Water Quality

A Good Year for Trout at the Capitol


Legislative Recap

By Jen Boulton, CTU Legislative Liaison

The 2019 session was one of the most intense in recent years. There was some Washington DC level obstruction on numerous bills; which led to some very long days, and even longer nights. After the dust settled, however, the conservation community achieved some remarkable successes.

One of the highest priorities for CTU was HB1113 to revamp some of the hard rock mining laws in the state. Most notably, the bill prohibited reliance on perpetual water treatment for newly permitted mines. Under the previously existing law, companies could apply for permits knowing that perpetual mine drainage pollution would result from their activities. In fact, the policy of the State of Colorado hasn’t allowed the practice for several years; but with passage of HB1113, the practice is prohibited by law so our streams and rivers are less reliant on the policies of a single department. HB1113 also prohibited the use of “self-bonding” for recovery on mining sites. Self bonding allowed companies to claim that a healthy corporate balance sheet negated the need to post bonds in order to ensure sufficient resources for reclamation. Lastly, the bill gave specific authority to State regulators to require bonds to protect water quality, rather than solely for surface reclamation. Put together, these provisions will help ensure that future mining operations are required to operate responsibly and in a manner that adequately restores the environments where mining takes place.

Another key measure was passage of the oil and gas regulation bill. One of the biggest obstacles to updating regulations on the oil and gas industry to protect streams and rivers has been the statutory provision that the agency responsible for regulation has also been required to foster development of oil and gas resources. That dual mission has led to significant difficulties in protecting water quality, as well as public health and safety. There has been a tremendous amount of misinformation circulated about this bill. It was absolutely not a resurrection of the 2018 ballot measure on setbacks – a measure that Colorado TU did not support. In fact, the word setback wasn’t even in the bill.

The bill actually addressed two major issues, and several smaller issues to streamline the process and improve transparency. First it removed the requirement that the State foster development. Instead, it made the regulatory agency responsible solely for regulating the industry. Second, the bill gave increased authority to local governments to regulate the siting of facilities in accordance with their land use policy. This provision was one of the most contentious. Industry claimed that the resulting patchwork of regulations would make development prohibitively expensive. Ironically, the bill merely put the oil and gas industry on the same footing with all other commercial and residential development, which was already subject to regulation and permitting by each local jurisdiction in the State.

On a more disappointing note, we were unable to pass HB1218, a bill that would have expanded the existing program allowing temporary leasing of water for protection of instream flows. The bill expanded the existing program from allowing temporary leases three years in a single ten year period; to allowing up to five years of leasing in ten, with renewal for up to two additional ten year terms. This program has already been used to help keep more water in drought-stricken streams, including three times (through 2018) on the Yampa River where leasing partnerships with the local water conservancy district have been essential in maintaining the fishery through drought years.  Unfortunately, the opposition was strong enough to derail the bill, and force it into a discussion during the Summer at the water resources and review committee.

Stay tuned: this fight will be back next year.

March Newsletter is out! Check out the latest Currents.

This month’s issue features a story about the history of a Colorado town that decided it needed to give itself a new identity. The newsletter also includes a new Behind the Fin feature, our 50th Anniversary Art Poster Contest Winner, the new High Country Angler Spring e-magazine, Fork Not Taken Recap, Clean Water Action alert and some upcoming events around the state.

New! Spring 2019 High Country Angler is out!

