Uncompahgre River Restoration

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by Koree Wilde, Ridgway High School

 


Koree Wilde is a Senior at Ridgway High School. She hopes to study media/reporting in College and wrote the following article as an essay assignment for Environmental Science. Students in the class are very interested in participating in the anticipated restoration of the Uncomphagre River. They have visited the Queen of the River stream project the San Miguel River restoration project in Telluride and are very excited about the prospect of a river restoration project in Ridgway.

Since early settlers first looked for gold, they have been mining the Rocky Mountains. These minerals helped to develop Ouray County but also had some detrimental side affects. Among these affects is damage to the Uncompaghre River. The watershed has carried mine tailings into the stream and polluted the river, which concerns all forms of life in the Uncompaghre River Valley. From people to plants, fish to birds, we all use the same water.

A river restoration project is needed and there are people ready to get it started. A Ridgway Science Teacher and Restoration Specialist, Bill Coughlin, and his Environmental Science Class plan to monitor the river and possibly help write a proposal for grant money. These high school students will be taking samples of the river on a weekly basis to collect baseline data for the grant they will be helping to write. The class will also attend organization meetings and contribute to the design of the project.

To start the actual restoration of the river, construction workers will excavate to historic grades so they can then restore historic hydrological regime. Years of the stream bank erosion have produced large amounts of sediment that needs to be moved. This create a clean slate for restoration.

The next step is to re-establish the sinuosity in the river. The river was channelized in the past, and meander bends were removed from the channel. To do this the restoration workers will rebuild the banks. The river will then flow in a natural way and bank erosion will be minimized. It will also provide a nice path for canoeing with deep enough waters.

After all the reconstruction, wetland terraces will be created to help filter overland runoff water. Filtration is possible because the stems of plants catch sediment particles. When the water enters back into the river, it will be cleaner and have less silt.

Next, wildlife habitat structures will be created. Places of calm water will be created for fish to rest and lay their eggs. This will happen by placing rocks to form eddies and making undercuts in the banks.

Last but not least, seeds will be planted to help create riparian vegetation along the river. Natural beauty will be the goal and the river will look better than it did before. The environment will be attractive to everyone, including animals.

Once restoration has been completed, the environmental class will help in monitoring the river. For example, pans with screened tops can be placed on the bottom of the river to catch the sediment that flows over them. This information will be used to monitor the quality of runoff water.

This project will be profitable for many. Fishing will be better and people will be able to canoe. Birds and other wildlife will have more places to live with more secure habitat. The residents of the Uncompaghre Valley will have a cleaner stream, as will others for generations to come. As for the high school kids, they will have the experience of participating in a great hands-on class that teaches them about life.