Denver Water looks to cool temps in Ranch Creek
August 10, 2016
Spend a little while living in the high country and you will come to discover that the lives of those who call this region home are defined by moisture; from the abundance found in winter to the relative deficit that prompts wildfire concerns during the summer, even our shoulder months are known as mud season.
Up and down the Fraser Valley water, and water issues, take on another level of significance as the importance of cross-basin diversions to regions along the Front Range becomes a point of unique contention. For many decades Front Range water diverters, like Denver Water, and entities in prime diversion locations, like Grand County, have spent significant resources arguing, litigating and otherwise battling over the all important and finite resource of water.
Recently a new paradigm has emerged in the form of an adaptive management agreement called Learning By Doing (LBD). The LBD management program creates a space for previously antagonistic entities on opposite sides of the diversion debate, and opposite sides of the continental divide, to come together to attempt to develop solutions in conjunction with each other.
This summer as temperatures have risen across the Fraser Valley local stream temperatures have also risen, prompting concern from local conservation groups like Trout Unlimited about the impacts of trans basin water diversions. Concerns about the impacts of water diversion are nothing new but this summer Ranch Creek, high above the Fraser Valley towards the Continental Divide, is experiencing something new altogether.
When the LBD group sat down to discuss high stream temperatures in the Fraser Valley one possible solution discussed was the release of additional water flows by Denver Water down high temperature streams and creeks in the Fraser Valley.
Over the past few weeks temperature readings on Ranch Creek have edged higher and higher. Because of a pair of ongoing water diversion system projects, affecting both Vasquez Creek and Jim Creek, Denver Water is diverting a higher than normal amount of water from the Ranch Creek watershed. The reduced flows on Ranch Creek led to higher temps, which severely impact local fish populations; mountain trout struggle to survive when water temps climb into the 60s. If temperatures reach 70 degrees or more the trout begin dying.
As local conservators monitored the rising temps in Ranch Creek they brought data showing increased temperatures to LBD meetings. Following those meetings Denver Water agreed to release an additional five cubic feet per second (cfs) of water down Ranch Creek in hopes of reducing temperatures.
Kirk Klancke, President of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, praised the action and the LBD process that facilitated it. "Essentially the River was dying," Klancke said. "Denver Water brought it back to life by finding water. This says to me that Learning By Doing is working. We are sitting in a room, they hear this problem and come up with a solution." Klancke did not have exact figures on how much temperatures had dropped in Ranch Creek following the release but said he could visually see the flows in the river were doubled from where they were prior to the releases.
The release of additional water on Ranch Creek this summer will serve as something of an experiment on the impacts of additional water flows on stream temperatures.
"Ranch Creek has been identified as having temperature issues," said Denver Water Environmental Scientist Travis Bray. "Does more water help that? The common belief is yes it does, but now we will have data."
Bray explained that Denver Water deals with multiple different factors when considering releasing additional flows and the organization wants to, "find out where we are getting the biggest bang for our buck," in terms of applying resources for conservation purposes.
Bray said he expects to have preliminary results on the impacts of the additional Ranch Creek flows this fall but it would likely be sometime next year before a final report was ready .