NEW! High Country Angler Spring 2019

The new spring issue of High Country Angler is now live and you can view it online or download the entire issue for free! This time around you can look forward these stories:

  • A Q& A with Landon Mayer by Frank Martin

  • Still Water Sure Thing: Yellowstone Lake by Brian La Rue

  • Paint By Number Fly Fishing by Peter Stitcher 

  • Your Guide to RMNP by Annie Smith

  • Dry Flies in February by Hayden Mellsop

  • Minturn Anglers by Mark Shulman

  • 50 Years Protecting Rivers by Mike Ledger

  • Corps, EPA Propose Clean Water Act Rollback By David Nickum

  • Public Lands: Best. Idea. Ever by CTU Staff

  • Behind the Fin with Dave Taylor by CTU Staff

  • TU and the Birth of Colorado Instream Flows by CTU Staff

  • Angler's All by CTU Staff

  • Fit to be Tied by Joel Evans

Trout Unlimited in Colorado 2017 Annual Report

We are happy to announce that our 2017 Annual Report is live and available for your viewing. Last year was filled with great work across the whole state and the finishing up of many restoration projects and continuing others! Thank you to everyone who supported Trout Unlimited in Colorado last year.

Click here to read the CTU 2017 Annual Report


I'm dreaming of snowpack, lots of it

This winter we have been bombarded with countless news reports and articles warning Coloradoans about the harrowing levels of snowpack we are seeing this year. We too are guilty of broadcasting the doom and gloom, but it's because we are also feeling nervous about the amount of water that will be available during the warmer months. We know that our mountains act as storage for our water by collecting feet upon feet of snow that will slowly feed our streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. So, when scientists and reporters are both saying that certain parts of Colorado are averaging at about half or less their usual snowpack levels - that's an issue.

The word snowpack is part of every Coloradoans common vocabulary because we pretty much use it as a way to measure the well-being of our state. It determines whether Colorado will have successful seasons in skiing, rafting, fishing, and hunting. Not to mention our ranchers and farmers depend heavily on that snowpack for their livelihoods. Snowpack levels affect almost every outdoor business in Colorado.

A new clip from the short film, The End of Snow, addresses those issues that we are having in the west as they relate to snowpack. In Colorado, you meet the "Snow Guardian" a man who has lived in the mountains for years - collecting snow data to pass the time. That data has become a living testament to the changes in climate that scientists have been piecing together. Jane Zelikova, "ecologist with a Ph.D. from CU Boulder has an active project at the University of Wyoming [that] looks at the impacts of dust deposition on snowpack and in her film, The End of Snow, she focuses on the effects of dust deposition in mountainous regions." [1]

The message that the "Snow Guardian" clip emphasizes is one of adaptation. It's much harder and practically impossible to just reverse the path we are on and we probably will end up falling down. But, if we do fall, we must land on our butts because falling face first is much harder to get back up from. Collaboration and adaptation are how we will be able to address the changes in our climate and ultimately Colorado's outdoor economy.

The Snow Guardian from Day's Edge Productions on Vimeo.




[1] 303 Magazine Article about the Film

Gov. Hickenlooper receives 2018 River Stewardship Award from Colorado Trout Unlimited

(Denver)—Gov. John Hickenlooper has received the 2018 River Stewardship Award from Colorado Trout Unlimited, for actions during his terms as Denver mayor and as Colorado governor that led to significant conservation victories for the state’s rivers and streams. The award was presented Thursday evening, March 8th at Colorado TU’s annual River Stewardship gala at Mile High Station in Denver.

In his remarks, Colorado TU executive director David Nickum lauded Hickenlooper’s long record of bringing people together to find solutions on river health issues:

“In 2007, the Denver Chapter of TU held its first ‘Carp Slam’ tournament, to raise funds for and build awareness of the South Platte River through Denver, promoting a vision of the river as a living centerpiece to a great city. They were fortunate to have an ally in the Mayor’s office, who encouraged and empowered city staff to partner in the effort. In the decade since, millions of dollars have gone into improving the river, its greenway, and promoting economic revitalization along the corridor. Today the Denver South Platte is a river on the rise.”

The Upper Colorado River was another watershed that benefited from Gov. Hickenlooper’s leadership, said Nickum. In decades past, Denver Water had not always seen eye-to-eye with conservationists or with West Slope communities and interest on water diversions and river impacts.

