#ColoradoRiver: Dog Island restoration update

McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area via the BLM

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Kelly Slivka):

[Kate] Graham is the assistant director for the Colorado Canyons Association, a nonprofit that works closely with the Bureau of Land Management to care for and protect the three National Conservation Areas skirting Grand Junction — Gunnison Gorge, Dominguez-Escalante and McInnis Canyons, the last of which is home to Dog Island.

With the help of an army of volunteers from the wide conservation network that operates in western Colorado, Graham, her co-workers and BLM officials have been attempting to restore Dog Island’s vegetation after a visitor from Breckenridge set off fireworks there two summers ago, in August of 2015, and burnt it to a crisp…

[Troy] Schnurr has been keeping track of the local stretch of the Colorado for 27 years, and he’s one of the people spearheading the Dog Island restoration efforts.

The island, a large, sand and stone bank a little over a half-mile long, sits about two-thirds of the way between the Loma Boat Launch, just northwest of Fruita, and Westwater, the first river access point across the border in Utah.

It’s a very popular river outpost, hosting a shady, roomy campground on its western side, and it’s now slowly starting to recover from the fire.

It’s not a barren wasteland but has greened up ­— yes, with fast-growing, weedy Russian knapweed but also with sage, salt grass and many other native and non-native plants.

And though most of the cottonwoods studding the island are now scorched skeletons, fresh foliage from sucker shoots have begun to poke up from around some of the burnt trunks — a sign that the fire didn’t completely fry the root systems…

But these little victories toward recovery belie the painstaking, time-consuming and unpredictable road of restoration.


Invasive plant species famously excel at taking over landscapes after fires or other destruction, and knapweed and Canadian thistle reign on Dog Island, creating a sea of weeds in which young native sumac shrubs can hardly be seen, much less thrive.

“Ecologically, this is a pretty sick island,” Schnurr said.

More than the proliferation of weeds, Schnurr mourns the loss of cottonwoods, staple riverside habitat that stabilizes river banks and shelters wild animals — and recreators — from the elements.

Some of the cottonwoods on Dog Island were probably over a hundred years old, Schnurr said, but only took a moment to burn down the night of the fire.

“We’ll never see old cottonwoods like this again on this stretch in my lifetime,” he said, gazing at the bleached white trunks of the dead trees.

After the 2015 Dog Island fire was doused, Schnurr was one of the first people to survey the damage and begin clean-up.

He and other BLM officials, including Collin Ewing, who manages the region’s National Conservation Areas, brought in a crew from the Western Colorado Conservation Corps, an organization that recruits youth volunteers to help with service projects, and began to clear out fallen trees and burnt tamarisk, another invasive plant overwhelming many parts of Ruby Horsethief.

By the fall of 2016, Graham and the Colorado Canyons Association had secured funding through the Colorado Water Conservation Board to restore three areas in Ruby Horsethief, one of which was Dog Island.

The association worked with Ewing, Schnurr and others to replant the island’s native species, like sumac, supplied by the Upper Colorado Plant Center in Meeker, a nonprofit that specializes in revegetating disturbed environments with natural growth.

The group also continued to clear out dead tamarisk, and they trimmed back extraneous cottonwood growth to encourage the recovering trees to focus their energy on establishment.

The game-plan for Dog Island now, a year after the original restorative push and two years after the burn, is to treat invasive weeds with herbicide and wait for nature to take its course, Schnurr said. He said once the weeds die, the native plants should move in to replace them.

But there’s more hands-on work to be done elsewhere in the canyons. Dog Island isn’t the only target for Schnurr’s and Graham’s conservation and restoration efforts.

Along the 25-mile Ruby Horsethief stretch, the Colorado snakes through the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and borders the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, protected lands managed for use by the BLM.

@CWCB_DNR: #Colorado Watershed Restoration Program Guidance and Application

Photo via the Rio Grande Restoration Project

Click here to go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board website:

What is the Colorado Watershed Restoration Grant Program?

The Program provides grants for watershed/stream restoration and flood mitigation projects throughout the state.

Examples of Funded Projects

Who can apply for a Grant?

Organizations interested in developing watershed/stream restoration and flood mitigation studies and projects. Contact Chris Sturm, 303-866-3441 x3236, to discuss project eligibility.

How can the money be used?

Grant money may be used for planning and engineering studies, including implementation measures, to address technical needs for watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects throughout the state. Special consideration is reserved for planning and project efforts that integrate multi-objectives in restoration and flood mitigation. This may include projects and studies designed to:

  • Restore stream channels,
  • ­

  • Provide habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species,
  • ­

  • Restore riparian areas,
  • ­

  • Reduce erosion,
  • ­

  • Reduce flood hazards, or
  • ­

  • Increase the capacity to utilize water.
  • How do I apply for a Grant?

