Reports from the Annual Conference: Sustaining Colorado Watersheds 2010

Share

Contributors include Julie Ash, Walsh Environmental; Melissa Macdonald, Eagle River Watershed Council; Chris Sturm, Colorado Water Conservation Board; and Jeff Crane, Colorado Watershed Assembly

In early October 2010, members of our riparian community joined members of our larger water community to attend the fifth annual joint conference on Sustaining Colorado Watersheds, hosted by the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa in Vail, Colorado. For those of you who have not partaken yet, the annual Watersheds Conference is a collaborative effort by four non-profit organizations:

    Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE)

  • Colorado Lakes and Reservoir Management Association (CLRMA)
  • Colorado Riparian Association (CRA)
  • Colorado Watershed Assembly (CWA)

These conference partners bring diverse interest groups together, affording an excellent opportunity for people involved with water and watersheds in the state of Colorado to meet and network together. The 2010 theme was “Learning from the Past to Protect our Future” and offered a wide range of interesting topics, from streams and riparian areas to new water quality updates, and an even wider range of interesting people, from technical experts and watershed managers to regulatory agency reprsentatives and engaged citizens.

Results of our conference survey show that many attendees value the networking opportunities that this conference continues to offer. Positive feedback was received on the quality of presentations, as well as the “positive energy” that distinguishes the Watersheds Conference from other conferences.

The 2010 conference was preceded by four workshop opportunities, where you could learn to master Google tools for watershed planning, identify algae, build public participation for water projects, or understand CDPHE’s Non-Point Source program “from proposal to project”.

To officially kickoff the conference, all attendees were gathered together for the plenary session, featuring John La Rocca with the Rensselaerville Institute, “the think tank with muddy boots”. John led the large group through interactive exercises to help everyone internalize the powerful concept of Measurable Results and to shift towards “an outcome way of thinking”. John sent participants off to the rest of the “conference with a standing challenge to put our new tools to work within the next six months. Who among us has already implemented a Target Plan to achieve greater success and then to quantify it? We’d love to hear about it at CRA, so please send us an email (info@coloradoriparian.org).

From here, and now highly motivated by John, conference attendees moved on to technical and applied presentations in topic areas of their choosing, transitioning first with three options for breakout tracks that took Measurable Results to the next level for Restoration, Education, and Water Quality applications. The conference continued from there following its three concurrent track format and offering numerous sessions on the practice of restoration, water education, and water quality. Over two days, these tracks delivered 30 presentations and five interactive discussions and expert panels. While much too diverse and numerous to list here, presentations included underused tools for river restoration, GIS applications for restoration projects, developments on the tamarisk front, responses to mountain pine beetle, restoration lessons learned, multiple restoration case studies, and an update on the future of the Cooperative Watershed Management Act. Panel discussions included the practice of stream restoration, Growth and Water in Colorado, heated debate on current oil and gas issues presented by representatives of both sides of the table, and more!

The Stream Restoration Panel was highly charged and highly attended with more than 50 participants packed into the room. The intent of this first restoration panel was to launch a much needed, open dialogue on the current state of stream restoration in Colorado. It brought together the vast range of people who steward our river systems and riparian corridors, each performing different tasks and serving different roles, but who care for our natural areas in the same spirit. More information on the 2010 Stream Restoration Panel and what’s in store for the future is provided in a separate article in this issue of the green line.

Here is what Melissa Macdonald, Executive Director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, had to say about the Water Education Track:

The only problem with the Education Track at the 2010 Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference was that you could not attend everything! Not only were the presenters exceptional representatives of their specialties from academia, government, business and the nonprofit sector, but there was a presentation format for everyone from panel discussions, to individual presenters, to workshops, to group discussions, to plenary sessions. There were “entry level” classes and presentations designed for the long time expert. As a moderator of a three-presenter session, I found individuals with all levels of experience participating and benefitting from the remarks of three very different approaches to “Funding Innovation,” an area I know well. I found myself seeking out the two presenters I had not previously met for more insight on their ideas — and taking notes and business cards. As important as the Education Track at the conference is, the networking with other attendees and presenters — all knowledgeable in different areas, and all willing to share that knowledge. I’m looking forward to the 2011 Conference — see you there!

 
Photo 1. John Knapp (right) accepts a Colorado Riparian Association Excellence in Riparian Management Award from Randy Mandel (left) on behalf of the NRCS for their contributions to the Kerber Creek Restoration project near Villa Grove and Bonanza, Colorado.
 
Photo 2. Chris Sturm (left) awards John Giordanengo (right) of Wildlands Restoration Volunteers with a Colorado Riparian Association Excellence in Riparian Management Award for creative collaborative efforts to support riparian restoration throughout the South Platte River Watershed.

The banquet dinner was welcome respite at the end of a big first day of the conference. Margaret Bowman with the Walton Family Foundation gave an informative talk on the Foundation’s Freshwater Conservation Initiative on Hydrophilanthropy. Taylor Hawes with The Nature Conservancy entertained us as always with a fabulous introduction for Margaret. CRA honored two deserving recipients at the Awards Presentation that followed the banquet dinner. John Knapp, NRCS, and John Giordanengo, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers accepted CRA awards for Excellence in Riparian Management as shown in Photos 1 and 2. Also during the Awards Presentation, the WQCD honored Loretta Lohman with a prestigious lifetime achievement award.

