For the second time this year, Delta County's Gunnison River has provided the setting for celebrating a major river restoration project made possible only by the participation and collaboration of varied river water interests.
Last Thursday, Dec. 6, the start of the Gunnison River/Relief Dam reconstruction project was commemorated with several dozen people representing agriculture, outdoor sportsmen, recreationalists, environmentalists, and state and federal agencies.
It has taken a remarkable collaboration of those diverse interests, and up to ten years of determined and visionary effort to begin the $800,000 river improvement project east of Austin.
Members of a local sport fishing group, the Gunnison Gorge Anglers, were singled out for their individual advocacy and club support of the project which led to participation of the Trout Unlimited national organization's endorsement and support of the project
The river project will remove dangerous obstacles and water flow patterns that have threatened river rafting uses. It will increase the efficiency and reliability of irrigation water delivery to ag producing owners of the Relief Ditch. It will increase habitat for several "sensitive" native species of river fish. It will increase and improve sport fishing opportunities on the river. It will restore unnaturally silted and eroded sections of the river channel. And, it will provide for other natural riparian zone enhancements.
Start of construction work on the collaborative effort that has made the project possible comes just a few months after completion of the Hartland Dam reconstruction project located a few miles down stream. The Hartland project similarly brought benefits to a variety of water use interests, and it marked the coming together and cooperation of various river interests and individuals that some people believe would have been unlikely just a few years ago.
The innovative plan of the Relief Ditch diversion was described by design associate Jeff Crane, an early advocate of the project who began working toward it ten years ago. The design will create water pressure to divert river flow into a new, on-river headgate for the Relief Ditch. The headgate is designed to accommodate automatic controls to meter water flow.
The company's new headgate is also designed to divert water to the Relief Ditch while shunting trash and silt back into the river's main channel.
The Relief Ditch company will save an estimated $3,500 per year in maintenance costs formerly spent on its old diversion structure. Those funds have been pledged in future to maintain the new diversion and related installations, company board member Doug Hamilton told the DCI.
The diversion structure will be constructed almost entirely of below-surface boulder placements that will create a safe flow channel for boaters and areas for fish passage.
The project began in earnest a few years ago with the support of the Gunnison Gorge Anglers, a local chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Marshall Pendergrass, chapter president, said the group made a $5,000 "seed money" commitment to the project to get it under way. When plans advanced, the national Trout Unlimited organization became involved. Gunnison Gorge Anglers member George Osborn was credited by speakers at the commemoration for his work on the fund raising effort.
Barb Sharrow, manager of the BLM's Uncompahgre Field office in Montrose, praised efforts of Gunnison Gorge Anglers and Trout Unlimited on the project. "You guys are just amazing," she said. "They would not take 'no' for an answer," she added, as anglers spared no effort marshalling the BLM's resources for information, studies, and necessary permits to get the project approved and under way.
Uncompahgre Field Office provided the necessary field evaluations and environmental studies for the project. The site of the diversion is surrounded by public lands administered by the BLM.
Cary Denison, projects coordinator for Trout Unlimited, explained how last month's start of construction follows a final two or three years of activity and effort by all the parties involved to get the project started.
Some of the major funding sources for the project were listed on a project website:
•A grant of $500,000 from the Species Conservation Trust Fund of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been approved and will be routed through Gunnison Gorge Anglers and Trout Unlimited.
• An $80,000 grant from the Fishing is Fun program administered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been awarded pending final approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
• The BLM performed the Environmental Assessment of the project at no cost to the project which amounts to an in-kind donation of $35,000.
• Severance tax funds were received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and administered through the Colorado River Water Conservation District in May of 2012.
• A donation of $700 was received from the Conservation Center based in Delta County.
• A grant of $90,000 has been received from the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
•Dr. Tom Whiting of Whiting Farms has donated some of the rock to be used in the project.
Construction is expected to be completed by March for start of the spring irrigating season.blog comments powered by Disqus