    1. Read the program guidance document.
    Program Guidance

    2. Contact Chris Sturm at CWCB to discuss potential applications: 303-866-3441 x3236.

    3. Complete the application and submit by November 3, 2017.

    Three agencies urge #California to approve #SaltonSea agreement #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Ian James):

    The State Water Resources Control Board met Thursday to hear comments on the proposed agreement, which sets targets for state agencies tasked with building thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and other dust-control projects around the lake over the next 10 years.

    The proposed deal represents a new consensus strategy for the Salton Sea among state and local agencies after years of delays, disagreements and widespread frustration. The agreement resulted from negotiations involving the Imperial Irrigation District, Imperial County, the San Diego County Water Authority and officials in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

    IID General Manager Kevin Kelley said the agreement “represents the most significant advance to date at the Salton Sea.”

    “It’s viable, it represents consensus between our three agencies and I believe it’s achievable, and that’s really what we need at the Salton Sea,” Kelley told the board during the meeting in Sacramento, flanked by representatives of Imperial County and the San Diego County Water Authority. “It is not all that we wanted, but it works.”

    The State Water Board released a draft of the agreement, technically called a “stipulated order,” in mid-August and plans to release a final draft soon before considering whether to approve it.

    Members of the state board said they understand the urgency of acting quickly because the Salton Sea is now less than four months away from a critical deadline when some of the Colorado River water that flows into the lake will be cut off and its shorelines will begin to shrink more rapidly.

    The state’s 10-year plan, which was released in March and is the foundation of the agreement, says a total of 29,800 acres of dust-control projects and habitat areas should be built around the lake by the end of 2028.

    If fully built, those ponds, wetlands and other projects would cover less than half of the more than 60,000 acres of dry lakebed that’s projected to be left exposed over the next 10 years – meaning that vast areas of dust-spewing lakebed are still expected to be left exposed, posing worsening health threats in an area that already suffers from extremely high asthma rates.

    After years of inaction by state agencies, though, the three agencies said their agreement offers a clear path forward that they hope will kick-start the state’s efforts.

    They said the deal also would ensure the state board continues to have jurisdiction to see that the state follows through on its plans after Brown leaves office.

    The agreement lays out annual targets for the construction of dust-control projects and habitat areas ranging from 500 acres to 4,200 acres. It says at least 50 percent of the total acreage must “provide habitat benefits for fish and wildlife,” while other areas could be dust-control projects that don’t require water. Those methods could include plowing sections of lakebed or laying down bales of hay to block windblown dust.

    Under the current wording, if state agencies fail to meet an annual acreage target by more than 20 percent for two years in a row, they would be required to develop a plan to “cure the deficiency” within 12 months. Several environmental groups, however, said the two-year period would be too long and suggested state agencies should be held accountable if they fall behind for a single year.

    Several participants in the negotiations said that time allowance could be shortened to a single year in the final draft.

    The agreement brings accountability to the state’s plan by specifying what would happen if state agencies don’t get their projects done on time, said Imperial County Counsel Katherine Turner…

    Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, called it a “balanced, thoughtful plan that is fair to all.”

    The state’s $383-million plan remains largely unfunded, with only $80.5 million approved so far. California lawmakers been discussing a proposed measure that would include $280 million for projects at the Salton Sea, but the measure – and the dollar amount – have yet to secure final approval in the Legislature.

    The bond measure would also have to be approved by voters next year…

    Michael Lynes of Audubon California pointed out that bird populations have been crashing as the lake grows saltier and the habitat deteriorates. Birds that have seen major declines in numbers include white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and eared grebes.

    Ignacio Ochoa, an organizer with the Sierra Club, pointed out that dust from thousands of acres of exposed lakebed is already affecting people’s health and leading to high rates of respiratory illnesses…

    The lake, which has no outlet and is already saltier than the ocean, has been getting progressively saltier and regularly gives off a stench resembling rotten eggs. While Thursday’s meeting was underway, in face, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an odor advisory for the Coachella Valley due to the smelly gases, specifically hydrogen sulfide, coming from the lake.

    The Salton Sea is about to start shrinking more rapidly next year under the water transfers. The 2003 agreement called for the Imperial district to send “mitigation water” from its canals into the sea through 2017 – a period intended to give state agencies time to prepare for dealing with the effects.

