Headwaters Summer 2010: Grassroots-- For the Love of Home

Page 1

The Grassroots | Case for the Private Partner | Citizen Water Brigade | The Agencies’ Take on Watershed Groups

C o l o r a d o F o u n d at i o n f o r Wat e r E d u c at i o n | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0

For the Love of Home Watershed groups act locally to protect rivers

HEADWATERS | S ummer 2010 Currents................................................................................................... 1 In Memoriam........................................................................................... 2 Watermarks............................................................................................. 3

Colorado Foundation for Water Education

The Grassroots....................................................................................... 4 A homegrown approach to healthy watersheds

1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org

Endurance................................................................................................ 6 The value of resources and a healthy mindset in beating burnout

Board Members

Fountain Creek’s New Advocate........................................................... 9

Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.

Case for the Private Partner................................................................ 10 Landowners ease into conservation

2nd Vice President

Rita Crumpton President

1st Vice President

Taylor Hawes

Fire Away.............................................................................................. 14 Why watershed groups are focusing on forest recovery and fire risk-reduction

Callie Hendrickson

Citizen Water Brigade.......................................................................... 19 Non-profits are mobilizing volunteer armies to protect water quality and restore degraded streams

Alan Hamel

The Agencies’ Take on Watershed Groups......................................... 24 Toolkit to Innovation............................................................................ 26 2010 President’s Award & Emerging Leader Award........................ 28 The Grassroots | Case for the Private Partner | Citizen Water Brigade | The Agencies’ Take on Watershed Groups

On the Cover: Tarryall Creek Ranch (center area) is one property where landowners are working with public and private agencies to protect and restore the watershed. Collard Ranch is in the foreground. Photo © www.kestrelaerial.com

C o l o r a d o F o u n d at i o n F o r Wat e r e d u C at i o n | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0

For the Love of Home Watershed groups act locally to protect rivers

About the authors… George Sibley, based in Gunnison, spent the last couple decades teaching journalism and regional studies at Western State College. His essays and articles have appeared in publications including Harper’s Magazine, Technology Illustrated, High Country News and Colorado Central. Writing for this issue, George realized that the “watershed movement” resembles a past collaborative effort between local communities and the federal government, the Rural Electrification movement of the 1930s and ’40s: “It’s the government helping the people help themselves in solving their own problems. It’s neither big government nor small government, just good government.” Cally Carswell writes from Paonia, a funky, Western Slope outpost on the banks of the North Fork of the Gunnison River. She is a reporting fellow for High Country News, where she writes and produces multimedia stories about environmental and natural resource issues around the West. For her story on partnerships between private landowners and watershed groups, Cally got out on the North Fork and says, “It was a treat to report on the river in my own backyard.” Abigail Eagye is a freelance writer living in Carbondale. Growing up in Breckenridge, she developed a love for the state’s pristine beauty. She has since made her home in high country towns from Leadville to Vail to Aspen, where she’s currently the assistant editor at Aspen Sojourner magazine and teaches skiing in the winter. “In covering fire rehabilitation and preventive efforts, I was struck by the pressing need to educate the average Coloradan about how urgent this work is,” Abby says. “If done properly, we’ll never know it needed to be done. If not, local economies, our environment and our way of life are at risk.” Laurie J. Schmidt is a Fort Collins-based freelance science writer who specializes in earth and environmental sciences. Her articles have appeared in national publications including Sierra, National Parks, PopSci.com and NASA’s Earth Observatory. After writing on water-related volunteer work, Laurie says, “I was amazed to learn how much data collection happens in this state as a direct result of dedicated volunteers. For me, it has driven home the idea that a few people really can make a difference.”


Reagan Waskom

Assistant Secretary Treasurer

Becky Brooks Tom Cech Matt Cook Rep. Randy Fischer Jennifer Gimbel Sen. Mary Hodge Rebecca Mitchell Reed Morris Chris Piper John Porter Chris Rowe Rick Sackbauer Robert Sakata Travis Smith Steve Vandiver

Staff Nicole Seltzer Executive Director

David Harper Office Manager

Kristin Maharg Education Program Associate

Aaron Parker OSM/VISTA Program Assistant

Mission Statement The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue. Acknowledgments The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks the people and organizations who provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue. Headwaters is a magazine designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2010 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 Edited by Jayla Poppleton. Designed by Emmett Jordan.

I have worked with watershed groups since I first moved to Colorado in 2003 and have served on several of their boards of directors and advisory councils. At first I could not comprehend the lengths to which these Coloradans would go to better understand, preserve and protect their local watersheds. Their passion for and commitment to healthy rivers connects their jobs with their lives in a way I had never seen. Hosting weekend festivals or river clean-ups, organizing evening symposiums and fundraisers, and traveling around the state to meet with officials and compatriots was all part of the job description, and no one ever complained. In fact, they reveled in it. Having been somewhat adopted by this motley crew of hydrologists, fisheries biologists, environmental scientists and river lovers, I now understand what drives them. And some of it Nicole Seltzer, pictured on the San Juan River, believes getting on the water is has rubbed off. I would never have guessed, 10 years ago, that I a great way to experience the work of would be guiding (or, more truthfully, rowing with a look of panic Colorado’s watershed groups firsthand. on my face while friends provide instruction) a raft through the scenic goosenecks of the San Juan or the fun Class III whitewater of the Colorado in Westwater Canyon. The love of rivers and their beauty, solitude and ecology can be a big motivator. While my work at the Colorado Foundation for Water Education may not directly protect or restore a waterway, I think the act of producing and distributing information has its own power. By spreading the word that these groups—and these people—exist, we may provide the impetus for others to get involved or learn more. At CFWE, we have also begun working more directly with watershed groups, helping them educate their staff and constituencies on statewide water issues. In the next six months, CFWE will:

Coalition for the Upper South Platte

• Distribute a number of free Citizen’s Guides to watershed groups through funding from the Colorado Water Quality Control Division and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. • Spend staff time meeting with watershed groups statewide to better understand their education needs and how we can work with them. • Host a one-day tour on June 22 of restoration work on Fountain Creek, between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, for both CFWE members and the public. • Chair the 2010 Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference on October 5-7 to facilitate the exchange of information about the current status of watershed restoration and planning. These groups of committed professionals and volunteers are vitally important to Colorado. Their collaborative approach of bringing affected and interested parties together within watersheds is an effective way to solve problems—more effective, in my mind, than the contentious, my-way-or-thehighway approach often associated with environmental advocacy groups, which can cause long-term damage to important relationships. I hope this issue of Headwaters answers some questions about the work of Colorado’s watershed groups and inspires you to learn more or get involved. CFWE will provide a link to a map of where Colorado’s watershed groups have organized on our website, so take a look at who is working in your neck of the woods. As always, we are proud to inspire, teach and connect Coloradans to information about their water. See you on the river,

Nicole Seltzer Executive Director

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Chips Barry: Jokester, Leader, Legend Chips. He was the one person in the Colorado water community who didn’t need a last name. When you said “Chips,” everyone knew to whom you were referring. He loved his wife and his sons, golf (he was a master of the foot wedge), tennis, squash, old Saabs, and his farm in Hawaii. He loved the water community. He loved his coworkers at Denver Water, and he often talked with pride of their dedication and ability to move quickly to address the changing circumstances and uncertainties inherent in running a major water utility. He relished practical jokes and sometimes got in trouble when he did or said things that many people felt but were too uncomfortable to say. When he found out that Pat Mulroy, manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, was going down the Grand Canyon, he arranged for the delivery of a tented “privy” for her at the put-in at Lee’s Ferry. When he learned that Vice-President Al Gore was visiting for an event at Confluence Park in Denver, he ordered the release of some extra water for the photo-op. He testified before the Colorado General Assembly on endangered species by likening his mustard-colored coat to a squawfish and referred to Gov. Bill Owens by stating that “the Emperor has no clothes,” an admonishment of his administration’s lack of attention to interstate water issues. Chips was self-effacing, often stating that his accomplishments were merely the product of the fact that he was in the job. Yet he was also proud of his career, his associations, and

of the accomplishments of those with whom he worked. He was politically astute, intelligent, insightful, and had a keen awareness of the personal strengths and weaknesses of those around him. He conducted meetings with an air of informality and humor, and Denver Water’s Wednesday staff meetings are infamous for their good-natured banter at the expense of anyone and everyone, with malice toward none. When he took the manager’s job at Denver Water in 1991, the organization was at a crossroads in the wake of the Two Forks veto, the Poundstone Amendment, and the Foothills Settlement, which together limited the utility’s expansion and committed it to an aggressive conservation program. He then steered Denver Water through a series of transformational events, including the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires, the 2002 drought, an intense mediation with the West Slope, the changing landscape of the Colorado River, dynamic challenges on the Front Range, economic recession and 9/11. As one of the founding members of the Western Urban Water Coalition, he positioned Denver Water as a leading utility in the West. Over the course of his career he transformed Denver Water into a 21st century leader in the water industry. He was Chips. He will be remembered. He will be missed. And he will be loved. Hamlet “Chips” Barry died tragically on May 2 in a tractor accident on his macadamia-nut farm in Hawaii. He was 66 years old and was prepared to retire a few weeks later. Jim Lochhead had already been hired as his successor at Denver Water. n

A Humble Steward: Dale Mitchell We celebrate Dale Mitchell, CFWE board member and treasurer. Dale died of cancer in March of this year. He was 57 years old. “We will miss him greatly,” says Nicole Seltzer, executive director for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. “He encouraged me to take this job. When I did, he taught me all about reading financial statements, preparing budgets, and keeping track of our income and expenditures. More than that, he was a faithful board member, interested in all aspects of the Foundation’s work.” Nicole came to the Foundation from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District where she got to know Dale, who started work there in 1986. “He was pretty serious and quiet most of the time, like you think of accountants. But he also knew how to have fun. I’ll never forget when he dressed up like Hawkeye in “M*A*S*H” for the District’s 2

By Jim Lochhead

By Justice Greg Hobbs

Halloween party one year, and I played ‘Eco-terrorism Barbie.’” Eric Wilkinson, general manager of NCWCD, encouraged Dale to join the Foundation’s board. “He was skeptical because he thought he might not fit in with the water education people. He saw himself as a finance guy. As it turned out, I know he loved being on that board, helping to make all kinds of decisions.” Wilkinson came to NCWCD the year after Dale. “I worked with him for 23 years. He was humble, had the highest of ethics, and was unselfish in sharing his expertise with fellow employees,” he says. “Dale was invaluable. He thoroughly studied all of the operations of the Colorado Big-Thompson and Windy Gap water projects. Over the years, he figured out ways of saving the water users hundreds of thousands of dollars.” “He also had the daily job of tracking the investment of funds,” Wilkinson says. “The decisions he made helped pay off

the entire remaining repayment obligation of the District to the United States for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.” When I was counsel for NCWCD, I worked with Dale for 10 years. I witnessed how much General Manager Larry Simpson, followed by Eric Wilkinson, trusted and depended on him, as did all members of the District’s board of directors. Sometimes it seems in the water community, with the exposure engineers and lawyers get, we forget that a public agency like the District can’t do its job without a strong, diligent and meticulously honest financial manager—Dale’s forte. I learned at Dale’s memorial service that he also served as treasurer for two church communities, as he did for the Foundation, on his own time. His wife Becky, sons Levi and Scott, and the rest of his family will miss him very much. We will all miss his calm, analytical, thoughtful, faithful voice. n

