Summary of Sustaining Colorado Watershed Conference

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Tracy Emmanuel, Telesto Solutions, Inc.

This was my first time attending the annual conference, and I was very impressed by the organization of the conference and the content offered. I attended several informative sessions and met numerous colleagues that I will undoubtedly be in touch with in the coming year. I have pulled together a summary of a few of the sessions I attended:

1)  CDPHE, Water Quality Control Division gave a really good run through of the process to apply for Nonpoint Source Grants and tips to be successful. I liked the concept of cycling through these four steps in the planning and implementation process: 1) idea, 2) means, 3) action, and 4) assess/evaluate. They also discussed ideas for the matching funds portion of the grant. Their website has a lot of great information to assist with the process: www.npscolorado.com.

2)  Allen Green with the NRCS gave an instructive overview of the assistance provided to the agricultural community: 1) inventory/assessment (including: rapid watershed assessments, watershed awareness, stakeholder input, prioritization, farm inventory), 2) technical assistance (including: conservation planning, standards and specifications, design/layout/certify) and 3) financial assistance (including: working lands conservation programs, easements, land retirement programs, stewardship payments).

3)  Katie Walton Day with the USGS gave an informative presentation on the Environmental Effects of Abandoned Mines in Colorado, specifically discussing a study on the Animas River. Katie gave a good background explanation of the generation of acid rock drainage (ARD) and how mineralization and alteration can affect ARD. She also provided a summary of the watershed strategy used in this particular study, and discussed the importance of understanding the geology and constituent load when investigating watershed water quality. The full report can be found here: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1651/.

4)  Elizabeth Russell, Kim Schott and Romana Sutton provided a summary of the Kerber Creek Mine Restoration Project, which is an ongoing joint-partnership between Trout Unlimited, BLM, NRCS and a local watershed group to restore Kerber Creek from a long history of mining. The project was designed to reduce metal mobility (by the use of erosion control and phytostabilization methods); increase sinuosity; reduce channel width; increase density of aquatic life (by installing instream habitat structures); increase upland vegetative cover (by using high tolerance plants); and stabilize stream banks (by reducing the channel slopes, use of sedge mats, and revegetation). The project will use local landowners to help monitor water quality, revegetation success, and other project attributes through 2015.

5)  The Bioengineering Workshop was very informative; the morning session included presentations by Greg Fenchel from NRCS Plant Materials Center and Grant Gurnee from Walsh Environmental. Greg gave a great presentation on planning riparian treatments in arid and semi-arid ecoregions. He talked about the use of long stem shrubs to reach the capillary water connection, the timing and installation of plantings, and useful planting equipment for different situations. He handed out some useful information on procedures for the step-by-step planning of riparian treatments. Most of the information he discussed can be found on the Plant Materials website: http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/publications/riparian-pubs.html. Grant presented several restoration techniques for bank treatments and sediment control during instream construction. His presentation of the water-dam containment system demonstrated a very interesting way to minimize the amount of sediment released during instream construction. He showed photos of the water dams being used as part of the Eagle River project. The photos vividly show the success of the method: the portion of the channel isolated from the rest of the channel during construction is the color of chocolate milk, but the free flowing portions of the channel moving around the water dams are relatively clear and unaffected by the construction activities. The afternoon session of the Workshop included break-out group problem solving sessions. Two problems were presented and the groups were asked to come up with possible solutions and talk through the benefits/detriments of potential solutions. We also discussed numerous aspects of the riparian/stream restoration scenario, including public involvement, construction timing, and required permitting.

6)  Amy Beatie from the Colorado Water Trust presented a summary of Water Trust and Instream Flow Protection. The Colorado Water Trust is a non-profit organization that facilitates water transactions for conservation benefits including: water acquisitions (donation, purchase, lease, permanent/temporary), physical solutions/structural upgrades (head gates, reservoir outlets, habitat enhancements, check dams), and technical assistance for land trusts. More information can be found on their website: http://www.coloradowatertrust.org/about-us/.

7)  Jackie Blumberg from Walsh Environmental and Brian Rasmussen from Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest gave a presentation on the Carnage Canyon Restoration Project. This project is impressive because of the partnerships formed and the dramatic before and after comparison of project results. The Lefthand Canyon area was heavily impacted by OHV activity and this project involved closing several portions of the canyon to motor vehicles and restoring the hillslope vegetation, and riparian corridor vegetation and stream channel within Carnage Canyon. The process of designing the riparian and channel restoration efforts in Carnage Canyon was also discussed.

8)  Julie Ash from Walsh Environmental led a fieldtrip to the Edwards Eagle River Restoration Project. Julie took the group to several different sites along the project reach, some sites had been completed and some were still under construction. The project was designed to improve habitat and function of 1.6 miles of the Eagle River and its floodplain. Julie explained the design process and showed us several of the implemented designs, including the addition of large cobble bars to decrease channel width and increase channel depth; the use of geocells as biotechnical bank treatments; the use of a water dam containment system to reduce sedimentation from construction activities, and the design and troubleshooting of riparian vegetation plantings.

9)  Kenneth and Ruth Wright from Wright Water Engineers presented a fabulous slideshow of their work in Machu Picchu, Peru. They have been traveling to this area for many years studying the prehistoric water system and taking some amazing pictures along the way. They described some of the phenomenal water conveyance systems and stone structures that were built by the Incas around 1400AD, and definitely influenced me to add Machu Picchu to my list of vacation destinations.