    At the end of this year, that flow of water will be cut off and the lake’s shorelines will retreat more rapidly. Over the next 30 years, the lake is projected to shrink by a third.

    CPW Commission unanimously approves NISP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan @NorthernWater

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has unanimously approved the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan submitted by Northern Water for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on the Poudre River in Northeast Colorado. This plan is designed to address the impacts to fish and wildlife due to the development and water diversion associated with NISP.

    Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) staff has been talking with Northern Water about the concept of this project for the last decade. Northern Water, CPW and the Department of Natural Resources have been discussing the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan project in earnest since October 2015. Following more than two years of discussions, Northern Water presented and released a public draft of the Plan at the June Commission meeting.

    CPW staff feel that Northern Water’s plan provides a reasonable solution for fish and wildlife mitigation.

    “We understand the public’s concern for the river which is why CPW staff has been engaged in discussions for close to a decade,” said Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist with CPW. “If we were not involved from the onset, the level of mitigation, enhancement and protection of the river corridor and aquatic habitat would not be such a large part of Northern’s plans,” said Kehmeier.

    Northern Water has made modifications to its project design and operations, and has committed to work with CPW. Recommendations by CPW are aimed at minimizing impacts to fish and wildlife habitat during all phases of the project. Some of these include:

  • Peak Flow Operations Plan, pg. 46
  • the “conveyance refinement” flow, or year-round baseline flow plan for the river;
  • the retrofit of four diversions that currently do not allow fish passage or sediment transport;
  • Big game habitat mitigation and enhancements
  • The Peak Flow Operations Plan will minimize the impacts of NISP operations on peak flows, higher flows in the spring. Peak flow is important for maintaining spawning habitat for fish and aquatic life. Northern Water has agreed to ramping water diversions gradually to avoid sudden changes in river flows and allow fish to adjust.

    The conveyance refinement is crucial for aquatic habitat and river connectivity. This process is intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gate will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

    “The conveyance flow program is significant to the fishery and aquatic life because it keeps water in the river on a year round basis,” Kehmeier said. The conveyance flow will also meet the Fort Collins River Health Assessment Framework flow of 20 cfs 97 of the time at the Lincoln Street Gage.

    “Overall, the conveyance flow will significantly benefit the aquatic life in the river during the low flow times of the year,” Kehmeier said.

    As part Northern Water’s plan, a new reservoir will be created for water storage and recreation opportunities for the public. Northern Water has agreed to provide $3 million plus an additional $50,000 per year for CPW hatchery expansion so that the new Glade Reservoir can be managed as a recreational fishery. Additional fishing opportunities will benefit the local and Colorado economy, as the fishing industry generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually.

    Northern Water has also agreed to provide wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements on the west side of the reservoir, including the purchase of 1,380 acres to protect the reservoir drainage area and big-game habitat from development. This is critical winter range habitat for a non-migratory elk herd.

    CPW recognizes that the water quality mitigation is not complete and the proposed project still needs to go through a 401 certification as part of the federal Clean Water Act process. This certification will be conducted by Colorado Department of Health and Environment. As part of a recommendation prompted by the Colorado Water Plan, CPW staff will participate in that process and feel that it will further enhance protection of the Poudre River.

    Temperature issues occur in the river on a year-round basis; the conveyance refinement and multi-level outlet tower at Glade Reservoir will aid in mitigating the temperature issues and other potential water quality issues, for example, sediment transport during low flow. The releases from the reservoir will be aerated and the multi-level outlet will allow water to be mixed if it is needed at a particular temperature.

    The Poudre River Adaptive Management Plan, pg 97, will allow a collective group of interested parties that include the City of Fort Collins, Northern Water, CPW, Larimer County and others to go back and make corrections to the plan and operation if any are necessary. The plan will also allow CPW and other parties to continue conducting projects to benefit the river to include floodplain connection, fish habitat enhancements and mitigate sediment transport.

    The Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan will now go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for review.

    The full Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan can be found here: http://www.northernwater.org/sf/docs/default-source/default-document-library/2017-08-22-nisp-fwmep_draft-final-1.pdf?sfvrsn=90f38624_2

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

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

    Eagle Mine

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

    New Developments on the Horizon for the Eagle Mine

    Long-time residents of the Eagle Valley remember a time nearly 30 years ago when the Eagle River ran orange. Linda Jones, who worked at Battle Mountain High School, would pass by the river and its orange-stained rocks on her way to work, football games, and ski practices. Joe Macy and his colleagues at Vail Resorts (then Vail Associates) dealt with blowing orange snow on Beaver Creek’s ski slopes in the winter of 1989-90, as their snowmaking process pulls water straight from the Eagle. Those who weren’t around in the eighties might not realize that the scene at the Eagle River was not unlike the 2015 Gold King Mine spill on the Animas River. The leaching of hazardous heavy metals into the lifeblood of the Eagle Valley eventually caused the mining area to be declared a Superfund Site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1986.

