Recent sand removal should improve Fraser River quality
November 1, 2013
WINTER PARK — After just two years in operation, a Berthoud Pass sediment pond has helped the Fraser River's clarity by 680 tons.
Each year, the Colorado Department of Transportation applies between 6,000 and 9,000 tons of traction sand to Berthoud Pass.The sand improve slick winter driving conditions, but it also washes off the highway and works its way into Grand County's streams and rivers. As far back as 1995, CDOT and local parties have worked to keep that sand from congesting the Fraser, and it seems their efforts have finally paid off. A successful sediment catch pond was finally completed in 2011 near the Mary Jane ski area entrance. Its first cleaning, completed on Tuesday, Oct. 22, took 68 trucks hauling 10 tons of sand each.
"So we've taken a river that's choking out and becoming lifeless, and stopped part of the problem," said Kirk Klancke, a member of the East Grand Water Quality board who took on the sediment pond project. "There are still other problems, but this one was unique."
According to Klancke, one of the indicators of the sand problem was the lack of aquatic life at Berthoud's base. The sediment covers rocky streambeds, filling in voids and ruining habitat for the bugs fish like to eat.
"There's one-tenth the amount of trout there than at St. Louis Creek higher up," Klancke said, who is an avid fisherman and leader of the local Trout Unlimited chapter.
The sand also began plugging up Winter Park Resort's water supply, which takes water directly from the Fraser. Spring 1995 brought a particularly big flush of runoff, and the water plant had to shut down and ship in water.
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"It caused us real trouble," said Mike Wageck, district manager with Winter Park Water and Sanitation. "The balance of (treatment) chemicals has to be just right for everything to work, and the quality of water coming in would constantly change. We were fighting a losing battle."
Concerned parties sought a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and worked with CDOT to install a basin catching Berthoud's runoff muck. But poor design made the basin difficult to clean. It filled after its first year. Cleaning equipment got stuck in its mire, and the basin was abandoned. Sediment loads kept coming down the pass.
In 2002, Klancke became president of the East Grand Water Quality Board, and started tackling the pass's sediment runoff. The biggest hurdle was money. Ultimately, funding came from multiple partners with Klancke's leadership.
The East Grand Water Quality Board acquired a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2008 for $187,900 to construct the settling pond. Grand County administered the grant and contributed another $45,000. Then CDOT kicked in $175,000 toward project engineering and construction. As part of the enhancements recently agreed to in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water contributed $90,000 toward construction, and managed project construction. The pond was completed in 2011.
"We are happy that it is a successful project and believe it demonstrates the benefit of collaboration, ingenuity and the value of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement," said Dave Little, director of planning for Denver Water, in a press release. .
Just over a decade after Klancke began his efforts, the sediment catch pond's first load of sand has been hauled away. It's currently drying at a CDOT facility with crews testing it for environmental concerns. Once dry and clean, CDOT will ship the sand to Grand County gravel pit, where it'll be used as road base material.
For Wageck at Winter Park Water and Sanitation, the pond means fewer plant shutdowns from dirty water.
"It's a great project, and it's finally getting to the point where it's going to help us," he said. "But it took many years and lots of people."
Klancke called it a triumph. Still, there's more dirty work to be done. Plenty of other sediment flows into the Fraser River from roads, parking lots, shopping centers and housing developments. And since water from the Fraser began moving through the Moffat Diversion in the 1930s, its average flow has dropped from 44.3 to 17.8 cubic feet per second. This reduced flow from Front Range water demands makes it difficult for the river to flush out all the mud.
"But any victory is a good victory, if it's moving us in the direction of keeping the river healthier," Klancke said.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.