Author: Jessie Olson
Post Date: 11/27/2018
Contributed by Jessie Olson, Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group
While the 2013 flood was devastating for so many, it also provided a huge opportunity for the community to come together. The Streamcrest neighborhood is an excellent example of this, as Luke spoke so eloquently about in the last post in the CRA flood recovery blog series. In this post, I will discuss the watershed coalition role in the Streamcrest project, and how the community of stakeholders (and stewards) united to help build a resilient future.
Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group (LWOG) has been working since 2005 to bring stakeholders together to protect and restore the watershed for future generations. We have a diverse group of board members that include representatives from local cities, towns, counties, water districts, and ditch companies, as well as diverse landowner representatives. Following the 2013 flood and completion of the Left Hand Creek Watershed Master Plan, LWOG was selected as the entity to lead the implementation of the projects identified in the Master Plan. As one of the few watershed organizations that existed before the flood, we were ready to hit the ground running. The existing board and staff quickly worked to submit necessary grant applications, hire their first full-time employee (me), and expand the board to include additional stakeholders in the watershed. One of these new board members, Mark Schueneman, was a landowner in the Streamcrest neighborhood.
Once I was on board, we worked quickly to coordinate access onto private lands so that the state (Colorado Water Conservation Board) and federal (Natural Resources Conservation Service) agencies could conduct surveys to determine which projects would be eligible for funding under the Colorado Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. Lucky for me, I had a motivated group of landowners in the watershed (including our Streamcrest board member, Mark) who helped coordinate access to nearly every property in the entire watershed. The snacks and shuttle system provided by landowners to the NRCS were helpful motivators for the field crews who walked miles of river for several days. There may have been a small amount of complaining about how much walking had to take place… for me it was an excellent introduction to the watershed, one month into my new job! Eventually we made it up into the canyon where most surveys were done by vehicles and the field crew’s spirits lifted. Using radios between cars, we even came up with code names for everyone…. Pickleweed and Lickskillet may live on forever!
Once the state and federal agencies completed their evaluation, over 10 projects were identified as eligible for funding under the EWP program in our watershed. I quickly worked with my board to identify the funding strategy for the projects (since local match funding was required), and applied for necessary match funding via the Colorado Division of Local Affairs (DOLA) Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). While waiting to hear back from funding agencies (and while the funding agencies worked incredibly hard to build a program to help oversee projects across the state), we got to work to ensure that we were in a good position organizationally to comply with all federal funding requirements. This required hiring an additional full-time staff member and bookkeeper, developing and adopting over a dozen new policies and procedures, updating bylaws, and more. Thankfully, we received tremendous amounts of support from our funders at DOLA and CWCB who walked us through these complicated requirements with great patience and detail.
Then came the part of getting nearly 100 landowners and stakeholders on board, and this is where we look to the Streamcrest neighborhood as the shining example of success. The Streamcrest neighborhood was already well-organized when we met. They had pooled their money to hire Luke and Otak to develop a concept design. They had even agreed on a reach-wide concept including the general alignment of the stream! They also already realized the significant cost that would be required to implement their preferred design. So, when we showed up to say that we were able to acquire necessary funds for the project, people were pretty happy! Having Mark act as a landowner liaison while also serving on our board of directors was a great help. Mark provided a nexus between LWOG and the neighborhood, and helped build trust quickly.
This existing trust became especially helpful when two landowners suddenly changed their minds about the design, not wanting to eliminate a berm that was slated for removal. LWOG quickly organized a neighborhood meeting (held at Mark’s house on a Saturday morning) so that Otak could present the modeling results. Otak’s presentation illustrated the benefits of removing the berm, and how the proposed design would result in a lowered water surface elevation during high flow events. While enjoying a delicious potluck breakfast, the neighbors listened to the presentation and together agreed it would be best for the whole neighborhood to remove the berm. Not all of our projects went so smoothly and collaboratively, and we credit much of the success of this project to the strong relationship and trust between LWOG, the design team, and the landowners.
As one of the more complicated projects that we implemented (with a large team, many subcontractors, tight deadlines, and several utility relocations), this bridge of trust was critical to the success of the project. On future blog posts, you will hear from our powerhouse design-build team that designed and implemented a very successful and innovative project. You will also learn about our long-term monitoring and adaptive management efforts, and how we are working to ensure that the benefits of this project live on well into the future.
With an eye toward long-term project success, the Streamcrest landowners have collectively contributed over $20,000 to LWOG’s adaptive management fund. Interestingly, one of the most significant contributions came from one of the landowners who earlier did not want the berm removed. In addition, many of the local landowners are participating on their own to steward the site. This past summer, I visited one stretch of the Streamcrest project site and I was scratching my head as to why it looked so great- I couldn’t find any of the weeds I was seeing elsewhere! After a couple more visits, I made a comment to one of the landowners that, “Wow, the seeding timing here must have been perfect, because there are no weeds!” Then he revealed that his wife spends hours on site every week to remove weeds by hand! Aha! We found the perfect restoration technique- working with a community of dedicated stewards. Together, this community has made significant contributions to helping build a resilient future for the watershed and provides a great model for how to achieve success in other watersheds across the State of Colorado.