First efforts to revive populations of #Colorado’s state fish seemed fruitless. Then the #greenback cutthroat trout surprised everyone — again — @ColoradoSun

Greenback cutthroat trout photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

The species — previously considered extinct — is thriving in Herman Gulch, off Interstate 70, after initial stocking attempts now appear to be successful

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists first tried to reproduce and reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout into a stream, not far from Interstate 70 and the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel, in the summer of 2016.

When they returned the next summer, the results were grim. Researchers examining the ribbon of stream that winds down Herman Gulch found that none of the thousands of inch-long swimmers that were hauled up a steep trail by volunteers and placed in the waterway had survived.

But as history has shown, there’s never really an end to the story of the ancient, threatened greenback cutthroat trout.

A few months later, in September 2017, there was a good sign.

“Lo and behold, we found some of the fish that we stocked as young-of-year in September 2016,” said Boyd Wright, a native aquatic species biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northeast region. “We thought that it was a failed plant. We are seeing those fish, albeit in a very low percentage of what we stocked out.”

The news for greenbacks got better from there.

The creek has been stocked five times since 2016. Last year, CPW put in older fish, some of which were about 5 inches long.

“The real success story, I think, right now is with those fish we stocked last year as 1-year-olds,” Wright said. “We’ve seen on average about 35 percent survival on those. We’re really happy with that level of success. A year later, they’ve lived through a winter, they’ve lived through a runoff cycle. That’s significant.”

State wildlife officials chose the Herman Gulch stream, near a popular hiking trail, because a barrier where it spills into Clear Creek near I-70 prevents other types of trout — browns, brooks and rainbows — from sullying the genetics of the pure greenback population.

Before stocking the greenbacks, biologists remove other trout species from the creek.

CPW says the retention rate of the greenbacks in Herman Gulch is an encouraging sign for projects that the agency is working on to reintroduce the fish in other watersheds…

Greenbacks are being stocked in Dry Gulch, near Herman Gulch, and there are two more streams where CPW is building barriers — at a cost of about $250,000 — to stock the trout and keep other species out.

“Everything we know about this system tells us that it should support a population of native trout,” Wright said of Herman Gulch. “For us, we expect to have reproductively mature fish by 2019 and will best be able to detect if those fish reproduce successfully by 2020. If we see 1-year-old fish in the system in 2020, we know we had good, successful reproduction in 2019. I think 2020 is going to be a big year for this project.”

The hope is then to replicate that success elsewhere…

That passion for the greenbacks and for fishing was on display on a recent weekday morning. Several dozen volunteers from Trout Unlimited gathered with CPW officials waiting for a truck filled with thousands of tiny greenback cutthroats to arrive from Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery near Salida.

They huddled together in the chilly wind since the truck was more than an hour late. But they didn’t care about the delay.

“It’s pretty amazing to see not only the fish take hold, but the people it brings out in support of this,” Omasta said of the different people involved in hauling the trout up to Herman Gulch. “Just this past summer we had families, we had kids from middle school and a high school, walking alongside old fishermen.”

The volunteers fashioned an informal line as they waited for sloshing, 2-foot-tall, clear-plastic bags, each filled with 500 tiny greenbacks. They stuffed the bags into backpacks and headed uphill to free them into Herman Gulch.

As volunteer Brett Piché strolled up to the stream, several 5- or 6-inch greenbacks darted back and forth in the water. Piché placed his bag of fish in the water and, after a few minutes, carefully released its contents into the crystal-clear stream.

Immediately, a larger greenback swam up and gobbled a few of its smaller brethren and darted away.

Herman Gulch via TheDenverChannel.com

Native trout hitch a ride — Colorado Trout Unlimited

From Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Last week, the endangered Greenback cutthroat trout got a major boost from Trout Unlimited volunteers and agency partners in Colorado.

Once thought to be extinct, this rare fish is making a big comeback thanks to the efforts of the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team – a partnership that includes the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Western Native Trout Initiative, and Trout Unlimited.

Over the course of two days in mid-July, 1,700 Year 1 Cutthroats (~4-6 inches) made their way into two headwater drainages in the Clear Creek watershed, an hour west of Denver. The Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch creeks represent the first major river populations for this threatened species since it was rediscovered in 2012.

To help agency partners stock these important little fish, over 80 Trout Unlimited volunteers carried the cutthroats in large packs up steep switchbacks and bushwacked through dense brush to get to the remote rivers. Some people hiked over six miles into the top of the drainage (over 11,500 feet)! These volunteers came from 10 different TU chapters and represented all walks of life – anglers and conservationists coming together to recover this native trout.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” says Paul Winkle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist for the Clear Creek drainage. It was a major undertaking that took a lot of support from agency staff, non-profit partners, and local businesses.