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Is there anything so powerful as the grassroots? In this issue of Headwaters, we focus on the effectiveness of local people teamed up to work on watersheds. Their recognition that our lives are intrinsically tied to our local rivers and the surrounding landscape fuels visions of what might seem like impossible, or at least unlikely, outcomes. It turns out watershed groups aren’t focused solely on improvJayla Poppleton, Editor ing ecological values, either. Many are following in the footsteps of the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation, a group I met with that has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a model for addressing sustainability on a geographic basis. Their method assesses projects based on a “triple bottom line,” and sustainable watershed management is now often defined as integrating values associated not only with ecology, but also society and economy. Another welcome surprise is that these groups aren’t just working on mountain streams. As someone who lives and works in Stapleton, the urban redevelopment on the site of Denver’s old airport, I welcomed a recent reprieve from my eye-numbing computer screen. When I discovered there was a watershed group called the Westerly Creek Connection working right in my backyard, I called them up. And I jumped at Brian Hyde’s invitation to join him for a 13-block walk along the implausible stretch of “river” he and a few other visionaries have adopted. As I walked with Hyde, a 25-year veteran of floodplain management with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, we crossed between Denver and Aurora a couple times, roughly following the path of Westerly Creek, which flows north to Sand Creek and the South Platte River. Where we began at 11th

Avenue between Quebec and Yosemite streets, the creek has just flowed through a new park in Lowry, an old air-force base and another redevelopment, and backs up behind the Kelly flood-control dam. Then its measured flows are released under the road to continue downstream in a highly engineered “creek bed” and “riparian area,” which Hyde wryly pointed out was “not designed by a landscape architect nor by Mother Nature.” From there, the creek disappears into culverts that direct the water under streets and beneath alleys and parking lots, through sharp, right-angled turns. Here and there are stretches where the creek comes up for a breath of air and glistens on this sunny day, and walking along the adjacent, narrow maintenance vehicle road, I could begin to imagine what Hyde and his co-conspirators envision: an inviting greenway. As we looked for vegetative evidence, between run-down houses, apartment buildings and taco stands, of where the creek flowed before it was manipulated for floodplain management, Hyde further described his vision: daylighting the channel as much as possible, building a path connecting the parks at Lowry and Stapleton, and creating at the very least a contrived connection to the stream throughout. Interestingly, many of the residents throughout this stretch of floodplain are immigrants and refugees, many from Burma and various African countries. Socio-economically, these are not your “weekend-warriors,” and one of Hyde’s motivations is knowing that “people are not always able to go to the mountains to get to the outdoors.” In his retirement from floodplain work around the state, he wanted to finally work on a stream near his Denver home, promoting the notion that “what we do needs to be in better harmony with Mother Nature even in our urban areas.” Our conversation drifted to the forces behind societal changes. Hyde said he thinks they’re often “brought about in part by someone willing to be perceived as a loony toon.” It starts with a crazy vision—like the one that he has even for the “are you kidding me?” sections of the buried, invisible, urban creek—and later others embrace it. Days later, a few blocks north from the end of my walk with Hyde, I ran through a wide riparian corridor surrounding the renewed stretch of Westerly Creek in Stapleton, thinking of what Hyde told me: “When the airport was there, the creek was something to be totally ignored. The transformation is really amazing.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine this creek, where birds trill and herons wade and kids come to throw rocks in the river, was once confined to a pipe beneath a runway. Impossible? Thankfully, not.

Kasia Broussalian

ton Jayla Popple

John Giordanengo (center,) Liz Kellogg (left) and Linard Cimermanis plant willows on the banks of Tarryall Creek at Puma Hills River Ranch in Park County. H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


The Grassroots

A homegrown approach to healthy watersheds By George Sibley

Kasia Broussalian

Armed for the job, John Giordanengo, projects director with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, searches for soft soil to backfill around willow cuttings planted along Tarryall Creek by a volunteer crew. The native willows will protect eroding streambanks and enhance the riparian area on the privately-owned Puma Hills River Ranch, where the original willow communities were cleared for hay and cattle operations. Inset: The Red Lady Bowl of Mount Emmons lights up at dawn beyond the Snake River, which is joined by Coal Creek near the town of Crested Butte.


C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Mount Emmons is probably the closest thing to a holy mountain that the people of Crested Butte, Colo., would acknowledge. It rises 3,000 vertical feet in long, gentle slopes from the western edge of town to an abrupt, glaciated bowl called The Red Lady, named for the early sun that lights her face while the town still lies in night’s shadow.

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0

Jane Chaney

Draining the west and south slopes of Mount Emmons is Coal Creek, a modest headwaters tributary of the Gunnison River that flows through downtown Crested Butte and provides the town’s water supply. Its name reflects its path, which cuts a narrow valley through a layer of coal. The mountain sitting atop that layer of coal contains rich, if geologically jumbled, lodes of silver and all the heavy metals—lead and zinc among them—that are typically found near silver. Historically, Mount Emmons was a central element in the town’s economic as well as its spiritual life. Coal mines there and in adjacent mountains were Crested Butte’s economic mainstay for its first 75 years, until the mid-1950s. Hardrock metal mines also operated on and off, corresponding to fluctuating markets. In 2003, the High Country Citizens Alliance, an organization initially formed in 1977 to oppose molybdenum mining on Mount Emmons, initiated a water quality study of Coal Creek. The study found parts of the stream were contaminated enough with heavy metals, some naturally occurring but most from mine drainage, to warrant designating them as “impaired


Endurance The value of resources and a healthy mindset in beating burnout

By Jayla Poppleton Though it takes committed individuals to keep the fires burning, burnout for the leaders of watershed groups is a real issue, says Marc Alston, who has professionally coached 25 or 30 such leaders during the past six years. “People who start non-profits often have a tremendous passion and attachment to the mission of the organization,” he says. “It’s not just a regular job. This is what they believe is the thing that needs to happen.” But for most watershed groups, who are often formed by volunteers, affording to hire staff who can help carry the workload is a challenge. Often, the grants they are able to obtain are stipulated for on-the-ground work. Alston, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency when it first began giving grants to watershed groups, says things have changed. Though there used to be money available to help groups get off the ground, he says, “There’s been a pullback in efforts to support groups directly and funds are now available only for direct project support.” That means volunteer-based groups are lucky if they’re able to hire even one paid staff person, which, according to Alston is a “quantum leap for these groups in terms of what they can do.” In order to hire such a “skeletal staff,” Alston coaches leaders on raising funds, particularly locally. Leaders need to be able to effectively communicate to the people who live in their watershed what the issues are and what their groups are doing. That, he says, will inspire people to donate. “Groups that do that better survive better,” he says. Of course it’s not easy, especially, says Alston, “in rural areas where you don’t have a lot of people or a lot of wealth to do that.” And in the recent economy, groups have found it even more difficult to raise money. Alston also advocates developing relationships with the local cities and counties. “It’s their river too.” Plus, he says, “It’s easier sometimes to get the local government to give $10,000 than to get 100 people to give $100.” Although those funds often come with some strings attached, Alston says the benefit of adding staff to balance the workload—and hopefully, avoiding burnout—is worth considering. Now a board member of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, Alston became a coach because he saw that the leaders of watershed groups were overwhelmed. “The leaders of these local groups have the greatest jobs going,” he says, “because you’re trying to improve your place, your rivers, and these are important rivers. They’re the headwaters of the country. What a great job to have.” But, he says, “You kill yourself doing it. Once you got started you could see it was never going to stop.” Now, his message to leaders is: “You, yourself cannot do it all.” n


stream segments,” giving them priority for federal and state mitigation funding. The long-abandoned Standard Mine on Mount Emmons was designated as a Superfund site, being placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s priority list. Leading the push to get Coal Creek and Mount Emmons cleaned up was Steve Glazer, director of High Country Citizens Alliance’s water program. Expecting the federal government would take charge of the Superfund site, he strategized to create a locally-based effort to clean up the impaired stream segments. Rather than “letting the government do it,” he organized the community to take on the task themselves, matching local efforts with federal money that was available for local groups at work on the problems in their watersheds. Politically, Glazer knew the alliance could not be the group to do this work. Its history of vigorous advocacy for the physical environment in the upper Gunnison valley had put it in opposition to certain projects put forward by major players in the local recreation economy and also created tension with some of the public agencies whose cooperation would be required. So Glazer spearheaded the creation of a new organization, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, one of a relatively new kind of group focused on remediating a specific set of environmental problems. These new groups are generally called watershed groups, and their focus is the health and vitality of the river that runs through their lives. The first of these watershed groups formed in Colorado in the mid-1990s, and today there are at least 80 of them in Colorado communities, further organized into a statewide Colorado Watershed Assembly. Nationally, there are more than 3,000 such groups. Jeff Crane, co-founder and executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, who has been a dynamic force in Colorado’s watershed movement from the start, says that a watershed group is “a local citizen group organized to improve the water and watershed resources” in its community. Other leaders within the movement emphasize the collaborative nature of the groups, which draw from local businesses, property owners, public officials, state and federal agencies, and “just citizens,” as well as those proud to call themselves environmentalists. The boards of watershed groups are comprised of individuals with diverse mindsets but who all have a stake in the future of the stream. These members’ lowest common denominator was well articulated by a member of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition’s board: “I drink the water.” Many of the new watershed groups in Colorado have, like Coal Creek, organized to mitigate some specific, locallyoccurring problem or natural event. Often, those are problems associated with the state’s mining heritage: Residual metals from thousands of large and small abandoned mines—plus their tailings and waste rock piles—are draining into headwaters streams. Others address issues associated with agricultural communities—stream banks degraded when cleared of riparian vegetation and trampled by livestock, nonpoint source runoff containing fertilizers and insecticides and other pollutants, and ill-planned sand and gravel “harvesting” operations. Groups are also at work in the most urban environments: Several in the Denver area are working to “free” small South Platte tributaries long consigned to culverts and establish greenways along them. Some watershed groups that formed in response to a specific issue have discovered and taken on additional or unexpected challenges in their watersheds. The Eagle River Watershed Council, the outgrowth of a group formed to monitor cleanup of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site, has since addressed traction sand migration from Interstate 70 over

© www.kestrelaerial.com

Vail Pass into the adjacent Black Gore Creek. The Clear Creek Watershed Foundation formed to deal with abandoned mines but has more recently become interested in developing alternative energy resources on the reclaimed sites. Other proactive work, such as addressing fuel-loading to reduce the threat of wildfire in the watershed, or funding research on historic streamflows to better inform water providers seeking to manage reservoir releases for ecological benefits, have sprung forth from groups originally formed in a reactive mode. The explosive growth of watershed groups in the state over the past decade is largely a result of a change in how the federal Environmental Protection Agency does business. In 1987, the U.S. Congress amended the Clean Water Act to reflect the EPA’s recognition that non-point source pollution problems could not be addressed in the same regulatory manner used for point-source polluters, where pollutants are discharged from pipes or other identifiable sources. Non-point source pollution problems were so deeply ingrained in local economies and cultures, with so many incremental sources, that they could only be addressed if, as Crane put it, the EPA could “engage the public in this great work and do so at a scale never attempted before.” Section 319 of the amended Clean Water Act provided EPA money, channeled through state agencies, for specific nonpoint source projects like the one on Mount Emmons—grants for planning, technical and financial assistance, education and training, demonstration projects and monitoring to assess success. Existing organizations with non-point source problems, like municipalities struggling with storm water runoff, were the obvious early recipients of 319 money. By the 1990s, the states began to create programs for working with newly formed “collaborative watershed organizations.” Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, which administers the 319 money here, reorganized in 1997 to focus its programs on a more holistic, watershed level, sending representatives to four quadrants of the state to both build on and stimulate the growing interest in homegrown action on local watershed problems. This unleashed a flood of grassroots activity. By the turn of the century, Colorado alone had 40 watershed groups, reflecting a nationwide movement. Between 1998 and 1999, EPA 319 grants almost doubled nationally, from $105 million to $200 million. Further advancing the movement, in 1999 Jeff Crane from the West Slope and Richard Fox from the Front Range—more recently director of Trees, Water and People—along with some other watershed leaders, created the Colorado Watershed Assembly, partly to enable the exchange of information among the groups and partly to speak with a more unified voice at the state level. The Colorado Watershed Assembly has since evolved to assist watershed groups with grant writing, watershed planning—essentially drawing stakeholders together to identify and prioritize projects—and project management. It also works on expanding available funding sources, such as pushing the Legislature to make more money available through state agencies like the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The 319 funds are not “easy money.” They can only fund 60 percent of a project. The other 40 percent must be matched, either with cash or in-kind volunteer hours. The EPA also asks for comprehensive watershed plans from the groups it funds—a thorough historical, geological and hydrological description of the watershed, a full technical analysis of the problems to be addressed, and work plans for addressing them. The 319 funds can be used for planning grants or to hire professional consultants for the technical aspects of the watershed plans.

