The Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation’s (OEMC) Streamside/Wetlands Restoration Program

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by Rob Pearson, OEMC

 Sand Creek
A portion of the Regional Greenway Trail along Sand Creek.

Over the past three years, Colorado Governor Bill Owens’ Office of Energy Management and Conservation (OEMC), under Executive Director Rick Grice, has contributed over $250,000 towards streamside/wetlands restoration projects on 14 different waterways throughout our state; cumulative project costs have totaled over $9 million. OEMC’s philosophy has been to partner with different public entities and government agencies to maximize energy efficiency and energy conservation while leveraging funding across as many partners as possible. These projects have aided Gov. Owens’ proclamation to rid our streambanks of invasive plants, have conserved more of our water and made it cleaner, have enhanced wildlife habitat, have educated the public on water issues and about the need for healthy wetlands and riparian areas, and have saved considerable future energy costs.

OEMC has partnered with agencies/entities such as the Nature Conservancy, Park County, Department of Natural Resources, State Historical Fund, Park/Teller County Soil Conservation District, Colorado Open Lands, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Ducks Unlimited, Bureau of Land Management, Sand Creek Regional Greenway Partnership, Great Outdoors Colorado, USP Water Protection Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Wildlife, Quail Unlimited, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Douglas County Open Space – to name just a few.

The following are a sampling of projects funded by OEMC’s Streamside/Wetlands Restoration Program:

OEMC partnered with the Sand Creek Regional Greenway Partnership, Inc. (SCRGP) in Commerce City. The Sand Creek Regional Greenway Trail consists of fourteen miles of biking, hiking, and horse pathways that wind from central Aurora through the old Stapleton Airport in Denver to the confluence with the South Platte Greenway in Commerce City. These trails run adjacent to Sand Creek. OEMC is partnering with SCRGP to restore stream banks, construct wetlands, plant trees and vegetation, and install educational signs along the creek. Objectives are to reduce soil erosion, control stream degradation caused by siltation; enhance the habitat value of the stream; increase filtering capacity through wetland and stream bank plantings; and to provide filtering and water polishing areas for runoff along Sand Creek through increased plantings and the addition of a new wetland park.

 Cunningham Creek
Boulder structures on Cunningham Creek create pools for fish.

Another ongoing project OEMC is involved with is the Tarryall Creek Stream Bank/Wetlands Restoration project in Park County (near Fairplay). Stream, wetland, and riparian habitat along Tarryall Creek has been degraded by a variety of land use practices over time resulting in increased sedimentation and erosion, decreased quality of riparian-wetland habitat, and diminished quality of the fishery. To correct the problems, a local partnership was created to implement the Tarryall Creek Restoration Project. The restoration plan for the Tarryall Creek watershed is a multi-year project that encompasses a total of six ranch properties and 20 miles of stream. OEMC is partnering with Park County Community Development Office and others to help cover costs for restoration structure design and placement and to design and construct interpretive educational signs. Restoration goals include: restoring the proper function along the stream channel; reducing bank erosion and sedimentation; establishing new riparian vegetation along graded banks; improving water quality on private and public lands downstream; improving instream habitat for fish and invertebrates; and reducing future degradation through fencing and watering points.

The Cunningham Creek project was completed via a partnership between OEMC and the Bureau of Land Management’s San Juan Public Lands Center. Cunningham Creek is a small tributary of the Animas River located about 3.5 miles northeast of Silverton. OEMC joined the BLM in the second phase of work on this project, the first phase started in 2002. The second phase objectives were to reduce the creek’s width/depth ratio, improve riparian and bank stability, and increase pool habitat. Work during this phase used native rock collected from the area to improve fish habitat by building boulder structures. The structures impounded water, creating “run” habitat above and scour pools below. The pools have excellent cover due to healthy willow and stable stream banks. A meander bend was restored from straight and shallow to curved and deep by placing boulders and willows along the bank to provide protection for fish and other aquatic life. The meander bend was restored because this section had been heavily impacted by historical grazing and recreation use. Very little vegetation occurred on the floodplain, and the channel was a shallow, straight ditch through the section. Deep pools were created on the outside bends and hundreds of willows were planted along the banks and floodplain. Other species planted within the project area included Drummond’s willow, Geyer’s willow, streambank wheatgrass, slender wheatgrass, Arizona fescue, tufted hairgrass, Western wheat, Nebraska sedge, water sedge, and creeping spikerush. Three “vortex weir” type structures were placed between the curves to control grade and create pool habitat. Interpretive/education signs were erected at the project site.

OEMC and those with whom we have partnered are pleased with the results of our efforts and believe that the changes to be noted in water quality and improvements to wildlife and fishery habitat and attendant opportunities for better hunting and fishing will measurably improve the lifestyles of Colorado citizens. OEMC is pleased and proud to have been a part of these partnerships.