“As Mayor, John Hickenlooper appointed a new breed of commissioners to the Water Board—leaders like Tom Gougeon, Penfield Tate, and the late George Beardsley, who encouraged Denver Water to engage with other interests to find cooperative, collaborative solutions – not simply continue the old water fights of the past.” The resulting landmark 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was groundbreaking and spawned the present Learning by Doing partnership that is meeting water needs while improving the health of the Colorado River watershed.

“That same spirit of collaboration is woven through the Colorado Water Plan adopted by the state under Governor Hickenlooper,” said Nickum. “The Plan encourages projects and programs that benefit multiple uses, from growing cities to agriculture; it supports local collaboration through stream management planning; and it features healthy rivers as a fundamental part of our state’s water values. And that that vision has been supported by real commitment and resources through new state funding.”

Nickum noted that Gov. Hickenlooper had pulled together “the right people, at the right place and time, and with the right support and encouragement, to make these remarkable accomplishments possible. He has done nothing less than create the climate in which river stewardship can thrive in Colorado. And that is the essence of great leadership.”

Colorado Trout Unlimited’s River Stewardship Gala is the state’s largest celebration of Colorado’s rivers and world-class fishing opportunities. In 2017, nearly 400 guests helped to raise over $80,000 for Colorado TU’s conservation efforts throughout the state. Funds from the River Stewardship Gala go towards CTU’s work in youth education, protecting statewide instream flows and temperature, reintroducing and protecting native trout, and preserving and restoring the state’s fisheries and their watersheds.

A huge thank you to the guests, staff, volunteers, board members, and of course the donors who made the night a great success. 


Yelling at storm clouds

A few days ago, I found myself standing in my yard yelling “Yeah, c’mon!?” while shaking my fist at a rather feeble-looking storm cloud. Now, I normally reserve this type of a pointless weekend lunacy for Broncos games and the like, but considering the dire state of the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, including my home watershed of the Uncompahgre basin—the reaction seemed appropriate. Beyond the obvious lack of snow in my front yard, I'm seeing a seemingly endless chain of news stories highlighting lack of snow, record low river flows and, perhaps worst of all, dire projections that long-term weather trends won’t provide respite—all serving to fuel my anxiety about the summer to come.

Droughts of years past have taken a serious toll on important fisheries and inflicted economic pain and hardship on water users of all stripes who depend on diverting water for their livelihoods and quality of life. These periods of shortage have also taught us valuable lessons about reacting to and preparing for drought in the West.

One of those lessons is about the importance of working together on our water challenges.

Throughout the basin, Trout Unlimited and water users are partnering on innovative strategies to address water supply shortfalls while protecting rivers and streams. For instance, TU is helping irrigation districts and the water users they serve in the Gunnison Basin improve irrigation infrastructure on and off the farm to reduce system losses, thereby improving stream flows on important tributaries like the Cimarron River.

TU has also been at the forefront of water planning efforts in Colorado that identify needs of both the environment and water users and establish watershed-specific approaches to reducing the impacts of drought.

In another innovative approach, TU is working closely with agricultural producers in the Upper Colorado River Basin through a pilot project that reimburses water users who voluntarily reduce consumptive water use through fallowing, partial fallowing or switching from high to low water-use crops. The program, known as the System Conservation Pilot Program, or SCPP, aims to improve flows on Upper Basin tributaries in a manner that not only helps reduce supply gaps at Lake Powell but also improves important fisheries.

With all the water uncertainty, there’s one thing we can be certain of—this drought period won’t be the last. In fact, scientists say it’s likely that the Colorado River Basin will be facing a drier and more variable climate—all the more reason why scaling up collaborative conservation and efficiency efforts now, regardless of the snowpack levels, is critical to preparing for future drought and protecting our valuable watersheds and all that they support.

Working together, we are finding solutions that can help buffer the impacts of drought years and keep our rivers and fisheries healthy.

And that’s surely more effective than yelling at clouds.

By Cary Denison

Cary Denison is TU’s project coordinator in the Gunnison Basin.

Blog Post via Trout Unlimited.