Acid mine drainage and other non-point source pollution from Colorado’s estimated 23,000 abandoned mines impacts at least 604 miles of streams and rivers, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

The explosive growth of watershed groups in the state over the past decade is largely a result of a change in how the federal Environmental Protection Agency does business.

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


High Country Citizen’s Alliance

“The Coal Creek Watershed Coalition’s goals are to only deal with the science, and to work with the broadest possible group of stakeholders.” —Steve Glazer, High Country Citizen’s Alliance


But it cannot be all professionals all the time. The EPA wants local community participation. Anthony Poponi, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition’s director and only paid staff person, acknowledges the temptation to go light on working volunteers into the plans: “It’s a lot easier to hand a professional company a check for doing the work than it is to organize putting volunteers in the field with them.” But Poponi also recognizes the purpose and importance of that volunteer involvement. “The gain is not just community building; it’s building a more intelligent community. People who work on the projects have more concrete awareness of the ecosystem and its needs and some skills that help maintain the work done into the future,” he says. Now, the EPA is upping the ante even more, requiring that plans include measurable results for projects they fund. The Colorado Watershed Assembly is working with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a “Measurable Results Program” for Colorado’s watershed groups. Before-and-after chemical and biological data on physical habitat, inventories of life forms, and other specific information will be collected to literally measure the differences the projects are making. Of Colorado’s 80 watershed groups, none are working on the High Plains east of the Front Range. This does not mean there is no “watershed movement” there; the High Plains are just part of a much older movement and are divided into conservation districts dating back to the 1930s and the Dust Bowl days. These districts—formerly soil conservation districts— work with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service at a watershed level but are focused primarily on problems associated with agricultural lands. Initially formed to address soil erosion, conservation districts now work on issues ranging from salinity control to river restoration to tamarisk removal. The watersheds west of the Continental Divide also have conservation districts, which sometimes work together with the overlapping, non-profit watershed groups on common problems. Often, the watershed groups also “share” their watersheds with environmental advocacy groups, as is the case in Crested Butte. And comparisons of membership lists for those two groups in any Colorado valley usually show a lot of the same names on both. But the watershed groups are typically careful to avoid political territory that might limit their access to nonenvironmentalist elements of their communities. “The Coal Creek Watershed Coalition’s goals are to only deal with the science,” Glazer says, “and to work with the broadest possible group of stakeholders.” Glazer observes that he sometimes finds himself in the position of working in close cooperation with government agencies through the watershed coalition that the High Country Citizens Alliance is engaging more critically in regulatory issues. “I always have to let people know which hat I am wearing,” he says, although it’s clear that multiple hats increase the options. Ultimately, the watershed movement fills an essential gap, uniting people who “just want to fix the river,” as someone in the North Fork of the Gunnison put it. These are citizens who have come to understand the problems facing their communities, who have ideas about what needs to be done, and who seek help from the federal and state level in order to get it done as a declaration of allegiance, not to an ideology but just to the place they live. As much as they can facilitate ongoing relationships among diverse stakeholders and between various agencies and local governments, they will continue to improve the watersheds of the rivers we all depend on. n

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Fountain Creek’s New Advocate

By Jayla Poppleton

It’s not everyday that the government starts a watershed have drawn a fair amount of attention. In response, the utility group. Watershed groups tend to be the non-profit, citizen-led has stepped up with a commitment to restore the creek and is counterparts to government agencies. But last year, through an one of the district’s biggest supporters. “The challenge,” explains Barber, “is how do you mitigate act of the Colorado Legislature, the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District arrived on the scene of the effects of [population growth] so it doesn’t have negative a watershed plagued by flooding and other urban drainage- consequences on your neighbors downstream?” In addition related problems. The district, though officially a government to slowing flows through ecologically-beneficial projects like entity, will function like many watershed groups that serve to diverting storm runoff into engineered wetlands, the utility, in coordinate a multitude of players working to improve their conjunction with the district, is building the nation’s first fish passage for small plains fish. The district’s plans also range shared watershed. Gary Barber, who was hired as the district’s executive direc- from dredging excessive sediments in lower Fountain Creek to aiding Pueblo with plans for tor in February, thinks the urban renewal. district is “a bit of a public As Barber strives to coorpolicy experiment.” dinate a holistic watershed “Hopefully, we bring the improvement program, he’ll best qualities of a watershed work to bring private propgroup, an advocacy group, erty owners into the fold, to the front, and we also making sure they’re aware of bring forth the best aspects the opportunities to secure of a regional flood control, funding through the Natural erosion control and storm Resources Conservation control entity,” he says. Service or other sources to Hiring Barber was the first make improvements. “We’re major action taken by the distrying to make the district a trict. Based in an office courclearinghouse of information tesy of the Historic Arkansas and coordination,” he says. River Project in Pueblo, With an advance from Barber says the district’s next Colorado Springs Utilities of goal is to integrate three docFountain Creek joins the Arkansas River (left) in southeast Pueblo. Photo by Kevin Moloney $600,000 on the $50 million uments detailing the steps it must provide the district necessary to “get the watershed up to snuff.” An Army Corps of Engineers’ study on once water begins running from the Southern Delivery System, flood control, a master plan of Colorado Springs Utilities and the district can afford to pay for Barber’s position and supthe Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District for mitigation port staff as well as the comprehensive plan that ties together in the wake of the utility’s Southern Delivery System project, previous work. But even that $50 million ultimately won’t be and a strategic plan of the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force— enough, says Chostner. “It will be like seed money, but we’re including bolstering the watershed’s value for both recreation going to need all kinds of money to take care of these projects.” In order to secure ongoing funding, Barber, Chostner and the and habitat—will be integrated as one. A steep watershed on the east side of the Continental district may run a ballot initiative in El Paso and Pueblo counties Divide, Fountain Creek spills downward from about 14,000 to in 2012 to add a mill levy. The district was modeled on the Denver Urban Drainage 4,000 feet. Its sparsely vegetated, sandy hillsides do little to slow the heavy rains unleashed by flashy afternoon rainstorms, District, which partners with the non-profit Greenway making the creek vulnerable to erosion, sedimentation and Foundation to accomplish a similar range of goals in Denver. flooding. As the watershed’s growing cities have laid down “We looked to Denver and said, ‘What has Denver done?’ impervious surfaces like buildings and parking lots, while also because they’ve been very successful,” explains Carol Baker, importing West Slope water that added to the flow in Fountain Fountain Creek project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities and member of both the citizens’ advisory group and the techCreek, they have exacerbated the historic problem. Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner summarizes nical advisory committee of the new district. “We said okay, if we have a non-profit, which we have— Fountain Creek’s situation as “basically taking a creek that’s not designed to handle that water flow and turning it into a river.” the Fountain Creek Foundation—and we couple that with a Chostner, also serving as chairman of the new district’s board district, and then we walk hand-in-hand with all the city and of directors, says building water-restraint systems to prevent county governments in the watershed, we can get grants, we can get funding and we can make the watershed into an damage will be a major focus. Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System proj- amenity that people throughout the watershed can enjoy and ect, scheduled to be completed by 2016, will pipe additional want to take care of.” “There are lots of challenges ahead,” acknowledges Baker, imported water 40 miles north from Pueblo Reservoir. Couple that with projected population growth and the blemish of past who has been involved on Fountain Creek since 2001. “But we sewer spills that drew litigation from the Sierra Club and the can overcome them because of the long and hard efforts of all Pueblo District Attorney, and potential impacts to the stream these people.” n H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Case for the Private Partner Landowners ease into conservation

By Cally Carswell


C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Rio de la Vista (2)

On a bluebird spring day,

what solved one farmer’s problems often Jeff Crane stands beside Highway 92 created more for neighbors downstream. where it crosses the North Fork of the After years of frustration they recognized Gunnison River just outside of Hotchkiss, a the need for a coordinated approach. small town on Colorado’s Western Slope. “Citizen watershed management was a With his hands tucked in the pockets of new phenomenon,” Crane says. “We built comfortably-worn Levis, Crane looks up partnerships that were never there.” and down the river, surveying the results With upwards of 95 percent of North of his handiwork. Fork river miles in private ownership, Eleven years ago, Crane began givrestoration couldn’t be accomplished on ing this mile-and-a-half stretch of river, a meaningful scale without landowner coursing through at least nine private buy-in. To differing degrees, the same is properties, a makeover. He replaced a true for rivers throughout Colorado. bulldozed diversion with an inconspicu“The majority of stream corridors tend ous, permanent headgate. He carved out to be in private land areas,” says Dieter a gently meandering channel, stabilized Erdmann, director of conservation operaThe Rio Grande River (left) flows through the curves with strategically placed boultions for the land trust Colorado Open Rio Oxbow Ranch in Mineral County, where ders, and planted willows along the river’s Lands. While public land is essential in award-winning conservation efforts have banks and wetland grasses beyond those. maintaining healthy watersheds, Erdmann restored the riparian area and surrounding “We wanted to build a natural river system emphasizes that it’s only part of the picrangeland. Wetlands along the Rio Grande here,” he says. “And let [the North Fork] be ture. “Wildlife and river systems don’t (above) are protected by a conservation a river again.” break along administrative boundaries.” easement through The Nature Conservancy. Re-imagining the river this way would be a dramatic departure for many landowners. The farmers Protecting the Rio Grande River corridor and ranchers who made their livelihood on the river’s edge Stretching over a vast but remote part of southern Colorado, had taken a heavy hand with the river for years, using plows, the San Luis Valley is one of the least populated regions bulldozers, even dynamite to tame its flow. in the state. Not easily accessible from the Front Range or Their efforts, along with in-stream gravel mining by private Interstate 70, development pressure came slower here than in companies and the county government, took a dramatic toll many of the state’s rural reaches. “We were a little behind the on the North Fork. Most riparian vegetation had been cleared curve,” says Rio de la Vista, a consultant for the Rio Grande to make room for orchards and pastures. Seven makeshift Headwaters Land Trust. irrigation diversions left miles of the riverbed dry for months But the pressure came all the same, most intensely in each year, making it uninhabitable for fish and uninviting for the Rio Grande corridor, where developers saw potential to recreation. And attempts to straighten the river, which began in convert wide-open ranches into subdivisions. In 2005, a 1,900the late-1800s to maximize the arable land acreage, continued acre riverside ranch was sold for development, and in 2007, well into the 20th century under the theory that concentrating out-of-state developers bought a total of nearly 3,000 acres of the water in a single, deep channel was the best way to protect ranch and farm land along the river. Such changes in land use landowners from a 100-year flood. threatened the valley’s agricultural character and foreshadBut it was a losing battle. “Rivers want to meander,” says owed population growth that could strain water supplies and Crane. “And if you try to contain them, they’re going to fight encroach upon wildlife habitat. Still, there were a number of back.” By the mid-1990s, the North Fork’s banks were so unsta- large ranches along the river corridor that hadn’t been sold. ble that spring floods could wash 5 to 10 acres—and some“That created an opportunity for development and for times crops and livestock—downriver at a time. The junked conservation,” says Nancy Butler, executive director of the Rio cars and concrete slabs used to armor the banks never held. Grande Headwaters Land Trust. “We knew we needed to get In 1996, Crane, a hydrologist specializing in stream assess- started on this work immediately.” ment and restoration, offered his services to a small group So in 2007, the trust partnered with Ducks Unlimited and of private landowners looking for a solution. Together they The Nature Conservancy and formed the Rio Grande Initiative formed the North Fork River Improvement Association to work to protect critical private lands in the river corridor. The goal at improving stream stability, riparian habitat and ecosystem was, and is, to safeguard as many miles of the Rio Grande health. Crane theorized that the best way for NFRIA to accom- flowing through Colorado as possible, using conservation plish its goals was to restore the river’s natural ecology and easements as the primary tool. give it more freedom to do what it wanted. It’s a strategy that’s gained steam in watersheds throughout The stretch starting at the Highway 92 bridge was chosen the state. By putting an easement on their property, landownas a demonstration site. When construction began in 1999, the ers permanently sever development rights, even if the land group broke ground on a new method of local river manage- later changes hands. In Colorado, they get a tax break in ment. Landowners had always worked the river as individuals return. Between 1995 and 2008, tax credits claimed for 1.41 in the past, managing it only to protect their own property. But million acres in easements statewide totaled $373 million, H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Gary Nichols

