‘Learning by Doing’ launches Fraser Flats River Habitat Project
October 14, 2016
In Grand County, water is the lifeblood of everything — from our communities and economy to our great outdoors and quality of life. So it's encouraging that stewardship of Grand County's water resources has entered a new era. Cooperation is replacing confrontation, and local stakeholders are coming together to find ways to better manage this precious resource. This new approach is Learning By Doing — a cooperative effort that will help ensure Grand County's streams are protected and remain healthy into the future.
For years, Grand County, Trout Unlimited and other entities representing West Slope interests fought with Denver Water and Northern Water over their water projects, which carry West Slope water across the Continental Divide to serve the Front Range and Northern Colorado. There didn't seem to be any common ground.
Then, after long and tough negotiations, the parties approved landmark agreements, which allow continued diversions from the Moffat and Windy Gap projects while bringing significant new resources to improve the condition of Grand County's streams. Resources include water, money and the commitment to operate these projects and releases in a way that enhances the aquatic environment.
Learning By Doing (LBD) is a collaborative group of water stakeholders — including water utilities, nonprofit organizations and county agencies — that meet regularly to monitor river health and undertake projects that safeguard Grand County's home waters.
This fall, LBD is embarking on a pilot river restoration project, the Fraser Flats River Habitat Project, to improve a degraded 0.9-mile reach of the Fraser River just south of County Road 83. The project builds on restoration of the river upstream on the North 40 and in the Town of Fraser, and will extend improvements to fish habitat on the river. Fraser Flats combines adjoining public and private sections to maximize efficiencies in costs and to set the stage for future public-private partnerships that benefit river health.
Of particular benefit to Grand County residents, the section upstream from CR 83 will open for public fishing once the restoration project is completed in spring 2018.
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This $200,000 project is funded by a combination of funds committed to the LBD cooperative effort from Grand County, LBD partner contributions, a private landowner, and a Fishing Is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Design and permitting for the Fraser Flats project are underway. In spring 2017, revegetation along the project reach will begin. LBD partners will recruit a cadre of volunteers to harvest and replant willow stakes and other native plants to improve bank stability and provide cooling shade along this open meadow stretch of the Fraser River.
In fall 2017, construction in the river will take place. That work will concentrate flows into a narrower channel and provide a series of riffles and pools to enhance fish habitat.
The Fraser Flats River Habitat Project is just one example of the benefits LBD will deliver. Earlier this summer, the effort also produced additional flows in Ranch Creek, Vasquez Creek and the Fraser River to benefit aquatic life.
And we're only warming up. Full operation of LBD is expected to start in 2018 when approximately $2 million and 1,000 acre-feet of water to improve stream conditions will be dedicated to the cooperative effort after Denver Water and Northern Water receive final project permits.
After years of conflict, we've learned — by doing — that we can work together to secure Grand County's home waters. We look forward to launching this new era of water cooperation.
To learn more about Learning By Doing and the Fraser Flats project, go to http://www.gclbd.org.
Kirk Klancke is president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Paula Daukas is manager of Environmental Planning at Denver Water.