    Gold and silver mining activity in the 235-acre area dates back to the 1870s, until lead and zinc mining took over in 1905. Ownership of the operation changed hands multiple times, until 1984, when the mine operator, Glenn Miller, went into bankruptcy and failed to pay the electricity bills. Without electricity, the water pumps in the mine stopped running and the mine workings began to flood. For the next five years, the water level in the mine continued to creep higher, until finally spilling over and flooding the river with lead, cadmium, copper, arsenic and zinc. Water quality began suffering long before the spill, however, as up until the Clean Water Act of 1972 was enacted, discharging contaminated water into the river was a perfectly legal and common practice.

    The State of Colorado and the EPA both filed separate lawsuits against the former and current mine operators resulting in the cleanup being governed by two settlement agreements. Today, the site is owned by Battle Mountain, but the successor of Gulf + Western—CBS Corporation—is still paying for the cleanup and will continue to in perpetuity.

    Over the past three decades, multiple agencies and partners have worked together to remediate, monitor, and improve the cleanup and the Eagle River. In many ways, the Superfund Site is an example of a very successful remediation in Colorado. Ore was originally processed through roasting and magnetic separation, resulting in metals-laden roaster waste. The tailings from the milling process also contained high concentrations of metals and were slurried through a pipeline away from the mine area. The deposited waste led to acid mine drainage. To date, all of the roaster waste and tailings that threatened human health and water quality have been consolidated from the old tailings pile, capped with a protective cover and revegetated to prevent any further groundwater contamination. Contaminated groundwater is currently treated at a water treatment facility before entering the river. Institutional controls and monitoring were established around the waste rock piles to determine acid generation potential and the water quality impact from runoff. The EPA also created secondary cribbing walls beneath Belden as a safeguard from waste rock crumbling into the Eagle.

    Though extensive remediation has occurred on site, the primary remaining concern is water quality and the ecological risks to fish and the tiny aquatic insects they feed on. The Eagle River is currently being managed as a brown trout fishery under Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission set new standards for cadmium, copper, zinc, and arsenic levels. The change in standards required a new “feasibility study,” a Superfund process for the development and evaluation of new plans for cleanup. Today, the need for further cleanup is clear as the metal levels tend to exceed limits in March and April, as the snow is melting at the Eagle Mine site but the river hasn’t hit peak flow yet.

    It’s important to note while arsenic levels peak in the spring, they are still well below limits for safe consumption of fish. The highest arsenic level is about .31 micrograms per liter (ug/L), while the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets the standard for safe fish consumption at 7.6 ug/L, and under the Safe Drinking Water Act the limit is 10 ug/L. At a recent panel discussion of the Eagle Mine, both project managers from the EPA and CDPHE said they would let their kids and pets play in the river, and eat a fish from it as well.

    The EPA broke the site into three manageable operable units (OUs): OU1 deals with site-wide water quality; OU2 is concerned with human health, primarily in the town of Gilman; and OU3 encompasses the North Property Redevelopment, or the Battle Mountain Project. The EPA and CDPHE have recently released Proposed Plans for Operable Units 1 and 3, which can be found online here and here or at the Minturn Town Hall. These new plans outline different alternatives for future remediation of the Superfund Site, to both bring metal concentrations into compliance in the spring as well as address land use changes in the future. Public comments on the plans will be accepted until September 10th of this year and can be submitted by email or mail—the addresses for each can be found within the plans. As these Plans are the first step in determining the next actions in the ongoing cleanup of the Superfund site, the Watershed Council encourages the community to read the plans and provide comments.

    Lizzie Schoder is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit

    Boulder Creek back in pre-2013 stream channel #ActOnClimate

    The City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (OSMP) has begun a major restoration project that will improve native fish habitat in Boulder Creek and restore natural areas surrounding the creek. This ecological project also will repair damage from the 2013 floods by returning Boulder Creek to its pre-flood channel, and will include the planting of more than 11,000 native trees and shrubs. These plantings will help improve the creek’s sustainability and resiliency, and help mitigate damage to private and public property during future floods. These efforts are occurring in two areas east of Boulder. Photo credit the City of Boulder.