The conference survey results gave one of the highest ratings to award-winning author and filmmaker, Jonathan Waterman for presentations on “Running Dry”, detailing his five-month journey down the waters of the Colorado River. The National Geographic Society (NGS) sponsored Jonathan’s project and published the book on his experiences, “Running dry: a journey from source to sea down the Colorado River“. The book includes the Colorado River Basin Wall Map, a stellar NGS mapping effort made possible largely due to a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. The map delivers a remarkable wealth of information on the Colorado River and the challenges it faces. During the conference, Jonathan gave two enthralling presentations of his epic journey, first as lunch entertainment through an awe-inspiring slideshow and later through an artistic and motivational reading of excerpts from his book during an evening social event.

Upon conclusion of the ongoing drama of the Silent Auction and conference partner organizational meetings, the conference wrapped up its last day with three workshop opportunities. John La Rocca led a deeper effort into Outcome Management to follow-up on his plenary kickoff “teaser”. Jeff Crane, Executive Director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, observed that “participants in the workshop left ‘jazzed’ with specific examples of how they could implement performance targets in their own programs that would result in measureable outcomes”. More information on the Outcome Management workshop is provided in a separate article in this issue of the green line, entitled “In Come the Outcomes“, written by Jeff Crane.

 
Photo 3: Dr. Bob Jarrett, with the USGS National Research Program, helps attendees of the “Paleoflood Science and Ecological Restoration in Action” workshop identify field indicators of massive flood events from the past.
 
Photo 4
Photos 4 and 5: Paleoflood and Ecological Restoration Workshop attendees scramble across the Minturn site, identifying flood terraces and indicators of past flood stages on the Eagle River.
 
Photo 5
 
Photo 6: Overview of the containerized woody riparian plants after installation with equipment used for structure placement in the background.

While John ran his indoor workshop, two more groups hit the great outdoors for field workshops. Dr. Bob Jarrett, USGS National Research Program, and Julie Ash, Walsh Environmental, toured folks along the Eagle River to experience forensic hydrology and witness paleoflood science and ecological restoration in action. See Photos 3, 4 and 5. Dr. Jarrett expertly guided his crew to identify field indicators of large flood events from the past and to interpret the meaning…without being foiled by indicators of recent construction activity that are there to confuse us. Take, for example, a nice water-stained cobble that spoke of sustained water levels in the river…but was thrown via excavator to a higher location.

While some of us had our noses in the cobbles and willows for assessment, another team of conference participants were across the way installing willows on Gore Creek to help remedy an unstable, problematic reach at Stephens Park as shown in Photo 6. Chris Sturm, Stream Restoration Coordinator for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, submitted this report on the Willow Workshop:

The Town of Vail Stephens Park stream bank restoration project was developed to re-grade and revegetate the stream banks, improve stream access, and develop in-stream habitat. Fortunately, the timing of the stream bank re-vegetation coincided with the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference. Approximately two dozen conference attendees volunteered to assist the project proponents in re-planting the riparian area along Gore Creek. The volunteers arrived in the early morning chill ready for the experiential lesson. Gregg Barrie, Town of Vail Landscape Architect, spent some time describing the purpose of the project and its funding sources, which included a grant from the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund. Randy Mandel, Colorado Riparian Association, then described the planting strategy. After that, the volunteers went to work planting approximately 450 plants representing 20 different local native riparian species. The project was a success, and CRA will be watching the growth as the seasons progress. Many of the volunteers will be implementing their own volunteer revegetation projects with the watershed groups that they represent. The volunteer effort had an immediate benefit for Gore Creek in Stephens Park, and the lessons learned will be applied to riparian re-vegetation efforts throughout Colorado. Additionally, The Town of Vail is strongly considering adding two additional project sites to build off of the good work that was accomplished by all during the conference.

We will leave you with some select quotes from 2010 conference attendees, culled from the conference survey. We like that the comments demonstrate the feeling of “positive energy” at the conference and suggest that its content is widely applicable to the jobs we all do for the benefit of our riparian areas. We will hope to see you in 2011, when the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds 2011 Conference is hosted by the Westin Riverfront in Avon, October 4th through 6th.

Quotes from the 2010 Conference Survey:

I left the workshop with renewed enthusiasm for my work. I think some of it rubbed off the presenters. I also learned a ton on willow propagation, terrestrial LiDAR, Stream Stats, and more.

I got a lot out of the willow planting seminar. I will use the material from measurable outcomes and performance appraisal in my monitoring work.

There are several things that I can incorporate into water classes that I teach, e.g., algae identification and implications, stream restoration tools, problems with developing nutrient criteria….

I learned what to clue in on to determine flood history in the field. When I document riparian plant communities and conduct riparian PFC assessments, it’s important to know whether the historical hydrology of the stream is still intact.

The impact of small NGOs and individuals on watershed/river ecological restoration [is relevant to my work]. As a researcher, such contacts and topical issues help focus research to critical needs….

Thinking of how my project will affect the environment and how to measure those results rather than simply completing the project. This was an excellent eye opener and motivation to change the way I approach my restoration projects.

Be a spark plug! It takes energy and focus to get a project started and see it through to the end. This simple phrase will help me to stay motivated whenever it comes to mind.

Dream bigger! We need a vision people can identify with, instead of just a loaded database.