When the cattle are allowed to create just enough disturbance without overdoing it, he explains, they act as rototillers for the soil. Pizel has also encouraged the Lisenbys to put a conservation easement on their property and connected them with the Rio Grande Initiative. An old skiing buddy of de la Vista’s, Pizel demonstrates the incalculable value of personal relationship in making an easement work in both the near and long term. “[An easement] is a legal document that outlines the reserved rights of the landowners and the rights of the land trust” in perpetuity, Butler says. Landowners have to “trust that we’re helping them achieve their purposes now and in the future.” A stretch of Tarryall Creek flowing through Tarryall Creek Ranch needed work to restore the fishery. Shown prior to restoration, the channel here was moved slightly to the right to relieve pressure from a rapidly eroding bank (bottom left corner) and to give newly planted vegetation a chance to take root.

according to a recent study by the Trust for Public Land. Such financial incentives have been essential to protecting land, but a landowner’s goodwill plays a critical role as well. “Nobody would do it purely for the economic incentive,” de la Vista says. “They’ve got to have that love for the land.” Initially, the Rio Grande Initiative developed parameters to narrow its focus. It would prioritize ranches 80 acres or larger that lie in the floodplain. The partnership also sought properties with attached water rights that would enable it to protect the values associated with the use of that water. By those criteria, they identified roughly 54,000 acres for easements, of which they aim to protect at least half. To finance its purchases, the Rio Grande Initiative has secured funding from a variety of public and private sources. It received $1.5 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Reserve Account, along with grants from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Most notably, the initiative was awarded a $7.4 million legacy grant from Great Outdoors Colorado its first year to protect 5,600 acres along the river. They’ve since moved quickly. To date, the initiative and its partners have protected almost 18,000 acres in the river corridor, covering about 30 river miles. Combined with public land, Butler says that puts the total number of protected Rio Grande river miles in Colorado at 111 out of 175. Six of those miles were recently 12

secured on the Rio Oxbow Ranch, a postcard-perfect property and one of the few working cattle ranches left in Mineral County. Southwest of Creede, it sits high in the watershed and is bordered by the Rio Grande National Forest, giving it high conservation value for downstream water quality and as a wildlife corridor. The family ranch had been passed down for generations when it was put up for sale in the mid-’90s. It wasn’t long before developers took note. “There were people who looked at this ranch and told me, ‘Send me designs on how you’d split the ranch up, subdivide it,’” says ranch manager Dale Pizel, who refused to call those people back. When out-ofstate buyers Alan and Patricia Lisenby came along, Pizel, who has worked on the Rio Oxbow in some capacity since he was a teenager, breathed a sigh of relief. “They bought it for the fishing,” he says. “[Alan’s] kept it intact, which is great. It could’ve gone the other way.” Since the Lisenby purchase in 1996, Pizel and the family have completed extensive and award-winning restoration of Rio Oxbow’s riparian habitat and rangeland. They’ve planted willows at the river’s edge and installed rocks to guide water away from unstable banks, control flow speed and create pools for fish habitat. And to improve root systems, they’ve used, of all things, cattle. “There’s a whole crowd that will tell you cattle should not be in a riparian area,” Pizel says. “I happen to be one of the weird people who don’t think they’re correct.” Pizel installed cross fencing and instead of giving the cows free range for an entire season, he moves them regularly from one fenced area to another.

Compounding the benefits of easements With some important easements in place, the Rio Grande Initiative is strategizing its next phase. Butler and de la Vista are laying plans to connect landowners with resources to aid them in restoration efforts or add financial value to their easements, through agrotourism, for instance. Similar efforts are already underway in Park County, where model programs are being developed to increase the public and private benefits of easements. Recent projects on the Tarryall Creek Ranch are indicative of this expanded approach. “Here’s a property that has warts all over it,” says Erdmann of Colorado Open Lands, which has worked with landowners, the county, and other partners to protect and restore streams in South Park, a broad alpine valley in central Colorado. When the ranch was purchased in 2008 by Beartooth Capital, a private equity group based in Montana, tailings piles from gold mining languished around parts of the property. Poorly managed grazing had left more than a mile of Tarryall Creek, a tributary of the South Platte, “completely demolished” in Erdmann’s evaluation, and devoid of healthy riparian vegetation. Despite its flaws, Beartooth saw potential. Buying ranches in disrepair, restoring their ecological values, putting easements in place and retaining limited parcels for resale is the company’s modus operandi. They describe their business model as “deliberately [focused] on the integrated goal of conserving important land and generating competitive financial returns.” For future marketability, the Tarryall Creek Ranch had a few things going for it. By car, it’s only about an hour and a half from Denver and less than an hour from some Summit County ski resorts.

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Overcoming skepticism Back on the North Fork, Jeff Crane’s enthusiasm is evident as he points out gravel bars that have naturally taken shape and a wetland that formed on its own. Most irrigation diversions, thanks to NFRIA’s upgrades to modern headgates, no longer consume the river’s entire flow in one gulp. Two of three in-stream gravel mines have moved their operations further out into the floodplain. Still, while many landowners on the North Fork have recognized the benefit of preservation and restoration, some remain unconvinced. “Some of them still think it’s voodoo science,” says Crane. The river hasn’t followed the exact curves NFRIA built for it, but Crane sees this as evidence of success. “It was built

to move,” he says, as rivers always do. A more recent partnership on the Mancos River hopes for similar results. Since 2006, the Mancos River Watershed Project, initiated by the Mancos Conservation District, has brought together a remarkable range of stakeholders, from private landowners to state and federal agencies to tribes. Unlike the North Fork, only a small fraction of the Mancos corridor is privately owned—20 of 116 river miles, estimates Felicity Broennan, former program director for the watershed project. But that small stretch is also the most impacted section of the river, with the most irrigation diversions and grazing. “That mandates that we work with [the landowners],” says Broennan. So far, six landowners have agreed to restoration projects on their property. Roland and Joan Hoch are among them. When the Hochs bought their ranch 23 years ago, the river had been colonized by beavers, which, at the time, the Hochs considered a nuisance. The beavers’ dams caused floods and made some areas of the ranch inaccessible to cattle. “We trapped the beavers and broke some of those dams to reclaim the land,” says Roland. “But in the long run, it hurt the fisheries.” Now, the Hochs are prepared to give the river back to the beavers through a fishery restoration project that will commence on the property this summer. The Hochs have already put two conservation easements in place, one on a part of the ranch Roland describes as “highly developable.” Although they’ve considered opportunities for river restoration in the past, the economic barrier—$20,000 to $30,000 in personal financing—was too high. “This one, thanks to Felicity and her people, is funded pretty much entirely by third parties,” says Roland.

Kasia Broussalian

And its degraded stream had potential to become a robust fishery, as evidenced by the high quality aquatic habitat that bookends the unhealthy section. Park County had targeted the ranch as a top conservation priority for years. The 4,470-acre spread butts up against 6,240 acres of protected land, contains sensitive wetlands, and sprawls across Highway 285, providing passing motorists with expansive views. But even with money in hand, the county couldn’t get the previous landowners to the table to consider easements or a preservation plan. Since the Beartooth purchase, Park County and Colorado Open Lands have put 4,270 acres—about 95 percent of the property—into easements and worked with the equity group to restore the riparian habitat and open up parts of the property to public recreation. A grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and matching funds from Beartooth were used to fence off the floodplain, giving it a reprieve from grazing. And last year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Park County and Beartooth funded willow and shrub planting, all efforts ultimately aimed at restoring the stream and fishery while supporting Beartooth’s business interests. A portion of the property was also entered into South Park Fly Fishers, a program administered by the county that allows a limited number of anglers to access private property for a fee. The county leases river sections from landowners and gives them a share of the angling fees. “This program provides a new stream of revenue and encourages [landowners] to maintain their riparian areas,” Erdmann says. And, he says, “We’re looking for ways to provide more direct public benefit” from easements. River access is one means of doing that.

“Wildlife and river systems don’t break along administrative boundaries.” —Dieter Erdmann, Colorado Open Lands. Broennan expects more landowners to come on board as the restoration projects show results. Through her work creating a watershed plan for the Mancos, she has already witnessed the potential for people with diverse interests to unite. More than 80 people were involved in that process. “It was really an incredible group of people,” Broennan says. Recalling early meetings during the 2002 drought that unraveled into screaming matches as some water users were asked not to use their full allotments, she says, “You would’ve thought there were going to be bombs in the building.” “You never would have imagined there would have been commonality of what we all wanted to see on the river,” says Broennan. But with persistence, the group discovered there were, in fact, compelling reasons to work together: “It was all about clean water and clean air.” n

In Honor of Doug and Ray, Carry the Torch “The San Luis Valley community has long benefited from the leadership, vision and dedication of Ray Wright, who served as board president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and previously on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Doug Shriver, who was chairman of the Rio Grande Water Users Association and on the statewide Ground Water Commission. Their untimely deaths shook the community to its roots, and the loss will be deeply felt for a long time to come. In their memory, and in order to honor their many contributions, we are now called upon to do our best to carry forward the opportunities they helped create here, to continue the healthy dialogue, to provide ongoing education, to be proactive and creative in solving problems locally, to plan for both the worst and the best case, and to be stewards of the San Luis Valley’s water for future generations.” —Rio de la Vista Raymond Wright, 56, and Doug Shriver, 53, were tragically killed on March 19, 2010, when snow slid off a cabin roof near Creede and buried them. 13


C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Fire Away Why watershed groups are focusing on forest recovery and fire risk-reduction By Abigail Eagye

In the summer of 2002, the Hayman Fire burned across nearly 140,000 acres, securing legendary status as the largest fire in Colorado’s history. It took nearly a month to control the fire, and 132 homes were lost in the blaze. Hayman’s indirect effects are still being measured, as government agencies, public utilities, nonprofits and private landowners continue efforts to repair the landscape. Denuded hillsides require extensive replanting to combat ongoing erosion into critical watersheds. And while the forest slowly regenerates, massive amounts of sediment continue sliding into waterways, upsetting the balance of river-dependent ecosystems and choking some of the state’s major water supply reservoirs.

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Coalition for the Upper South Platte

Erosion control measures are taken in the upper South Platte watershed where volunteers use sandbags and hay bales to block sediments migrating from charred hillsides.