At Colorado TU, we are very proud of the hard work and dedication that our chapters and volunteers provide to these projects. It shows what can happen when people focus on collaboration and overcoming differences. It didn’t matter whether someone was young or old, Democrat or Republican, a dry fly purist or never fished before – we were all side by side, climbing those steep trails together. All to save the Greenback.

The event even drew local media attention and even made it on the nightly cable news:

Colorado’s North Clear Creek & Tuthill

For 150 years, the North Clear Creek in Black Hawk, Colorado has been contaminated from historic mining. A new water treatment plant that came online in 2017 is removing 350lbs of heavy metals every day from the stream with the hopes of reestablishing a brown trout population. The facility uses Tuthill’s Blower Packages to aerate the water to remove the heavy metals more easily. Learn more about Tuthill’s products here: https://www.tuthillvacuumblower.com/i…

The facility was built and run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Transportation was integral to this project.

Westminster is creating a digital tour of their waterways

Westminster

From The Westminster Window (Scott Taylor):

The data [Duke] Douglas collects between June 25 and the end of July will be collected into public database online — not just 360 degree panoramic photographs but stream temperatures, salinity, pH balance and other factors.

“Its terabytes of data,” said Andrew Hawthorn, senior engineer for the City’s utility department. “It’s going to be 30 full days of data collection with a half-dozen or so different data points as sources that will all be sorted through and assembled into a package in post-production. That will give us a data product that will look like Google’s Street view but in the stream.”

The city has contracted with Littleton-based Enginuity Engineering Solutions to perform the survey. Project Manager Colin Barry said it’s the first time a Colorado municipality has performed this kind of stream-side survey.

Setting future projects

The survey tell city officials which waterways are in need of maintenance, like stabilizing a shore, removing trash or vegetation or seeking out pollution sources, according to Sharon Williams, Westminster’s stormwater utility manager.

“Some of this is about water quality but most of it is about observing the banks themselves and looking for what areas need maintenance,” she said. “But it can also tell us if there are sources of pollution we need to be look for, like someone dumping motor oil in a storm sewer or leaking containers somewhere.”

It’s been 11 years since the city last surveyed its stormwater drainages. That includes 63 miles miles of ditches, concrete conduits and canals feeding into broader creeks and streams, like the Big Dry Creek.

But rather than flowing from mountain snow stockpiles, many of these drainages start from within the city itself — running off when people water their lawns or wash their cars in their driveways or from rain funneling through roadside drains. Whatever is on the lawns, the driveways or the roads gets swept down the drains.

“That can mean soap or phosphates from fertilizers getting washed into the steams and into lakes, eventually,” Williams said.

That can encourage algae to grow in blooms, which can ruin a waterway and lead to dead fish.

Digital survey

It’s the kind of thing the survey is meant sniff out, and it involved staffers walking the area and inspecting it in 2007.

Today’s effort is much more high-tech — and heavy. Douglas, a Colorado School of Mines environmental engineering graduate student, shoulders the bulk of the equipment, carrying a 30-pound rig bristling with antennas, sensors and gadgetry.

“Our goal is to give them new imagry and views of the creek they have not had before,” Barry said. “The more we can get in the creek and in the middle, the better.”

A key part is a GoPro Omni quad camera that captures panoramic photos every few feet Douglas walks, linked to GPS system. Not only does it record as many as 4,000 high-resolution photographs per day, it links them to a map.

Eventually, Williams said, city officials will be able to inspect the drainages from the comfort of their own desk, looking at the photos Douglas’ rig captures they way they might Google Street View.

“It’s really helpful because we get an instantaneous snapshot of what’s happening at that place and at that point in time,” Williams said. “It’s different from what we would typically see and have to evaluate the condition.”

Douglas also carries water quality sensors, designed to test for temperature, pH balance, salinity and electrical conduction as well as an optional depth finder.

“It’s basically a lab,” Williams said. “He’s carrying a little water quality lab on his back.”

The rig can also be hooked to a fish camera that can be mounted to the bottom of the walking stick Douglas carries. It’s not necessary for shallow puddles but can show water quality in deeper waterways, like the Dry Creek.

“We did the river by the course and that’s deeper we got some great pictures and the fish,” Barry said.

Golf balls

It certainly draws attention, they said. It’s not everyday you see two men walking down the middle of creek.

“We were up in a by the Hyland Hills golf course and the golfers all wanted to know if we had scuba gear with us, and could we go diving golf balls,” Barry said.

