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Learning By Doing: How Trout Unlimited got their seat at the table with Denver Water

Posted by Andrea Smith on April 2, 2018 in Conservation, Projects News, Trout, Upper Colorado-Fraser-Blue-Eagle, Water Quality

A conversation with Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Trout Unlimited Chapter

I had the pleasure of speaking with Kirk Klancke back in January when I had noticed an article he was quoted in about Denver Water removing road sediment runoff from the Fraser Pond.

See the Article here: Crews remove road runoff sand from Fraser River pond

As the new Communications and Membership Coordinator for CTU, I was keen on following up on the story and getting some more insight on the “Learning by Doing” (LBD) program.




© 2018 KUSA-TV


What is the sand runoff removal project that Denver Water was conducting on Fraser Pond?

The sand they are removing is coming from road runoff during the winter which then ends up in surrounding water sources. This causes an overload of sediment making the stream practically uninhabitable for trout. It was started in 2002 and they have been pulling out the sediment every year.




© 2018 KUSA-TV


Is there a threshold of allowed sediment that is deemed okay? (Click play for full response)




Klancke continues to explain that this sediment removal project has been going on for a while. He touches on the beginnings of their communications with Denver Water about working to restore these strained areas and the formation of the Colorado River Headwaters Trout Unlimited Chapter.




Did having the involvement of a Trout Unlimited and the Colorado River Headwaters TU Chapter help speed up the collaboration? (Click play for full response)


Social pressure from Trout Unlimited members, staff, and volunteers was crucial in opening up the doors to sit down with Denver Water as they were trying to expand their diversions in Grand County. Trout Unlimited’s membership base consists of fishermen/women, hunters, outdoors enthusiasts, conservationists, ranchers, and just about anyone who cares about rivers and wildlife in Colorado.


What was the conversation like before Trout Unlimited got involved? (Click play for full response)



Klancke notes that it was basically non-existent. This was an ongoing issue that was becoming outdated with the changes in climate and growth of water use. People began speaking up and getting involved in putting pressure on Denver Water. There were rallies held at the state capitol and the Colorado River Headwaters TU chapter started the “Save the Fraser” social campaign that increased public awareness and spread the message.  Having a large, conservation organization like Trout Unlimited speak out about the issues demonstrated the demand for a collaborative solution.

Correction in audio [ “Denver Water is increasing their diversions to 80% from 20%” should be 80% from 60%.]


So, Denver Water was trying to expand their capacity with new water diversion projects, both impacting rivers in Grand County like the Fraser River. They came out with an environmental report showing their work would have minimal impact on the river. How did you combat their report showing no “negligible” impact on the Fraser? (Click play for Response)

The study that Denver Water submitted was generated from their own office computer models and had no actual physical testing data from the stream itself. Trout Unlimited came in with funding from an angel investor, which supported an independent study of sedimentation in the Fraser and concluded that the system was significantly impacted and could be near a tipping point where increased diversions could push it over the edge.

The realization that studies on the ground were seeing a much different story as opposed what computer models showed was one of the catalysts for opening up the negotiation table. Learning by Doing (LBD) was established and became a long-term partnership of cooperation, not conflict, among groups such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River District, Denver Water, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Trout Unlimited.


How did the negotiations go with having Trout Unlimited’s Mely Whiting involved? (Click play for Response)

You can read more about Trout Unlimited’s Mely Whiting, Legal Counsel, and her work with securing funding and long-term collaboration for the LBD Project here.



What is LBD focusing on today? (Click play for full response)

Right now volunteers are trying to see how the system works, and LBD is not technically supposed to be meeting yet, but they have been meeting anyway these past three years so that they are ready when Denver Water finally gets their permits. In the meantime, they have been given 500 acre-feet of water to study water temperatures and flows.


How has the Fraser River and Grand County benefitted from the adaptive management and flexibility that LBD has provided? (Click play for full response)

There is now an open line of communication with Denver Water. TU is on the phone every week talking about how Denver Water can operate their system in a more environmentally friendly way. Then, every two months, LBD meets with Denver Water to discuss issues that need to be addressed, such as conducting and funding stream monitoring, reviewing the results, and coming up with solutions. Last year the first real solution was working on the sediment and temperature problems on the lower part of the Fraser Valley where the river widens out and slows down quite a bit.


The LBD partners did a stream channeling project at the Fraser Flats where they created an inner channel for when river levels drop. When only 40% of the native flow is present, the natural width of the river stays the same yet much shallower – turning the water into a solar collector and ultimately losing any kind of movement. The new channel will allow the river be its full width during high flows, but when the flows are low, they move through a much narrower channel to ensure the water doesn’t warm up and sediment is properly moving through the system.



Colorado has been going through a dry and unseasonably warm winter, how will this affect future projects of LBD or the Fraser Flats? (Click play for full response)

This is a concern, but TU’s relationship has been positive because of having average and above average levels in the past, but this year is going to be the real test. They have asked Mely Whiting, Legal Counsel for Trout Unlimited, to negotiate with Denver Water to see if snowpack levels can drive their water restrictions rather than reservoir levels. What TU has been seeing is that Denver Water does not implement the water restrictions until late July and by then it’s too late. Stakeholders are urging that they need a new trigger for implementing the restrictions and snowpack levels might just be the answer.



Besides the channel narrowing to cool the temperatures, your TU chapter also did some vegetation planting, what was that project like? (Click play for full response and see video)


While the funding for the project is still on hold until Denver Water’s permits come in, LBD project is working right now in a 3-prong approach: keeping sediment out of the basin, talking to towns/ski areas about stormwater control, and finding more water for the river. Trout Unlimited does instream flow leases which Klancke and Whiting are working together on identifying ranchers and farmers that would be ideal partners. They have been working hard to be prepared and ready for when the funding comes in and restoration projects can really take off.

What is the take away from all of this? Well, the proof is in the results. Learning By Doing has shown that people can work together to accomplish positive change. Rather than butting heads, they have found common ground and are working to solve the water issues that Colorado is and will be addressing for years to come.


Spring 2018 Update

Spring forward to today, winter has almost passed and now Learning by Doing is assessing the low snowpack issues and how they will be working to conserve the limited water for native flows in the Fraser.

LBD and the Colorado River Headwaters TU chapter are teaming up on a volunteer labor-intensive project this spring. They will be planting 3,000 willows on a section of Ranch Creek that has been overgrazed by a previous landowner. The new landowner has fenced his cattle away from the creek and we they are hoping to jump-start the re-vegetation of this 1-mile reach. First, they will be harvesting willow stakes on the 19th of May and planting them on June 2nd and 3rd. This project will involve 150 volunteers and add up to over 1,000 volunteer hours. Ranch Creek is a major tributary of the Fraser River and is listed on the CDPHE 303d list for temperature. With healthy willow growth, TU hopes to create shade for the creek, cover for other wetlands plants, and to stabilize the stream bank.

If you are interested in getting involved or keeping up with the LBD project or Save the Fraser, visit their website.


Kirk Klancke – President
Kirk Klancke is the President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, past Board member of the East Grand Water Quality Control Board and past Board member of the North West Council of Governments QQ Division, and the recipient of the 2011 Field and Stream Magazine National Conservationist Award.








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