“Eighty-five percent of the population of Colorado gets at least a portion of its water from [the upper South Platte] watershed.” —Carol Ekarius, Coalition for the Upper South Platte

State and federal agencies, naturally, have a hand in the cleanup, but they are limited by geographical and topical jurisdictions. Hayman burned across four counties, three U.S. Forest Service ranger districts, three Colorado State Forest Service ranger districts and three different conservation districts, making the coordination of restoration efforts a veritable nightmare. Watershed groups however, have stepped up to organize across such geopolitical boundaries. Unrestrained by ecologically arbitrary delineations, they work throughout entire watersheds and have played pivotal leadership roles in the rehabilitation that follows devastating fires like Hayman—and in efforts to prevent future catastrophic fires—for the sake of their watersheds. Recovering from Hayman In 1996, the Buffalo Creek Fire burned in the same general area as Hayman would six years later—and across some of the same jurisdictional boundaries. Although a mere infant by comparison, it still burned nearly 12,000 acres, more than twice the size of the Vail ski resort, precipitating its own catastrophic effects on the landscape. The Coalition for the Upper South Platte formed in response. It could be


considered a stroke of luck, then, that the earlier fire had spawned an organization that was already working with some of the affected jurisdictions when Hayman broke out. CUSP helped spearhead Hayman relief efforts even as the fire was still burning, and it’s been a leader in rehabilitation efforts that continue today. Without such efforts in the Buffalo Creek and Hayman burn areas, it could take hundreds of years for a forest to grow back, says CUSP’s executive director Carol Ekarius. Both fires burned in lower-elevation ponderosa pine forests, which don’t regenerate as quickly as higher-elevation lodgepole pine forests, so replanting is vital. For the upper South Platte watershed, which drains to the Denver Metro area, it’s a matter of protecting water supplies for millions of people. “Eighty-five percent of the population of Colorado gets at least a portion of its water from this watershed,” Ekarius says. Yet “Joe Q. Citizen has no clue” how much Hayman and the more easily forgotten fires are still affecting water quality, says Ekarius, emphasizing the dire need for public education on the connection between forests and water supplies. That’s not to say no one has gotten the message and taken up the cause. In the first year after the Hayman Fire, CUSP coordinated 40,000 volunteer hours to

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

help with rehabilitation. In the second year, it racked up another 20,000 hours, and it still accumulates roughly 10,000 volunteer hours annually as restoration efforts continue eight years after the fire. In addition to continuous replanting, Ekarius’ group is also working to determine how much sediment has built up in the watershed as rain washes away unvegetated slopes. “It’s massive, huge amounts of sediment that have moved into the system,” she says. “The post-fire flooding is inconceivable.” Denver Water has partnered extensively with CUSP in rehabilitative efforts geared toward reducing sediment-loading of waterways and ultimately, water storage reservoirs. Two of its reservoirs, Strontia Springs and Cheesman, were seriously impacted by the Hayman and Buffalo Creek fires, and in the years since, the water provider has spent $900,000 building two sediment traps on creeks upstream of the reservoirs. According to Don Kennedy, an environmental scientist with Denver Water, it costs roughly $350,000 to “muck out” the two traps, which has already been necessary three times since the first trap was installed six years ago. And the bucks don’t stop there. Kennedy says Denver Water has spent $10 million on fire-related recovery, including re-establishing roads and treating water. “And we’re going to spend tens of millions of dollars on removing sediment from Strontia Springs.” Such extensive costs in the fires’ aftermath have led Denver Water to get involved in proactive efforts to reduce the threat of large-scale wildfires. Says Kennedy, “It’s much more effective to treat the landscape to keep the forest healthy up front than to deal with the

sediment problem post-fire.” CUSP and a handful of other watershed groups are also working hard to return Colorado’s forests as closely as possible to pre-European settlement conditions—before absolute fire suppression led to today’s unnaturally high fuel loads. The goal is not to completely prevent fires, Ekarius says, but simply to prevent them on the catastrophic scale of Hayman, or even Buffalo Creek, which, although smaller, was still unnatural in the heat it generated, the scar that it left on the land and the sediment that now clogs the waterways. Prevention, a harder sell Hayman’s direct costs—including suppression and loss of property and infrastructure—are estimated at $136 million. And post-fire rehabilitation costs have neared $40 million, according to a 2009 report by the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. Despite such dramatic post-fire costs, funding for prevention remains a hard sell. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of funding out there for preventive restoration projects,” says Pam Motley, the education and outreach coordinator for the Uncompahgre Plateau Project in western Colorado. To compensate, groups like Motley’s are looking for innovative ways for forest-thinning to pay for itself. In order to emulate that “pre-European” reference condition, forest managers use prescribed burns to restore a patchy mosaic landscape to ponderosa pine forests and to reduce ladder fuels—the vegetation that allows a fire to climb from the forest floor to its canopy. They also use manual thinning to remove smaller trees from dense forest stands. In the

past, most of the trees being thinned were too small in diameter to have commercial value, so such preventive treatments were all cost with no return. But with recent interest in biomass as a source of energy, trees that were once “useless” may now have value. In the Uncompahgre Plateau, Motley says their first step is taking inventory on how much biomass exists and how much needs to be removed. Then they’ll estimate how much energy—and cash flow—could be generated to offset the cost of removing the trees. Down in south central Colorado near Trinidad, the Culebra Range Community Coalition has sought other uses for the felled trees, also hoping to recoup the costs of thinning, says Tom Perry, president of the coalition. The coalition succeeded in convincing a post and pole plant in Wyoming to relocate to the Raton area. Now, using timber for projects like fencing, the plant makes good use of the small-diameter trees. Perry’s group also tried to court several pellet plants to relocate to the area but couldn’t compete with Summit and Grand counties, areas that have been more heavily affected by mountain pine beetles and are glutted with dead trees. Perry and the coalition are also taking a more piecemeal approach to the bigger problem: encouraging private landowners to treat their own properties. Treating public lands may prove useless if adjacent private lands are still overgrown. “We really preached right from the beginning that fire knows no boundaries,” he says, “so if you can get a neighbor to do forest thinning and historic restoration… it really creates a safe boundary.”

Denver Water is committed to maintaining healthy watersheds. Whether we’re planting new trees in areas ravaged by forest fires or restoring wetlands, we know that a healthy watershed is the lifeline for our customers, neighbors and the entire ecosystem.


W at e r s h e d s a r e o u r l i f e l i n e Tc sbs logo - two color side by side logo

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Getting private landowners to support forest treatments has demanded education and outreach—and more funds that aren’t directly targeted at thinning trees. But according to Perry, it’s money well spent. A number of ranch owners in the 18,000-acre Santa Fe Trails Ranch, a huge development of 35-acre parcels near Trinidad, recently banded together to share costs associated with thinning trees on their properties. Changing perceptions was crucial to getting those landowners on board. Reaching out about forest health Before taking his position with the coalition, Perry saw firsthand how simple misperceptions can have devastating effects. Perry had managed a ranch near the Santa Fe Trails development that was owned by a wealthy Boston family. The family was environmentally conscious and wanted to take the right steps, but whenever Perry spoke about overgrown forests and heavy fuel loads, they didn’t get it. “They thought forests were supposed to be like these East Coast forests that were thick and full,” he says. Perry had to change that image to convince them to begin thinning trees. In 2001, he organized a three-day forest health workshop that was well-attended not only by local ranch owners but also by a number of the East Coasters. “We had a lot of discussions, and all of a sudden, you could see some of the lights go on,” he says. The landowners began to recognize that there wasn’t enough moisture for fire suppression on their property. “They were starting to see that we were making more trees compete for what little water there is.”

The coalition has now made education one of its main priorities—not only educating people on the need for forest treatments, but also hosting workshops on issues like economic development in rural areas so that projects like the post and pole plant that drive forest treatments will continue to sprout up. In the Uncompahgre, Motley agrees that education is key. On that front, she says Hayman served an invaluable purpose, despite its devastation: It got people behind the idea of thinning trees. “People are more comfortable now with the idea and need to get in and cut trees,” she says, and funding won’t come without that understanding. So education is a critical part of the Uncompahgre Plateau Project’s goals as well. One of the Uncompahgre group’s success stories is bringing the timber industry and local environmentalists, who initially opposed cutting trees, together. After forest ecology experts with the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, working through Colorado State University, helped design a demonstration project to compare the area to pre-European conditions, the environmentalists began to see that “not only is it okay to do treatments in these forest types, but it’s actually needed,” says Motley. The demonstration project is also significant for evaluating the outcomes of forest treatments, says Motley. By running transects to establish current conditions and comparing those to preEuropean conditions, the Uncompahgre Plateau Project can set specific goals and gauge whether treatments are achieving those goals. That, she says, means constantly going back and asking, “Did we

get our desired effects?” It’s an important question with so much money on the line. Ekarius says the cost for CUSP to treat non-governmental lands for fire-prevention ranges from $800 to $2,000 an acre—as much as five times what it costs the Forest Service, which doesn’t have to contend with so many people, structures or power lines and can also employ economies of scale. CUSP and the Forest Service actually work extensively together, along with the Jefferson and Teller/Park conservation districts, partly in order to find a common vision of what needs to be done. Additionally, the Colorado State Forest Service recently received a $10 million federal stimulus grant, of which it passed $1.18 million along to CUSP to do work on non-federal lands in Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Park and Teller counties. Specifically, the money will be used for developing and implementing community wildfire protection plans in subdivisions, as well as in several county open space areas. CUSP also assembled an advisory leadership team to further distribute the funds by awarding “minigrants” for projects such as safeguarding infrastructure by creating fuel breaks. With fuel loading at historically high levels, Ekarius says it’s not inconceivable to see a dozen more Hayman-scale fires impact the populous Front Range. And with roughly 1.5 million acres spread over 10 Front Range counties, it’s simply impossible to treat it all. Which is why prioritizing strategic areas for treatment is important, says Ekarius. And why she and her counterparts have their work literally cut out for them as they wage this forest-based war to protect our water. n

. . . contributing to a cleaner, safer Colorado through low-cost loans to governmental entities for all types of water infrastructure projects. www.cwrpda.com 18



C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

n e z i t i C r e t Wa e d a g i r B

by Laurie J. Schmidt Photos by Kevin Moloney

Non-profits are mobilizing volunteer armies to protect water quality and restore degraded streams On a breezy April day last year, a group of hardy volunteers battled the chill in their efforts to restore a riparian corridor on Little Owl Creek, located in the Pawnee National Grasslands of northeastern Colorado. The Wildlands Restoration Volunteers crew spent the morning planting cottonwood cuttings in holes adjacent to the stream, which they intended to backfill after lunch. As the trees leaned in their unfilled holes, the lunchtime chatter suddenly quieted: Red-winged blackbirds were perched and singing on almost every new cottonwood. “Everyone just stood and watched,” says volunteer Jonathan Stauffer. “In that moment, we saw that the work we were doing was not only providing future habitat—it was

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


“One of Barb’s key visions for River Watch was to have students get involved in the regulatory process…we had the perfect storm of opportunity.” —Rob Buirgy, former high school teacher

immediately beneficial.” It’s rewarding experiences like these that motivate volunteers to donate their time, expertise, and enthusiasm each year to the collective goal of protecting Colorado’s waters. With 100,000 miles of stream, a swelling population, and a landscape that attracts upwards of 20 million visitors each year, the state relies on volunteers—whether they’re collecting data or shoveling dirt—to protect and maintain watershed health. The Colorado Water Quality Control Division monitors the water quality in each of the state’s river basins on a rotating basis once every five years. Dick Parachini, watershed program manager at the Division, acknowledges that it’s difficult for the state to sample often enough to know what’s going on. “You cannot say that you know the quality of all water bodies in the state at any one time,” he says. “It is physically impossible.” In addition to the sheer breadth of water sampling sites that need to be monitored, water quality is always fluctuating. “Water is scarce here, so we use it over and over again,” Parachini explains. “Every time you divert it for irrigation, every time you go from tap to toilet, and every time water flows out of an urban stormwater drain, you change the quality.” And the recent economic crisis has 20

kept monitoring budgets static, despite rising costs. “Every year, we sample fewer and fewer sites because the cost of analysis has gone up,” says Parachini. Working in tandem with the Division is the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission—a nine-member group appointed by the governor to develop Colorado’s water-quality policy and regulations. In accordance with the Clean Water Act, the Commission issues a list every two years of state water bodies that fail to meet standards, known as the 303(d) list. The 2008 list disclosed 257 water quality impairments, with some streams listed multiple times for different pollutants, ranging from selenium to zinc and lead. Charged with the responsibility of adopting the state’s water quality standards in the first place, the Commission needs sufficient data or such decisions may be made in the dark. In the late 1980s, Barb Horn, water resource specialist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, was beginning to get a clear picture of just how much data is needed to monitor the state’s waters. “I would attend the Commission’s basin rulemaking hearings and see that people were making water quality decisions with little or no data,” she says. So Horn figured out where many of the data gaps were and designed a program called River Watch, framed

around the question: What can kids do? “If you think about starting a volunteer program and delivering a consistent product and service, you need a consistent volunteer base,” says Horn. “We selected teachers and students because we knew they were always going to be there.” Through River Watch, volunteer groups contract to monitor one or more stations 12 times a year, analyzing the collected samples for hardness, alkalinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. Other samples are sent to a professional lab for analysis of metals, nutrients and macroinvertebrates. Although middle and high school students make up about 60 percent of River Watch volunteers, the program also receives individual volunteers, citizen groups, colleges and local governments. Since the program began in 1989, over 70,000 volunteers have helped acquire data from 3,000 monitoring stations on more than 300 rivers in Colorado. “River Watch fills gaps by being everywhere all the time and in smaller watersheds,” says Horn. “We are a very cost-effective way to do this work.” The program also includes a strong educational component. For example, says Horn, “If you teach participants why they should care about dissolved oxygen, they can take that with them and articulate why oxygen is important for the river in any community.”