They saw plenty of golf balls, but didn’t collect them.

“But only the bright white ones are really easy to see,” Barry said. “But we saw plenty of fish.”

Barry follows along with a handheld GPS unit, making notes and observations about the condition of the drainage. He notes when it drops down, when other drains join in and when it widens or narrows.

All that information is logged into a computer at the end of each day and will eventually become a comprehensive digital model of the city, showing where they might be problems with pollution, erosion or places that might be in need of maintenance.

“We expect a pretty constant temperature and pH balance throughout the stream, so if we see a significant drop or increase at one point it’s a clue that we need to do a little more investigation in the area,” Williams said.

City staff will use that information to plan maintenance work around the city’s watershed for the next decade. In all the project is costing $238,000 and is being paid from the city’s stormwater utility funds.

The survey won’t only aid city planners, but it’ll be available for the public to look at, too. Westminster is the first Colorado municipality to create this kind of study, but Enginuity has created similar digital tours for waterways in Texas and Washington State and around Key West in Florida.

“They can go to fishviews.com and see those sites and get a better idea of what we are hoping get,” Hawthorn said.

Douglas and Barry found examples of high phosphates almost the moment they got started, in the form of thick green algae covering the sides of the concrete Ketner tributary, the narrow concrete ditch that runs alongside the walking path that started at Oak and 102nd.

Williams said that algae is common along suburban drainages, encouraged to grow by fertilizers common to suburban lawns.

“It causes problems down streams, so if we can do something to treat our urban runoffs, we can improve the quality of natural streams down the line,” Williams said.

The #Colorado Supreme Court upholds water court decision on Coors augmentation plan

Clear Creek Canyon via Bob Berwyn

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

Coors had appealed a water court decision that said any water not used by Coors in its augmentation plans must be returned to Clear Creek.

Coors wanted to reuse water after it left its treatment plant and lease water rights for that water to other companies, according to the appeal.

Coors’ water reuse plan was opposed by competing Clear Creek water users including the cities of Denver, Golden, Centennial, Arvada, Thornton, Georgetown and Northglenn along with private companies including the Farmers High Line Canal.

The Supreme Court ruled that Coors could not circumvent a requirement to obtain a new water right by amending its augmentation plans in order to reuse water leaving the plant.

“We further conclude that the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan does not change its character,” the court ruling says.

Currently a tributary of Clear Creek is diverted to the Coors plant. Water that is not used flows through its wastewater treatment plant and then back into Clear Creek.

Coors believed that it could reuse water leaving its wastewater plant or lease it to other users downstream.

But in 2014, the Colorado State Engineer did not approve a new lease request by Coors to send treated water to Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., according to the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court ruled that Coors’ water rights only allowed a single use of the water diverted by Coors. Any unconsumed water remains waters of the state and must be returned to the stream, the ruling says.

Northglenn water-wise landscaping program returns

The Xeriscape Garden at Denver Water. Xeriscaping is a cost-effective way to save water and beautify your yard.

From the City of Northglenn via Colorado Community Media:

The City of Northglenn is partnering with nonprofit group Resource Central on its popular ‘Garden In A Box’ program to provide low-water gardens to local residents.

The program helps Colorado residents conserve water and save money. It’s a regional water conservation program that provides an assortment of water-wise plants and flowers that can reduce outdoor water use by up to 60 percent. As a participating community, Northglenn residents can get a limited number of $25 discounts on these water-saving plants through this nonprofit program.

“Local families are rethinking their grassy yards,” said Neal Lurie, president of Resource Central, a Boulder-based nonprofit. “Traditional turf lawns are surprisingly thirsty and expensive.

After years of watering and mowing, people are starting to look at how drought-tolerant gardens can help simplify their yards.”

There are five new Garden In A Box kits this year, with a big focus on colors and pollinators. The new kits include “Hummingbird Delight,” “Butterfly Bounty,” and “Colors of Colorado.”

Additional kits focus on vegetable gardens, shaded areas, sun-loving flowers, and attracting honeybees. All gardens are Colorado-grown, pollinator-friendly, and available for pickup in May or June.

Garden In A Box is one of the largest programs of its kind in the United States, helping Front Range families transition more than 1.4 million square feet of land to beautiful, low-water landscaping. This initiative has saved more than 100 million gallons of water since the program started in 1997.

“It’s heartening to see so many people embracing this program,” said Devon Booth, water program manager at Resource Central. “Garden In A Box makes water conservation simple – change happens one family at a time.”

For more information about the program and to register for a box, visit http://ResourceCentral.org/gardens online or call them at 303 999-3820, extension 222.

Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter