Clear Creek: August wet weather leads to longer rafting season

Clear Creek rafting via MyColoradoLife.com

From The Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh):

Local rafting businesses agree they’ve already experienced a busy and prolonged rafting season in the county, and several rafting companies were still operating in mid-August. However, some have closed for the season.

Suzen Raymond, owner of Mile-Hi Rafting, pulled her boats out of the water the week of Aug. 14.

“We’ve quit rafting because the water just got too low for us to raft,” Raymond said, “but overall the season was a really good rafting season for us.”

Raymond predicts that her business may see a 10 percent jump over last year.

“It’s a pretty good spike for us every year,” Raymond said. “We traditionally run up a little bit, except, of course, in the drought years.”

According to the Colorado Outfitters Association, late-season rafting is still going strong across the state including on the upper Colorado River and Arkansas River.

Brandon Gonski, general manager at AVA Rafting, said the business is already experiencing a longer season on both rivers.

“Clear Creek tends to end a little earlier, but (as of) Aug. 23, we’re pretty excited that we’ve stayed open this year this late,” Gonski said…

Gonski said his company has also seen a good year, which he said could be in part attributed to the prolonged season. While the end of the season differs for every company, AVA ended its season last year on Aug. 16.

Herman Gulch greenback reintroduction

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists and volunteers each carried 10-pound bags of rare greenback cutthroat trout up steep Herman Gulch near Georgetown this week in a bid to permanently return the state fish to its ancestral waters in an alpine stream fed by snowmelt.

CPW biologists hope the fish, each a year old and about 4 inches long, will thrive and continue the long process of restoring the native greenback in its historic habitat of the South Platte River drainage and remove it from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of threatened species.

But there are no guarantees that all the hard work will succeed in rescuing the rare fish. Still, CPW and its partners at USFWS, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, are determined to try to save the greenback, honored as the official state fish of Colorado.

Since discovering in 2012 the pure greenback population in a tiny ribbon of water known as Bear Creek on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs in the Arkansas River drainage, CPW staff has mounted a massive effort to walk Bear Creek, collect and spawn the fish each spring, rear them in hatcheries and now painstakingly stock them in a reservoir and two streams that the agency cleansed of other non-native fish to create the best conditions possible for their survival.

Despite all that work, the first stocking effort of 4,000 tiny, one-inch greenbacks on Herman Gulch and Dry Gulch last September was somewhat disappointing. A recent survey of the streams found no survivors. As a result, CPW decided to restock July 17 with 960 older, more robust greenbacks. The earlier release date also was designed to give the fish more time to acclimate and grow before winter. What CPW researchers know is that it takes approximately 3 years to restock and establish fish in a stream.

Presiding over the restocking effort were Boyd Wright, CPW’s Northeast Region aquatic conservation biologist and Paul Winkle, area aquatic biologist. Also assisting was Harry Crockett, CPW’s native aquatic species coordinator and chairman of the multi-agency Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Team.

“This is a really big deal,” Crockett said of the effort that saw dozens of volunteers serve as fish Sherpas hauling bags up fish up four miles of steep terrain to find ideal spots along Herman Gulch where the greenbacks might take residence. “We need to get these fish in here and see them survive.”

To prepare the streams as greenback incubator sites, CPW staff in 2015 walked each, mile by mile, electroshocking about 600 hybrid cutthroat and carrying them out for relocation in Clear Creek. The streams were chemically cleansed of other species so baby greenbacks might thrive.

Then came the stocking of tiny greenbacks last September, the survey for survivors last week and finally the second restocking July 17. Though greenbacks stocked into Zimmerman Lake west of Fort Collins are thriving, biologists want to see them restored in their more typical habitat: cold, clear, alpine streams.

“This is a fish that evolved in streams over thousands of years.” Wright said. “Then it was almost wiped out in a century and a half of human interference. This is where we want to see them back and thriving again. Here in the wild.”

The long-term goal is to have greenbacks populating a network of streams like Herman, Dry Gulch and Clear Creek, for example, throughout the South Platte drainage. But for now, CPW biologists have to get them to survive a winter.

“The vision is a metapopulation with connected streams,” Crockett said. “But that’s a long way away. For now, we’ve got to maximize the genetic diversity that’s left and get them to take in these streams.”

The survey and stocking efforts will be repeated next year and biologists will be able to track the cutthroats by scanning them with a wand to read identifying tags inserted in each fish.

Among the nonprofit conservation organizations providing a small army of several dozen volunteers to assist in the restocking was Trout Unlimited and its member, Joe Haak of Castle Rock. He labored up the trail about four miles, determined to get his fish in the water in the two-hour window allotted by the scientists, because he feels so strongly about the CPW mission to save the greenback.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this important work,” Haak said as he gently coaxed his 10 greenbacks into a calm pool under two boulders, protected from the swift whitewater of Herman Gulch.

“I feel like I’m kind of a dad to these fish,” Haak said, watching with pride as his greenbacks hovered in the stream, surfacing to eat insects on the surface. “I wanted to be a part of history.”

#Runoff news: Cool temps have dampened snowmelt

From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):

Usually peak runoff hits sometime during the first week of June but cool weather has kept snow from melting on the higher peaks with the states snowpack 191 percent of normal on June 1.

“It’s been a slow start to the season with the cold weather we have had this year,” said McGrath…

The Colorado River near Glenwood and Clear Creek near Georgetown are all below average, and Dustin Doss with Breckenridge Outfitters says the Blue River near Breckenridge is also flowing below average.

Westminster Historical Society’s latest exhibit: “The Driving Force: The story of Westminster water.”

Crews work to build a channel to guide water for Westminster residents and farms in this historic photograph. Credit Westminster Historical Society via The Englewood Herald.

From The Englewood Herald (Kevin M. Smith):

[Phil] Goedert was among the volunteers who worked on the Westminster Historical Society’s latest exhibit: “The Driving Force: The story of Westminster water.”

Six panels explain the history of the water in words, photos and maps in addition to additional panels with a timeline and summary of the water laws. There are also a few artifacts, like a cast iron pipe laid in about 1911 next to a PVC pipe that is commonly used today.

Ron Hellbusch said the exhibit is appropriately named.

Modern-era

Hellbusch was in charge of figuring out the city’s water issue in the 1960s — one of the pivotal times that created a channel to the current day Westminster.

“To see it develop it where the city has grown … a lot of it, you can point to having sufficient water to control your destiny and to control your growth and keep local decisions,” Hellbusch said.

A drought in the 1960s along with the city’s water rights at the bottom of the barrel spurred residents to campaign for change. The water Westminster received had gone through other water treatment plants first before hitting household taps here…

Hellbusch was asked to spearhead a proposal for the city’s own system because he started working for the city’s utilities department part-time in 1953 when he was a sophomore in high school. He continued working summers through high school and college.

He wasn’t an engineer, but he had more field experience than anyone in the city.

In addition to being at the bottom of water rights, city leaders feared that Denver would dictate Westminster’s growth by restricting the number and types of new buildings to stem water usage.

In 1963, a ballot question put the fate in the city of Westminster’s hands instead of Denver’s and it won — by just 170 votes, a 4.4 percent margin.

“That’s when they started to acquire surface water rights,” Goedert said.

Instead of relying on ditch water and canals running through Golden where others had first rights and wells that dried up during droughts, the city made a deal to tap into Standley Lake. Standley Lake was built and owned by Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO).

“Those guys are very protective of their water and they didn’t want any municipalities fussing around with what they could — until they started to have serious problems with the dam,” Goedert said.

The dam was cracking and FRICO didn’t have the money to repair it.

“So Westminster bought into it and said, `We’ll fix the dam and raise it if you give us half the water.’ And they said, `It’s a deal,’ ” Smith said.

And that holds true today.

Westminster added 12 acres of height to the dam. The city has rights to more than 50 percent of Standley Lake water with Northglenn, Thornton and FRICO getting the rest.

Further back

But the water issues started with the first population influx during the Gold Rush in the late 1850s.

“At the time, there were no water laws,” Goedert said. “Whoever was there first, that’s whose water it was.”

First, placer mines, which separated sand from gold, were made from ditches off Clear Creek.

“We started out with the ditches and the canals,” Smith said.