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

Collin Kielty (left), Mikayla Springob and Kevin Ball take water samples on a stretch of the Big Thompson River in Loveland as part of Loveland High School’s water monitoring program.

Horn stresses that River Watch doesn’t interpret the data—rather, its goal is to collect useable data that can be passed on to decision makers. “A typical teacher is absolutely content just knowing that the data are being used, even if they aren’t the agent making change happen.” Rob Buirgy, then, was not a typical teacher. In 1991, two of his chemistry students at Loveland’s Thompson Valley High School asked if they could use river water for their phosphorus analysis assignment. They took instruments down to the Big Thompson River, brought back the results, and unexpectedly sparked a student water monitoring program that lasted 15 years. By 1993, Buirgy had turned the project into an elective science course for seniors. Enthusiasm for the “SWAT Team”—as the students called their Sample Water And Test it group—spread rapidly, so Buirgy started looking for experts to teach his class about the regulatory process as well. Enter Barb Horn and River Watch. “One of Barb’s key visions for River Watch was to have students get involved in the regulatory process,” says Buirgy. “In my classroom, we had the perfect storm of opportunity.” With the assistance of experts like Dave Dubois of the North Front Range Water Quality Planning Association and Paul Frohardt at the Colorado Department

of Public Health and Environment, Buirgy began teaching his students about state water quality regulations. While reviewing standards for the Big Thompson, the students realized that existing regulations might not be adequate to protect people. So, for two years, the team conducted a survey throughout Thompson School District high schools to find out how many students were participating in recreational activities such as tubing, wading and fishing on the Big Thompson. “The results of that survey demonstrated that there were existing uses that nobody really knew about,” says Buirgy. “It didn’t take the students long to figure it out, and they were chomping at the bit to do something about it.” With help from the city of Loveland, Buirgy’s students presented a proposal to the Water Quality Control Commission to change regulations on the Big Thompson from Recreation Class 2 to Recreation Class 1, which is suitable for activities during which users might ingest small amounts of water. The Commission adopted the higher standard. “It was the first time students had ever made a presentation to the Commission, much less a successful proposal to change the standards,” says Buirgy. The experience had another valuable outcome— getting kids interested in science. More

than 300 students participated in Buirgy’s Thompson River Project, and he says a number of his former students have pursued careers in science and water fields. Likewise, Horn says many River Watch kids have gone on to pursue careers in water. “I know of two who work at wastewater treatment plants and several who became teachers and are now doing River Watch with their own students,” she says. Buirgy himself became such a strong advocate of water quality monitoring that he started the Big Thompson Watershed Forum, a joint effort with local water utilities and citizen volunteers to address water quality and ecological issues in the Big Thompson Watershed. According to Zack Shelley, who assumed leadership of the forum when Buirgy retired, the forum is now considered a model for watershed planning, garnering Larimer County’s Environmental Stewardship Award in 2008 and serving as a template for similar coalition and volunteer groups. Other watershed groups have also used River Watch to start programs that have evolved into more complex monitoring programs. A year after it was founded in 1996, the Roaring Fork Conservancy joined River Watch. Now, its water quality monitoring program hosts about 30 volunteers who monitor 22 sites throughout the Roaring Fork watershed, which encompasses 1,450 square miles in cen-

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


tral Colorado. “We now monitor more water quality stations than any other single entity in the River Watch program,” says Chad Rudow, water quality coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. The organization goes beyond sampling and produces a local water quality report based on the River Watch data. The report has helped the watershed group prioritize and work proactively at improving water quality on the streams most in need.

toration needs in the southern Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau region. “We had stream channels eroding down 2 or 3 feet and wetlands buried in 3 to 6 feet of sediment,” says Billmeyer. Through the field institute, a coordinated volunteer effort has completed revegetation and erosion control tasks. The in-kind contribution of volunteer labor is valued at $188,000 so far, according to Billmeyer. “We’ve now restored almost two miles of stream, and with the amount of degraded area, there’s just no way we could do it without the volunteers,” he says. Although the lawsuit was settled in 2000, with the provision that the city must

Kasia Broussalian

The range of water-related volunteer work goes well beyond water quality sampling. Watershed crises often trigger organized volunteer efforts ranging from stream res-

toration to sediment removal. In 1998, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service, alleging that maintenance activities on the Pikes Peak Highway violated provisions of the Clean Water Act. The last 11 miles of the 19-mile highway are unpaved, and the city continually replaces gravel that erodes away after each storm. About 10 to 20 percent of those materials end up in the adjacent streams and wetlands, according to Eric Billmeyer, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which works with federal, state and local land management agencies to address critical preservation and res-

“When people become connected to the land, they realize how important protection of the land is to their own well-being,” says John Giordanengo, who trains volunteer crew leaders and manages the project schedule for Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.

Wildlands Restoration Volunteers Rounding up enough participants for volunteer work days can be on an ongoing struggle for watershed groups. Even for some conservation-minded people, the thought of shoveling sediment or weed-whacking after a long week of work or school just doesn’t conjure up images of a relaxing Saturday. But Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, headquartered in Boulder, has a down-to-earth approach to getting conservation work done: make volunteering fun. With an active volunteer base of 3,000 and total volunteer hours between 1999 and 2009 valued at $2.7 million, the group’s approach is obviously working. “We honestly embrace the idea of building a community and having a good time,” says projects director John Giordanengo. WRV provides food, with trained cooks accompanying volunteer groups on multiday projects. It also holds “social events,” such as potlucks and its fundraising event Wildlands Jam, which features local bands and a showcase of projects and trainings. Giordanengo says that in recent years, the organization


by Laurie J. Schmidt

has noticed a shift in the conservation community, from a focus on protection and lobbying to active property management and “getting your hands dirty.” “When people become connected with the land, they realize how important protection of the land is to their own well-being,” he says. WRV has several active water-related projects where volunteers can get dirty, including riparian vegetation restoration on Tarryall Creek, a major tributary of the South Platte River. The Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a watershed group that works to protect the 2,600-square-mile watershed southwest of Denver, is assisting WRV with volunteer recruitment for the Tarryall Creek project. And Giordanengo says that Trees, Water and People—a non-profit conservation organization based in Fort Collins—is a primary WRV partner. “They’ve done an immense amount of work helping to build watershed groups across the West,” he says. “It’s a community of volunteers, and people bond over this work.” n

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

pave the remaining 11 miles of the Pikes Peak Highway by 2012, Billmeyer says that with over 120 gully channels needing attention, the volunteer project will go on long after the road is paved. Those involved in coordinating volunteer groups are continually impressed by the citizen commitment level. “These are not your typical ‘volunteer-all-the-time-for-everything’ kind of people. These are people who have picked a project as being important, and they show up,” says Dave Stiller, executive director of the North Fork River Improvement Association, which works on the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Showing up is something Jonathan Stauffer excels at. As a volunteer and technical adviser for Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, he’s logged time on close to 30 projects in just two seasons. In his paid job as a surface water hydrologist, Stauffer finds himself immersed in paperwork and regulatory reports. Volunteering for WRV gets him out in the field. “WRV is an organization that focuses on implementation,” he says. “For me, it’s really important that we spend time on the ground actually restoring natural systems degraded by human and natural impacts.” Horn knows others with dedication rivaling Stauffer’s. Several of her adult volunteers’ sampling efforts require a threeto four-day commitment each month. “They’re that passionate about their river,” she says. That passion translates to an infinite number of additional data points for water quality monitoring—points that might otherwise be left out of a state monitoring

program stretched to its limits. “As long as volunteers are following agreed-upon protocols and they can document their quality assurance procedures, we will take the data,” says Parachini. Horn says River Watch data have been used for 20 years and are accessed regularly by a number of users, including the health department, water consultants, educational institutions, lawyers and water managers. And the program’s value as an educational tool for the schools involved is undeniable. River Watch data will prove invaluable once again when the Water Quality Control Commission adopts Colorado’s first nutrient standards in 2011. The EPA asked the state to begin developing nutrient criteria, which will address nutrient-enrichment in water bodies as opposed to toxicity, in 2000. Since that time, the Division has been collecting its own data, but the Division’s standards unit manager Sarah Johnson says, “A big player in this is River Watch. [They’ve] been stalwart in collecting the data and making it available.” That partnership between concerned citizens and the state will allow the Commission to make better-informed decisions regarding the nutrient standards that Johnson believes are “an important piece of protecting Colorado’s ecosystems and water quality.” “I don’t really see this as a gap in the state’s monitoring efforts,” says Buirgy. “Rather, if the state’s monitoring fabric is a little loosely woven, we can certainly weave it tighter with data collected by volunteers.” n

Averting a Watershed Crisis by Laurie J. Schmidt In 2008 the oil and gas industry filed a record 8,027 applications for drilling permits in Colorado, a Colorado Energy News article reported last September. Although that number dropped in 2009, partly due to new regulations, Colorado remains a prime location for oil and gas exploration. Most natural gas drilling is concentrated in the area north of Grand Mesa, but some activity is occurring near the headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Local citizens there are asking questions and mobilizing to protect their watershed. “Some of our members are concerned about natural gas drilling and things that have happened north of [Interstate] 70,” says Dave Stiller, executive director of the North Fork River Improvement Association. “If there are

water quality impacts, you want to know about them sooner rather than later.” Stiller is leading an effort to obtain funding for a work plan through which volunteers will collect baseline data to document existing water quality in sections of the North Fork. “We want to get a handle on what’s being required now by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and others with authority,” he says. Then, the team will try to fill data gaps by sampling surface and groundwater. Stiller says that although drillingrelated water quality problems tend to be significant, they are, thankfully, rare. “But when they do happen, you don’t want to be scratching your head asking, ‘Where did that come from?’” n H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


The Agencies’ Take on Watershed Groups Interviews conducted and condensed by Jayla Poppleton

Jay Skinner Water Resources Unit Manager, Colorado Division of Wildlife

How would you characterize the most effective groups you have worked with? Groups that are successful have somebody that has longevity and energy and time on their hands to wade through all the bureaucracy that is water divisions in Colorado. How do you view the value of watershed groups’ involvement? It’s exciting to see citizens interested in what’s happening in their watershed. Because it is very bureaucratic and very easy to get discouraged and say, ‘How could I possibly make a difference here?’ But there are groups who, at least for their little piece of the universe, are making a difference, and we appreciate that they’re there.

