Colorado Parks and Wildlife has accepted a settlement of $207,000 from American Civil Contractors (ACC) for the accidental fishkill on the Big Thompson River this past March. The settlement, which will be spent restoring fish habitat in the lower Big Thompson will help ensure the river and trout fishing will be brought back to its former glory before the 2013 flood. “Colorado Parks and Wildlife is heartened by the cooperation of ACC, Larimer County, and Central Federal Lands in finding the cause of the fishkill,” said Area Wildlife Manager Larry Rogstad. “While the events leading to the fishkill were unintentional, the outcome was devastating to the rainbow and brown trout fishery in the lower Big Thompson, which prior to the flood was well known among anglers. The fishery is a valuable public resource therefore CPW has been dedicated to verifying what happened, and recovering appropriate compensation for the Big Thompson loss. Everyone involved is pleased that this settlement will go directly back to the canyon, the habitat and ultimately to the fish, right where it should go!”
Although not related in any way, the larger Big Thompson/US Highway 34 project, spearheaded by Colorado Department of Transportation, to rebuild and make permanent repairs to Highway 34 and the adjacent Big Thompson River, has taken note of what happened with the fishkill. The goal of this multiyear project, which started with the recent closure of the highway in the lower canyon, is to rebuild the highway, the river and the canyon in a manner that is ecologically functional, while providing recreational opportunity, and most of all with resilience against future flooding. Since the 2013 flood, CDOT and its consultants, multiple federal, state and local agencies, and canyon residents have been meeting frequently to design and implement the canyon recovery plan between Estes Park and Loveland that will be a showcase of engineering and collaboration. As part of the process agencies involved in the Big Thompson project, including CPW, have been working together to establish a set of best management practices to absolutely minimize chance that a similar event occurs again. Lessons learned from the fishkill have been instrumental in establishing environmental protection on the Big T project.
“The 2013 floods devastated the river habitat which is precisely what ACC was working to mitigate,” stated Randy Maher, ACC President. “Along the North Fork project the team used the natural hydrology of the river to create and restore quality fish structure and repair and enhance 19 acres of riparian habitat so the fish and wildlife will thrive again. We were so excited by what we were creating and were obviously devastated by the loss.”
Restoring the recreational fishery and creating a new road-river interface with long-term resiliency and natural function remains the priority for multiple agencies. According to Rogstad, “river restoration goals in the CDOT project, along with a little help from Mother Nature should bring the fishery back to pre-flood quality.” Along the way, money from the fishkill settlement will be put right back into the river to improve invertebrate and fish habitat that will benefit trout and other species for years to come. Once the road graders have finished the project CPW will sample and tweak the fishery as needed, and ultimately the Big Thompson will be better than ever for people, for wildlife and most especially for the trout.”
For more information on the fishkill, visit: http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=5756