Group completes restoration to improve habitat for part of Fraser River
October 13, 2017
Stories have circulated for years about the state of Grand County's waterways, largely centered around bad news, but there have been some bright spots lately, including the recent completion of the Fraser Flats Habitat Project.
The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group's pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.
Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.
"We are elated," said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. "This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed."
Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.
"To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects," Alexander said. "We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat."
Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.
To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river's main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river's banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.
The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.
Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel.
"They did an excellent job," Whiting said. "They went beyond the call of duty to get things done and even volunteered some of their work, we are very pleased with them."
The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.
Next year citizens will be able to fish a nearly half-mile section of the river that was restored when it is converted to public access. The section for public access will be accessible from a parking lot that will be created alongside County Road 83, just off Highway 40. Officials are planning a dedication ceremony for Earth Day, April 22, and hope the willow stakes planted this year will have taken hold by that time.