Kasia Broussalian

From your perspective, why do watershed groups exist? The water rights system is not really designed to involve affected parties that don’t own land or water rights within a basin. Watershed groups give the public a place and a voice in some of these decision-making processes that they really don’t have elsewhere.

Chris Sturm (left) joined volunteers at a project on Tarryall Creek coordinated by Colorado Open Lands and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and funded by the Healthy Rivers Fund, which he oversees. He tries to visit all of the projects and programs he distributes funding to and would definitely recommend the water stinger he was using here to pre-drill a hole down to the water table for planting a willow.

How do you support the work of watershed groups? I help people discover new methodologies and make recommendations based on what I’ve seen that’s worked well and what doesn’t work well. I also offer advice on funding sources, and I try to provide watershed groups, especially the smaller ones that aren’t well-funded, with GIS support to help them start prioritizing and planning.

Chris Sturm Stream Restoration Coordinator, Colorado Water Conservation Board From your perspective, why do watershed groups exist? Watershed groups exist to protect and restore water quality, water quantity, habitat and recreational opportunities. Their watershed transcends political boundaries—a very important point. Watershed groups bring together stakeholders from different communities and levels of government to focus on hydrologic concerns that cross those political boundaries. Why is what they’re doing important? Their efforts are directly linked with water quality improvements, higher functioning channel morphology, flood hazard mitigation and water supply protection. This protects and improves the local economy, society and ecology. What does it take to make a watershed group successful? Local appreciation for where you live and that sense of place is so important. Otherwise it would be easy to give up because it doesn’t pay. Watershed restoration tends to benefit everybody within the watershed but it doesn’t benefit any one person so much; there are no capital gains to be had.


Loretta Pineda Director, Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety How do you partner with watershed groups? We get about $350,000 a year in severance tax money that we give out to watershed groups as they’re putting their projects together dealing with non-point source problems related to abandoned mines. For a while we were mostly doing these projects ourselves. Now we provide a lot of technical expertise, but we give the money directly to the watershed groups. It puts the money in the hands of the local people. How do you and the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety support the work of watershed groups? Recently we’ve placed VISTA [AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America] volunteers in 20 watersheds throughout the state in partnership with the Western Hardrock Watershed Team and the Office of Surface Mining. It has helped a lot of watershed groups in doing some of that administrative work that so many of these groups need because a lot of them are volunteers themselves. During the three-year program, VISTAS set up meetings, organize volunteers, write grants and try to build some capacity. The idea is to use the VISTA to reach out and get you to a place where you’re stronger as an organization.

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

How do watershed groups help you? When we’re out in the state trying to do different projects, we know we have some champions of our own in those communities that will help us get through any rough times that we would have with any kind of initiative or a clean up, that people would come forward who are familiar with the work we do and understand how we’re trying to partner with them.

How do you partner with watershed groups? Ultimately, we want someone on the local level to do all the planning and all the implementation for non-point source management projects. Local groups are the ones who are going to know the most about their river and the stressors on it. We will provide them the resources, whether they’re technical, financial or administrative, to help them.

What is the benefit of watershed groups’ local input and knowledge? It’s easy for us in the state to sit up here and decide what local communities need, but I want to be listening to the local community about the kinds of reclamation they want to see. One community’s mine dump could be somebody else’s historical structure. We have to be careful when we go in and we want to eradicate mines.

To what extent would you say your agency relies on watershed groups? We rely on them, first of all, for information-sharing. But we also rely on them for technical advice on our project selection group. And we rely on them very heavily on being project sponsors and coming up with that critical non-federal match. Where we don’t have watershed groups we’re not doing much of any watershed protection or restoration projects.

Dick Parachini Watershed Program Manager, Colorado Water Quality Control Division From your perspective, why do watershed groups exist? What void are they filling? They have become the local voice for dealing with the nonpoint source side of the Clean Water Act. Without the watershed groups, we, the state, would not be as effective in pursuing non-point source management projects.

How would you characterize the most effective groups you have worked with? Watershed groups typically organize around an issue on a very small segment of water, but if you’re going to be effective, you’ve got to look both upstream and downstream of where you’re at and engage everybody. What do you see for the future of watershed groups? It’s been interesting to watch the progression as watershed groups have slowly but surely become an integral part of our overall water quality management scheme. They are very diverse. They are very enthusiastic. And they have an essential role to play in this. n


The power of integration

Engage stakeholders, preserve resources, protect the environment, stimulate economic vitality. Making life better in smart and sustainable ways.

A www.cdm.com


More than 120 offices worldwide

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Toolkit to Innovation

By Jayla Poppleton

Many of Colorado’s watershed groups are breaking trail with innovative strategies and technologies to confront the challenges in their watersheds. Here are a few of their stories to inspire and unleash a wave of creative mettle amongst community organizers everywhere. Mushrooms to the rescue In a lifeless fork of southwestern Colorado’s Mancos River, the local watershed group is eyeing a bioremediation technology based on mushroom spores to bind up heavy metals responsible for the river’s inhospitable environment. The East Mancos River from the Rush Basin to its confluence with the West Mancos is statelisted under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act as impaired for high levels of copper and zinc. “Of course there are other metals in there too,” said Felicity Broennan, who recently left her position as program director of the Mancos River Watershed Project, where she’d been for four years. Broennan discovered the idea of using the mushrooms to chelate—or bind up—metals, a process called mycoremediation, at an April 2009 talk given by Paul Stamets, author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.” Since then, the group has been evaluating the potential of taking straw bales or aspen that are sporulated, or injected with the mushroom spores, to build a filtration system in the river. “It’s a really interesting new process,” said Broennan. However, no successful models of mycoremediating in a climate comparable with the Mancos watershed exist. Stamets has experimented with his spores in the Pacific Northwest, where winters are milder. Although, the mighty metal-accumulators might not survive the Colorado winter, the group is considering giving it a try. “We know what kinds of mushrooms we need,” said Broennan. Now they’re scouting potential partnerships. Though the project would be fairly low-cost—in the thousands as opposed to millions of dollars for other solutions, according to Broennan—property owners would need to give their permission for accessing the river at key locations. The group would have to sample the growing mushrooms as often as every six weeks and then find a lab willing to test their level of heavy metal hyper-accumulation. “It’s basically the logistics of pulling in partners,” explained Broennan. “[The mushrooms] would be considered a hazardous material.” Once the mushrooms become saturated, they would need to be harvested and safely disposed of, or, best-case scenario, the residual metals could be reused. “If the metal-laden mushrooms are not removed, they’ll just decompose and the metals will return to the soil,” said Broennan. “And then you obviously haven’t done anything.” Racing to clear “land mines” Most people might not equate their behavior, or their dogs, with non-point source pollution, but that’s exactly what the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition is trying to help them do by sponsoring Crested Butte’s annual Poo Fest. Poo Fest is a light-hearted and community-centric approach to dealing with a winter’s worth of rotten poo, unveiled by the first snow-melt each spring in a town where 26

there’s one dog for every five people. According to Anthony Poponi, director of the coalition, dog feces contains fecal coliform, E.Coli and other contaminants that, if left on the ground, can migrate to nearby waterways. In 2004, resident artist Kate Seely, less motivated by pathogens than the town’s “aromatic edge,” rallied her neighbors with the challenge of scooping up the most dog poo on a SaTURDay in spring. She enlisted the support of local businesses, readied the scales and charged competitors five dollars to register. Participants are entered in a toilet bowl drawing for donated booty, which includes bottles of wine, gift certificates and outdoor gear. Registration also includes implements—little scoops and buckets and a clear plastic bag—and a “poop shooter,” a spiked coffee drink to take the edge off with its double shot of espresso, chocolate-covered beans and splash of Baileys. Two hours later, everyone converges to weigh-in the waste. After six years, the record cumulative weight of canine feces retrieved in a single day is just under 1 ton. Seely hopes to ultimately use the waste to create some kind of bio-energy, rather than sending it all to the landfill: “I’d love to see poo-digesting machines on every corner.” She keeps the event fun and rewards random contestants with $100 bills hidden in matchboxes she designs for the occasion. “The payoff has to be worth it, and that’s why it works,” she says. For Poponi and the coalition, which sponsored Poo Fest in 2009 and again on May 8, 2010, the event provides a contact point with the public. “We support Poo Fest because it helps us spread the message about how we’re addressing other types of non-point source pollution, like mines and roads, while also getting residents to understand they can be part of the problem.” And, as Seely has shown, part of the solution. Isotopic identification South of Telluride, on the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River, the San Miguel Watershed Coalition together with the Trust for Land Restoration is using water isotopes to craft a remediation strategy to reduce acid mine drainage. For eight years, the partnership between the watershed coalition and the trust has been monitoring acid mine drainage from mine openings and mine waste piles in the Howard Fork Basin, including metal-laden discharge from an abandoned mine called the Carbonero. Curiously, contaminated water drains from the Carbonero’s collapsed, but open, entry point 2,500 feet above the valley floor, high above the nearest visible water source. Pat Willits, executive director of the Trust for Land Restoration, said the groups set out in 2006 to “figure out where the water comes into the mine and if there is a way of intercepting it or diverting it before it becomes contaminated.” Working with the Environmental Protection Agency’s national groundwater expert Mike Wireman and Dr. Mark Williams of the University of Colorado’s Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research, they used isotope sampling to “fingerprint” the water. Wireman explained that the isotopes provide information about the age of the water molecules exiting the mine, as well as the source of the water and the pathways it traveled. The team was able to rule out its original theory that

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

water was migrating from another basin through the Carbonero’s tunnels. Instead, the isotopes pointed toward groundwater. And historical records, which suggest miners hit a large, underground water source in the 1950s, back up the new theory. In late summer or early fall of 2010, the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety will help the groups drill holes from above to investigate the condition of the Carbonero’s tunnels. With the aid of a submersible TV camera, they’ll judge whether the Carbonero is a good candidate for a bulkhead remedy, in which the problem water can either be channeled for treatment or diverted back into the ground. If it proves economically viable, the Carbonero’s landowner even hopes to run the water through turbines, capturing the energy of its 2500-foot descent en route to treatment. Either way, if the groups succeed in stopping the drainage, they’ll cut metal loading into the Howard Fork by more than half, said Willits. The isotope sampling technique, which Wireman and others at the EPA have used routinely over the past 10 years, has only more recently been used by watershed groups. It’s important, said Wireman, especially when considering potential remedies where a lot of money is on the line, “to understand the hydrology of an underground mine so that you can fix it.” A bright future in power The Clear Creek Watershed Foundation has spent 20 years turning “brownfields” to “greenfields” through creative projects like building a recreation center on an old mill site in Idaho Springs and turning a mill tailings pile into a boat launch in Dumont. Now they’re looking to turn some remaining “brownfields” to “brightfields,” said founder and board president Ed Rapp, by promoting wind and solar energy development on abandoned hillsides pocked with waste rock and tailings piles. One of the foundation’s goals is to help Clear Creek County identify sustainable income streams. If the county succeeds in bringing in utility-scale renewable energy, it would be a huge boon. “There’s very little to work with to develop the economy,” said Diane Kielty, project development coordinator for the foundation, especially when 68 percent of the county’s land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The foundation is also expectant that developers would consider using some of the watershed’s contaminated waste rock as backfill around wind turbine foundations and solar panel support stanchions, effectively “killing two birds with one stone.” The advantage, said Rapp, would be the tradeoff of materials right on the ground. Developers wouldn’t need to transport as much material, and the watershed would benefit as mine waste is isolated from waterways. “We’ve begun a study to characterize some waste piles for their potential to be used for construction purposes,” explained Kielty. Working with the EPA and the Colorado School of Mines, the foundation hopes to provide information that will encourage developers to move forward. Spurred by the foundation, the county passed a resolution in 2008 stating its intent to achieve 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2018. The county is well-positioned to meet its goal. Two 230-kilovolt lines and a 115-kilovolt line run through the middle of the county and are operating below capacity. “Existing trans-

