSFS will then notify successful applicants next spring.

    Applications and additional information about the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program are available at CSFS Field Offices and online on the CSFS Grants & Funding Assistance webpage.

    A rancher-led group is boosting the health of the #ColoradoRiver near its headwaters — @WaterEdFdn #COriver

    From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

    Western Water Spotlight: a Colorado partnership is engaged in a river restoration effort to aid farms and fish habitat that could serve as a model across the west

    Strategic placement of rocks promotes a more natural streamflow that benefits ranchers and fish. (Source: Paul Bruchez)

    “What used to be a very large river that inundated the land has really become a trickle,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We estimate that 70 percent of the flow on an annual average goes across the Continental Divide and never comes back.”

    Ranchers on the river who once relied on floodwater from the Colorado River to irrigate their hayfields now must pump from the river to irrigate. The river is shallow, sandy and warm in spots. Irrigation ditches have sloughed. The stretch of the river near Kremmling has not been working well for ranchers or the environment.

    Now, a partnership of state, local and conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, is engaged in a restoration effort that could serve as a template for similar regions across the West. Centered around the high plateau near Kremmling, a town of about 1,400 people in northern Colorado about 100 miles west of Denver, the partnership aims to make the river function better for people and the environment.

    Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez (Source: Russell Schnitzer, used with permission)

    Paul Bruchez, a fifth-generation rancher of 6,000 acres near Kremmling who also runs fly fishing expeditions for tourists, sees the river’s challenges from both perspectives.

    “Some of us involved with fly fishing care deeply about the environmental conditions within the river corridor,” said Bruchez. “Other landowners are more focused on the agricultural sustainability. But the one thing we agreed about is that things were collapsing.”

    Restoring a Healthier River

    The partnership, known as the Irrigators of the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK), obtained grant funding in 2015 to start the process of assessing the river’s conditions and identifying possible pilot projects, such as stabilizing riverbanks and reviving irrigation channels across a meandering 12-mile stretch of the Colorado River. As projects are identified, ILVK members attempt to prioritize them and apply for grants with the project costs evenly divided between grantors and landowners, Bruchez said.

    River improvements often have immediate benefits for irrigation infrastructure.

    “Many of our irrigation laterals had washed into the river system and there was no large-scale look at the system as a whole and how it connects,” Bruchez said. “A lot of these simple bank stabilization projects not only create habitat but are literally safeguarding some of our irrigation laterals that we all rely on to deliver the water to our crops.”

    The key, he said, is realizing that less can be more in re-establishing a proper flow regime. “You set the stage for the river then you let the river do the work itself instead of getting in there and manipulating everything,” he said.

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    Trout Unlimited is a full partner in the project. It applied for all the funding and is the fiscal agent and manager of the grants. Whiting and Bruchez consult on project management, retention of consultants and scope of work.

    “It’s a complete win for everybody. It’s just a question of money,” Whiting said. “It’s been so successful and such a good story and so far, we have been able to draw quite a bit of funding and turn that into impressive improvements for the river and the ranchers.”

    The partnership has obtained $2.6 million in grants from funders such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($500,000), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service ($2 million) and the Gates Family Foundation ($120,000).

    Four miles downstream from Bruchez, the Colorado River becomes a smaller river with warmer temperatures that have spurred algae growth. “The minimum stream level of the Colorado River at Kremmling is 150 cubic feet per second,” said rancher Bill Thompson. “That’s not much.”

    Thompson, who ranches about 400 acres, moved to Kremmling in 1959. He said he’s spent about $200,000 to match grant funding for two grade-control projects that have raised the river channel 18 inches near his property. While helping him get the water he needs, the structures also help create fish habitat.

    “I speed the water up, I’ve got them [fish] more oxygen and I’ve cooled [the water] down,” he said. “It’s a healthier river now because of it.”

    River projects are undertaken to be cost-effective. “We are trying to do this in a capacity where it is more affordable,” Bruchez said. “These are not people that live on limitless budgets that are doing this for building Disneyland fish habitat. These are multigeneration ag producers that just want to be able to irrigate.”

    Overcoming Skeptical Landowners

    Moving water great distances helps meet Colorado’s water supply demand. The Continental Divide spans the length of the state, with watersheds on the west side flowing toward the Pacific Ocean and those on the east feeding the Atlantic Ocean. The more rural Western Slope of the Rockies gets most of Colorado’s precipitation, about 80 percent, and a vast network of storage and conveyance infrastructure moves water to major cities like Denver, Boulder and Aurora.

    That diversion has come at the expense of the Colorado River in the area near Kremmling. “Where you had a very large river there is now a very small river,” Whiting with Trout Unlimited said. “It doesn’t have enough water; it is overly wide and shallow, and it gets really hot.”

    Prior to the diversions, the Colorado River’s floodwaters washed over the land and helped prepare it for planting.

    “You didn’t even need a water right,” said Thompson, the longtime rancher. “All you had to do was take your rake out there and scrape off the logs and the willows and start haying.”

    Getting to a place where landowners agreed to commit themselves to projects took time. “It’s fair to say most landowners were pretty skeptical,” Bruchez said. “These are people that like private lives. They don’t like public dollars; they don’t like meetings and they don’t like talking about stuff. They like doing their thing.”

    Eventually a cost-sharing structure emerged that focused on improving the condition of the river, with grant funding helping to cover the gap beyond out-of-pocket expenses for traditional repairs. River fixes run the gamut, from rebuilding lost banks to altering the channel with rock that makes the current meander, ebb and flow. This, in turn, stimulates the production of insects that fish feast on. Bruchez said anglers tell him the results are “off the charts.”

    Calming Suspicions

    A restored Colorado River means good things for the ranchers near Kremmling and the trout that thrive in its waters. How much further work happens and at what scale remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the merits have been demonstrated. For her part, Whiting said the next challenge and hard conversation will entail finding ways to leave more water in the river.

    Beyond the physical improvements to the river, the interaction between stakeholders has also worked well, Bruchez said, especially with trans-mountain diverters such as Denver Water. “We all view it now as a one-river thing, and when we all work together and are able to talk about the issues, we can solve problems,” he said. “If we all go to our corners and put up our fists, it doesn’t work so well.”

    The Upper Colorado River meanders through the high plateau around Kremmling, Colorado. (Source: Russell Schnitzer, used with permission)

    Whiting said partnerships between landowners and outside agencies work best when people like Bruchez are there to serve as a bridge.

    “They can go in and say, ‘These guys are not coming to take your water, they are not here to take your land,’” she said. “All these suspicions can be calmed when you have a trusted source who walks stakeholders through it.”

    As 2019 moves toward 2020, more bank and river channel work is scheduled. Centered at the swirl of activity, Bruchez said he wants to keep things in perspective.

    “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we are trying to not get too big for our britches,” he said. “We also recognize there are river-system challenges all over the country, especially in the Southwest, and we are hoping as a collective group that this project is enough of a success that we can really try and demonstrate to others how people can come together and accomplish a successful project, especially by reasonably affordable techniques of installation.”

    Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @gary_wef
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    Click here to read Coyote Gulch posts about Paul Bruchez’s influence.