Those were dug with livestock on either side of the ditch dragging a bucket to scrape out earth.

The miners drew farmers and ranchers.

“So that started to expand the ditches,” Goedert said.

Eventually, FRICO built its reservoir in about 1907 to serve agricultural and livestock needs.

Westminster was incorporated in 1911 and included an $11,000 bond issue to drill the city’s first well.

More in the exhibit

The exhibit also covers water as recreation, like the bond issue in 1979 to build Water World and building city swimming pools.

Smith said he hopes to add to the exhibit throughout the next few months and eventually move it to city hall.

The Westminster History Center, 7200 Lowell Blvd., is open 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and by appointment. For more information, call 303-428-3993.

Standley Lake sunset. Photo credit Blogspot.com.

#Snowpack news: Water officials cautiously optimistic about #drought — The Westminster Window

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 10, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Westminster Window (Scott Taylor):

“The big snow events in the metro area honestly do not help us,” said Emily Hunt, Thornton’s water resources manager. “We’d really much rather see the snow up in the mountains. But if we can keep cold weather down here through March, with the trees barely starting to come out in April and people not turning on their irrigation systems until May, that’s ideal for us. Ideally, we don’t want people to have to water their lawns and trees until after Mother’s Day.”

The latest reports for Colorado’s Front Range put snowpack depth at between 120 and 160 percent of annual averages, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.

It’s one of the several measurements local water officials monitor all year long as they prepare for the summer.

“It’s great when the snowpack tracks its normal route, or it’s above-normal route like this year,” Hunt said. “But the other measure is the snow water equivalent, and that really tells us how much water is actually in the snowpack. For us, that usually maxes out about 15 inches.”

NRCS measures show the Snow Water Equivalent along the Front Range at between 13 and 17 inches.

“If we get to 15 inches or higher, then we feel like we are having a normal year,” Hunt said.

Those show that the Denver metro area should avoid drought conditions and water restrictions for another summer…

Hunt said the weather down here can have just as much impact. People use more water when it gets warm. She’d prefer that waits until the local reservoirs have started filling up.

Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and the Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company all rely on Standley Lake as one of their main water supplies, but each city has a number of other reservoirs and canals that feed municipal water treatment plants.

@denverpost: Jeffco Open Space plans to repair, reopen historic Welch Ditch

A portion of the Welch Ditch in Clear Creek Canyon. Photo credit Jefferson County Open Space via The Denver Post.
A portion of the Welch Ditch in Clear Creek Canyon. Photo credit Jefferson County Open Space via The Denver Post.

From The Denver Post (Josie Klemier):

The unique trail is one of a few projects planned at the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon

Jefferson County Open Space will be hosting a community meeting in January looking at a handful of projects planned for the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon.

Among them are development of the Welch Ditch Trail, a unique project reviving a trail atop an irrigation ditch first built in the 1870s to divert water from Clear Creek to around 4,000 acres of farmland in Jefferson County.

In a presentation created for the meeting, Jefferson County Open Space calls it “one of the most remarkable engineering achievements in Jefferson County.” The Golden Historic Preservation Board listed it as one of the most endangered sites in the area in 2003 and 2006.

Parts of the ditch are wooden flumes handbuilt in the 1930s and are elevated above the creek, particularly where it begins near Tunnel One in Clear Creek Canyon, offering a unique overhead view, said Nancy York, a planning supervisor for Jefferson County Open Space.

“It is an absolutely magical experience,” York said.

The ditch, in Jeffco Open Space’s Clear Creek Canyon Park, used to be open to hikers but much of it was closed in 2013 due to hazardous conditions.

York said it is an exciting project for its history — Open Space hopes to work with local historians to install educational signs along the way — but it is also an opportunity for a hiker-only trail alongside the Peaks to Plains Trail being built through the canyon.

York said Open Space is exploring the possibility of a suspension bridge connecting the ditch to the Peaks to Plains trail via a suspension bridge near the popular Twilight Zone and canal Zone climbing areas.

The community meeting, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Golden Community Center, 1470 10th St., Golden, will also provide updates on the ongoing work on the Peaks to Plains Trail, which received grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Department of Transportation, according to a Jeffco Open Space release.