mission is a huge plus,” emphasized Kielty. Another asset is the 300-megawatt Cabin Creek pumped hydropower plant, where water is pumped vertically and later released through turbines to produce energy. Cabin Creek could store energy when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining for use when it’s not. Roused by the foundation’s vision for renewables, in 2007 the Clear Creek Power Company began studying the area’s wind potential and is poised to move forward with the area’s first major project—contingent on approval from the county and the Forest Service. The company’s Highland Park Project could be online by 2013, generating 100 megawatts, or enough to power 40,000 homes. In the meantime, the watershed foundation will continue to promote its renewable energy initiative. “I see us as the catalysts,” said Christine Crouse, outreach coordinator for the foundation. “It is our goal to help turn concepts into reality for current and future generations of this area.” Together we float The Roaring Fork Conservancy has worked diligently for three years toward a unifying plan for its jurisdictionallychallenged watershed. With the goal of getting a diverse group of entities to support the final stage of the project and to generate more public involvement and awareness of the plan, the group took key players out on the river. On June 10, the group hosted a floating summit on the lower Roaring Fork between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. They invited elected officials and agency staff to come discuss issues and potential solutions for the watershed. The Roaring Fork Conservancy has hosted a public float each summer to educate citizens about the watershed and to celebrate the river. But the focus this year was unique. “The timing seemed right to invite elected officials and agency staff to do a float and come together around the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan,” said Tim O’Keefe, education director for Roaring Fork Conservancy. As of press time, O’Keefe said Sen. Gail Schwartz and Rep. Kathleen Curry would attend and that Gov. Bill Ritter may get on a raft as well. But the focus was primarily on city and county officials. “Unlike a lot of watershed groups in the state, we’ve got parts of four counties and six municipalities within our watershed, and helping them talk to each other has been a goal for a long time. This event will further that.” One issue the group was hopeful participants would discuss is water quantity. “With two of the five largest transmountain diversions in the state, we definitely focus on water quantity,” said O’Keefe, “because protecting that trickles down to everything else.” The summit also floated “through some great habitat that’s been protected through conservation easements,” said O’Keefe, as well as some areas that have been degraded. “We put a water resources person on each boat to facilitate some dialogue. The gist was to get people talking, but we let participants drive the conversations.” As for building momentum around the watershed plan, Roaring Fork Conservancy hopes the summit participants will embrace it and generate awareness amongst their constituents. “We’ve got a very diverse group of stakeholders,” explained O’Keefe. “The hope is to give a collective voice in saying how we, as a watershed, want to move forward and manage and protect our resource.” n

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


Colorado Foundation for Water Education

2010 President’s Award & Emerging Leader Award The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is proud to honor Russell George with its 2010 President’s Award in recognition of his advancement of a greater understanding of Colorado water resources management. The award pays tribute to those who demonstrate steadfast commitment to water resources education and embody the Foundation’s mission. CFWE has also bestowed its premiere Emerging Leader Award upon Eric Hecox to honor his recent work in promoting better understanding of Colorado’s water resources and issues. These awards were presented during a gala reception held at the Cableland Mansion in Denver on April 9. Eric Hecox (left) and Russell George pictured at the CFWE gala reception.

Russell George, President’s Award Honoree By Justice Greg Hobbs Russell George of Rifle, Colo., grew up in the 1940s working water. His family raised corn, barley, wheat, alfalfa and beef. His father, Walter, served as president of the local irrigation ditch company. His mother’s folks were beet farmers. Rifle abuts the Colorado River between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, where the great Colorado Plateau begins to take shape, heading out of the mountains through canyon land and mesa land. As a boy, George would look for Ute fire rings on bluffs above the river and learned to speak in community gatherings. His father’s friend, Wayne Aspinall, a small town Western Slope lawyer—like George would later become—went from cultivating Palisade peaches to serving in the Colorado General Assembly to chairing the House Interior Committee in the U.S. Congress. By the early 1960s, when George was competing in local, regional and national high school oratory competitions, sponsored by Future Farmers of America, Aspinall had shepherded the Colorado River Storage Project Act into law. Lake Powell, the foundational structure for operating the 1922 Colorado River Compact and 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, was under construction. George’s prize-winning speech was devoted to agriculture’s role in world trade. Nearly a hundred years before, fresh from running the Colorado River, John Wesley Powell began referring to the West as the great agrarian democracy. Reared agrarian, George began his practice of democracy in 1963 as student body president of Rifle High School. After graduat-


ing, he headed east across the Divide to study soil science and economics at Colorado State University and then earned his law degree from Harvard in 1971. Before practicing law, George volunteered with AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America at the Crow Tribe’s reservation in Montana. Then, after briefly trying out a prestigious Denver law firm, George returned home to Rifle in 1976, cofounding the Stuver & George law firm. He specialized in water work for such clients as the Silt, West Divide and Rio Blanco water conservancy districts, as well as local irrigation companies. Neal, his wife, devoted her professional career to elementary school special education, and together they raised four sons, Russell, Charles, Thomas and Andrew. Recognizing his leadership qualities—a good and patient listener, a problem-solving diplomat, a trustworthy person grounded in his community— the people of Garfield, Pitkin, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties elected George, a Republican, to Colorado’s House of Representatives from 1992 to 2000. In 1999, his colleagues selected him as speaker of the House. “Being speaker was the high point of what I’d wanted to do in elected office,” says George. His leadership vision: “What serves the greatest good for the most people, without regard to party.” In the days before term limits, he doubtless could have continued as speaker for many years. Many who saw George lead in the General Assembly thought him to be a logical future governor or justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. But,

in September of 2000, when it seemed George was pointing home to his law practice in Rifle, Gov. Bill Owens resisted, urging him to accept an appointment as director of the Division of Wildlife in Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. Reluctant at first, George gave in. At DOW, he “found [he] enjoyed managing competent professionals. It’s good work and can be more valuable than law-making.” As Gov. Owens had foreseen, George’s agrarian roots, his legislative skills, and his legal savvy helped overcome what might have become a divisive environmentalist versus sportsmen split amongst the wildlife commissioners, composed primarily of citizen volunteers balanced between political parties and geographic regions in the state. “As in the legislature, I always worked by concentrating on the issues and personal conversation with the members,” he says. Gov. Owens appointed George executive director of the Department of Natural Resources in January of 2004. Colorado was suffering from the eighth worst drought, based on river monitoring and tree ring analyses, ever to hit the territory now occupied by the Colorado River Basin states. The drought proved the South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins to be substantially over-appropriated, in light of scant snowfall and interstate compact delivery requirements. And Colorado’s population was swelling. Colorado’s legislature had responded in 2003 by authorizing the Colorado Water Conservation Board, also housed by DNR, to study Colorado’s existing water supply alongside the water demand expected by 2030. In the summer of 2004, pre-

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

liminary results for this Statewide Water Supply Initiative rattled Colorado with the conclusion that most of the state’s river basins would experience water demand outpacing supplies by 2030 and beyond. Future water needs to be factored in would also include recreation and the environment. Concentrated especially between Fort Collins and Pueblo, projected population growth painted a huge target on East Slope agricultural water right transfers as well as any unappropriated water remaining under the state’s Colorado River Compact apportionment. What would the state do to solve this dilemma? In the past, the idea of a “state water plan” had always been rejected in Colorado, in favor of local initiative aided by federal reclamation dollars and local public district bonding authority. Ironically, the 21st century drought put at least one small town lawyer in mind of another’s water sharing plan. “I read Dan Tyler’s “Silver Fox of the Rockies” about Delph Carpenter and

the Colorado River Compact,” says George. “He had the subject matter down, had a great deal of knowledge about the underlying law and public policy, and studied the players—where they were and what mattered to them.” While thinking about the interstate water charters Carpenter helped to forge, in particular the Colorado River Compact, George met Eric Hecox, then a Bureau of Land Management employee loaned to the CWCB for the water supply and demand study. They, along with water lawyer Peter Nichols, began to brainstorm a process that would be legislated in the 2005 Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. The Act, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. John Penry and Democratic Sen. Jim Isgar, created nine basin roundtables and a central intrastate compact committee. “We needed an open process and it had to be statewide. I discussed with Peter Nichols the idea of Colorado having its own internal compact. The

idea was that people would sit at the same table in the various basins, respect each other, start learning more about each other’s issues and problems, and then start working on the problems,” explains George. “[The Act] grandfathers existing water rights and respects our prior appropriation law, but it also puts in place a process for people to figure out their basin’s needs and to make agreements between the basins.” Now the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, George continues his lifelong interest in Colorado’s water and views the roundtables he helped to create optimistically. “The roundtables need a chance to work,” he says. “[The roundtables are] reducing the level of suspicion. Population, consumption, climate change, doubt about our future supplies, the importance of good water decisions for our economy…it’s all about telling the truth, hearing the truth, and trusting our abilities to work it out.” n

Eric Hecox, Emerging Leader Award Honoree By Kristin Maharg A third generation Coloradan, Eric Hecox gained the understanding for his future work in Colorado during a Fulbright Scholarship in Zimbabwe, where he studied community-based natural resource management. “We were working to provide local communities with economic incentives to preserve and manage wildlife. The lessons I learned there carried over to grassroots water resource management,” he says. Hecox then earned an M.S. in Environmental Science and Water Resources and a Masters of Public Affairs from Indiana University. His thesis explored local and collaborative planning approaches to water resources that would meet all the needs of the Colorado River system. Later, Hecox served as a natural resource specialist to the Bureau of Land Management’s National Science and Technology Center, where he provided expertise on water management, taught water rights courses and compiled state water law summaries. While on rotation with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Hecox worked closely with Russell George and Frank McNulty to help develop the concept of interbasin compacts, which led to the 2005 Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. Hecox praises the grassroots, collaborative nature of the process created

by the Act: “The biggest success has been at the roundtable level where you see all different types of people participating that were historically not involved in water issues. Within each basin, these diverse roundtable members are now at the same table, building common understanding. It really shows the power of education for joint problem-solving.” Now at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Hecox is chief of the Water Supply Planning Section, which analyzes Colorado’s current and future consumptive and non-consumptive water needs and potential projects or methods to meet those needs. It also provides public education and outreach on Colorado’s water supply future. Hecox sees education as an area of opportunity. “Our recent work on future demands and strategies to meet those demands has educated the water community and beyond. We realize there is no silver bullet for water supply and we have to all work together to come up with solutions.” Eric met his wife, Nilmini, while they were in college. Originally from Sri Lanka, she is a fundraiser for Stanley British Primary School in Denver. They have two daughters, Priya and Meneka, who enjoy educating their parents on princesses and tea parties. n

CFWE would like to thank the gala reception sponsors for their generous support:

CDM © www.kestrelaerial.com

Colorado Water Resources & Power Development Authority CH2MHILL| Pueblo Board of Water Works | AMEC Williams Energy | Colorado River District | AECOM

H e a d w at e r s | S u m m e r 2 0 1 0


NONPROFIT ORG U.S. POSTAGE PAID DENVER, CO Permit NO 178 1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203

Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference Learning from the Past to Protect the Future October 5-7, 2010 at the Vail Cascade Resort Conference Highlights: How to measure results in education, restoration and water quality programs, plus a workshop by John LaRoca Opportunities for private investment in Colorado’s watersheds by Margaret Bowman of the Walton Family Foundation Jon Waterman’s 1,450-mile journey down the Colorado River, documented in his new book “Running Dry: A Journey from Source to Sea Down the Colorado River” Tracks on: tools for watershed restoration, water and land use, and statewide water issues And much more! Registration will be available in August.

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n


C FWE . o r g

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.