    Here’s a report from Charlie Brennan writing in The Boulder Daily Camera. Click through for the whole article and the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    “We are at a very significant milestone,” said Giolitto, who managed the project along with her supervisor, Don D’Amico. “The creek’s flowing back through its pre-flood path. That’s a significant milestone for us. The diversion was pretty significant. We were pretty excited on the construction crew when it happened, when we finally put the creek back.”

    There was no Champagne uncorked as that benchmark was achieved several weeks back. But there was great satisfaction for those who have labored since the spring of 2014 to reverse the havoc that saw the creekbed breached, city and private funds inundated by rogue waters and sediment plugs created that impeded an effective flow in a critical drainage.

    “The other reason this is a milestone, again, (is) getting the creek to convey its flow, both water and sediment. Getting the earthwork done puts the creek in a place where it can actually convey its sediment,” Giolitto said. “Which is a really important piece to getting it back to creating more resiliency.”

    The project involved the contributions of more than 100 city staff, contractors, volunteers and private landowners, and ran to a final tab of $2,030,000. Roughly 25 percent of that was covered by partners that included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Environment for the Americas and the Green Ditch Company.

    Boulder OSMP spokesman Phillip Yates said the city leveraged $520,000 in grants to help pay for the project, putting the city’s actual cost at $1,510,000.

    Primary contractors have been North State Environmental and Left Hand Excavating, with Five Smooth Stones Restoration and Stantec providing project design work. Support has also come in the form of labor provided through the Bridge House Ready To Work program.

    Finish line in sight

    The project, which will involve continued management efforts for at least a couple of years going forward, has included the planting of more than 11,000 shrubs and native trees — yes to the plains cottonwood, thumbs down to the non-native crack willow — improving the native fish habitat and restoring natural areas surrounding the creek.

    The project area is transected by 61st Avenue, but does not include a popular public pathway that would put it squarely in the public eye in the way that efforts at popular trail systems such as those at Chautauqua and Mount Sanitas are so visible.

    “People might see the impacts of the flood as specifically a very trails-oriented impact,” Yates said. “However, there was pretty extensive damage all across the system. There were water delivery systems that we needed to fix. There was agricultural infrastructure we needed to fix. Then, there were a lot of riparian corridors that were scoured. And then we had to go back and take some steps to have some restoration efforts to then actually make those areas better.”

    City restoration projects elsewhere, on trails such as Shadow Canyon South, as well as Mesa Trail, are ongoing, Yates said.

    “But right now we’re nearing the finish line,” he said. “And having this (Boulder Creek project) completed is so gratifying, to see that this work is now coming to fruition and we have an ability to look and maybe see the horizon on completing our flood-recovery work.”

    The enterprise along Boulder Creek has highlighted the symbiotic approach to land management that the city has strived to employ.

    For example, the project repurposed hazard trees that had to be taken down elsewhere in the city, using them for Boulder Creek bank protection and to cover over pools to improve fish habitat.

    “Those have been great ways to reuse materials and partner with other people and other departments” in the city, Giolitto.

    Steamboat Springs: Lodging tax dollars to Yampa River?

    The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

    From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

    The city received 14 different proposals for how to best spend a reserve fund of lodging tax money that has been accruing in recent years. They range from a plan to use the money to keep the Yampa River flowing at a healthy pace in the summer to adding several public restrooms around town.

    The money, which comes from a 1 percent tax tourists pay on their nightly stays, must be spent on something aimed at drawing more tourists to town. Projects must also enhance the city’s “environmental desirability.”

    A committee appointed by the Steamboat Springs City Council will spend this week grading all of the proposals and coming up with a recommendation.

    It will then be up to the City Council to decide which project is most worthy, or whether the money should be spent at this time at all…

    Yampa River Flow Endowment, Friends of the Yampa, $1 million

    Anyone who uses the Yampa River in the summer would benefit from Friends of the Yampa’s idea for how to spend the reserve lodging tax money.

    The fish would also thank the group too if they could.

    The river advocacy group thinks the money could be well spent on water releases from Stagecoach Reservoir that help keep the Yampa River flowing at a healthy level during the summer.

    The Colorado Water Trust has partnered with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in recent years on such water releases.
    The releases help maintain a healthy river and ecosystem during low water years and times of drought.

    “A healthy Yampa River is paramount to Steamboat Springs’ tourism industry,” Friends of the Yampa wrote in its application.

    “Fly fishing shops, tubing outfitters, restaurants, breweries and river property owners depend on healthy river flows.

    The application is a collaborative effort that also includes the Water Trust, The Nature Conservancy and some local business owners.