The Colorado Watershed Planning Toolbox A Community of Stewards: The Streamcrest Example

Jul 2, 2019

Author: Sarah Marshall

Post Date: 6/11/2019

Contributed by Sarah Marshall, Ecohydrologist, Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program recently rolled out its Watershed Planning Toolbox, consisting of an online mapping tool and associated Working in Wetlands web pages to support wetland conservation, restoration, and best management practices in Colorado. We had an excellent turnout for a workshop on the Toolbox at the Colorado Stream Restoration Network meeting in March, and we hope to continue to share this tool with our partners around the state.

The first version of the Toolbox focuses on the Arkansas and South Platte Headwaters 8 digit HUCs, but many data layers cover the entire state. While Colorado has some phenomenal online mapping tools like the Colorado Decision Support System (CDSS), these tools often lack key ecological data layers for watershed planning (e.g., mapped hydric soils, ecoregions, priority conservation areas, potential habitat distribution for priority wildlife species). The Toolbox mapper helps users view a variety of state agency layers related to habitat, water quality, and water quantity alongside key wetland characteristics and other ecological information.

Potential use of the Toolbox mapper to evaluate wetland hydroperiod across a large wetland complex, including hydrologic modifications from excavation, impoundments, and drainage that have altered the timing and duration of wetland saturation and inundation.

Within the Toolbox mapper, there are several key layer groups:

  1. Wetlands and Waterbodies: includes human-influenced and natural wetland characteristics, vegetation types, hydroperiod, hydrogeomorphic class, dominant flow path, potential historical wetlands, waterbody permanence, and SSURGO hydric soil ratings.
  2. Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitat Functions: includes biodiversity conservation, likely habitat support for aquatic invertebrates, shorebirds, and waterfowl, and supporting habitat information from Audubon Important Bird Areas to fish passage barriers and Gold Medal lakes and streams.
  3. Water Quality Functions: includes likely water quality functions related to nitrogen, phosphorus, metals, carbon, and temperature, as well as supporting data layers including nonpoint source pollution (319) plans, USFS environmental hazard mine areas, outstanding waters, and stream and lake water quality.
  4. Water Quantity Functions: includes likely functions like surface water storage, flood attenuation, sediment capture, and groundwater recharge alongside supporting layers for natural seeps and springs, active points of diversion, decreed instream flow reaches, flood hazards, irrigated lands, and historical fire perimeters.
  5. Restoration Prioritization: includespriority areas in the Arkansas and South Platte Headwaters, as well as playas on the plains and CNHP’s aquatic Potential Conservation Areas.

Other base layers include counties, river basins, EPA level IV ecoregions, land management, and CNHP’s Landscape Disturbance Index.

Potential use of the Toolbox mapper to evaluate wetland restoration and conservation areas in the Arkansas Headwaters watershed, considering mapped potential historical wetland areas, local biodiversity support from existing wetlands, headwater wetland areas, state-listed Outstanding Waters, existing and legacy mining areas, and restoration priority areas from the Arkansas Headwaters Wetland Focus Area Committee

Our partners in the Arkansas and South Platte Headwaters are already using the Toolbox and associated data layers to support conservation planning and restoration efforts. The Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Planning group is using the tool to help evaluate potential areas where stream restoration and floodplain reconnection may help protect water supplies following future wildfires by providing post-fire flood attenuation and sediment capture. Our partners with Riparian Reconnect and the Central Colorado Conservancy have also used the tool to evaluate potential historical wetland areas and other wetland features in the vicinity of existing and proposed restoration projects in the Badger Creek drainage. Other Toolbox uses include planning for future conservation easements and other private lands compensation for preserving key ecological functions and services, and evaluating wetland areas with respect to potential future increases in recreation and other human activities.

CNHP plans to expand the Toolbox to include the Roaring Fork watershed in 2020-2021, and to other watersheds pending interest and funding. It is currently easiest to expand the Toolbox to areas with updated National Wetland Inventory mapping, as many mapped wetland functions depend on attributing NWI features with additional information on landscape context, landform, dominant water flow path, and modifiers related to wetland types and influential factors (e.g., irrigation, mining, burn area). In the meantime, we’d love to hear your feedback on the Toolbox, and the Working in Wetlands pages, from how you’re using the tool and what works well to what’s missing that would be useful to your work. Also, stay tuned for CNHP’s Conservation Environmental Review Tool, a broader mapping and review tool that will include some of the Toolbox data layers.

Potential use of the Toolbox mapper to locate shorebird habitat conservation areas using mapped playas, water body permanence, potential shorebird habitat, and Audubon’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) in South Park. More information can be found for each wetland, and IBA by clicking on a feature. The Basin/Bald Hill IBA includes habitat for Mountain Plovers, which are listed as a priority species in Colorado’s State Wildlife Action Plan, along with alkaline playas and native grassland habitat.
Potential use of the Toolbox mapper to evaluate wetland hydrologic alteration from regulated flow (due to upstream dams and diversions), excavation, impoundment, irrigation, mining, and surface and groundwater diversions. Potential historical wetland areas and formerly irrigated lands (aka “buy and dry”) are also included, to show likely historical wetland losses of natural wetlands alongside former flood-irrigated hayfields that once provided some wetland functions.


Colorado Riparian Association