A River's Reckoning, an official selection of the 2018 Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Paul Bruchez is a fifth-generation rancher whose family raises cattle in the upper reaches of the Colorado River near Kremmling, Colorado, where he also runs a private fly-fishing guide service. “A River’s Reckoning” tells the story of Paul’s awakening to the importance of river conservation and the legacy of his family’s ranch when drought and urban water diversions deplete the Colorado River, threatening the ranch’s operations. When Art Bruchez, the family patriarch, is diagnosed with cancer, Paul and his younger brother Doug are forced to step in and take over. This “river reckoning” pushes Paul and his family to confront new challenges and embrace new ways of thinking to keep their family’s ranch—and others in the valley—alive and productive. Paul and his brother rise to meet these challenges, working with neighbors, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and other conservation groups and partners to find creative solutions that enhance their irrigation systems while restoring trout habitat in the river. “A River’s Reckoning” is a beautiful story of family, grit, and legacy, all in support of sustaining a ranch at 10,000 feet that depends heavily on stewardship of the Colorado River. The film was recently honored as an official selection of the 2018 Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

You can enjoy the full film below: 

Clean Water for All, including the fish

Coloradans have a special connection with our headwaters; in many ways we are the headwaters of the nation. For Colorado Trout Unlimited, our members in 24 local chapters across the state engage under the Clean Water Act both as advocates for healthy streams and by filing for and securing permits that allow us to partake in collaborative instream habitat improvement and fish passage projects.

Colorado Trout Unlimited stands with the 2015 Clean Water Rule and we believe it provides a reasonable amount of protection for our coldwater resources and therefore needs to stay intact. America's headwaters are the start of our country's iconic rivers. These waters provide the spawning and rearing habitat  for trout, salmon, and other wild and native fish that contribute greatly to the $50 billion recreational fishing industry in the United States. What's more, these streams send clean water downstream, where it is used for our farms and communities.

Water is an important resource for all and deserves the protections that keep it clean, flowing, and usable. To make that happen, we need to protect our waterways from their sources: the small, seasonal headwater and feeder streams whose flow makes up our larger perennial rivers downstream.

Colorado TU submitted comments to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers on the scope of the Clean Water Act and why headwater protection is so important. Click here to read the full letter written by David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

River Rising: the Denver South Platte

Ronnie Crawford first discovered the urban fishery of the South Platte by accident around 15 years ago. He was taking a couple of kids fishing with bait on the river near his house off Evans. Much to his surprise, they started catching trout. That was the simple beginning of a long-term love for fishing the “Denver South Platte,” and for introducing others to all it has to offer. For more than a decade, the Denver Trout Unlimited chapter (DTU), of which Ronnie is a board member, has been working to improve the health of the Denver South Platte – the section of the river starting below Chatfield Reservoir and then flowing through the southern suburbs and downtown Denver. Eleven years ago, the chapter held its first “Carp Slam” fishing tournament, to build awareness of the Denver South Platte and its fishery potential, and to raise funds for river restoration efforts. This year's Carp Slam takes place September 23, with Denver's most awesome after-party taking place atop the DaVita building in LoDo on Saturday evening (purchase your tickets here).

As the name suggests, the Carp Slam’s fishing focus is carp—but the goal is to improve habitat in the South Platte for a variety of fish.  And many anglers in the Carp Slam routinely catch impressive trout, suggesting the potential for a much more robust urban trout fishery.

Restoration work started with the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District in 2012, working to enhance the reach of the South Platte by Carson Nature Center to better support native fish, recreational fishing, and riparian habitat.  DTU contributed to the District’s effort with $10,000 raised through the Carp Slam and another $80,000 leveraged through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing is Fun grant.

The restoration effort and partnerships have grown exponentially since then.  DTU has worked with the City and County of Denver and the Greenway Foundation on a South Platte Restoration plan that lays out a restoration vision for the river and corridor all along the Denver South Platte. Millions of dollars are flowing toward efforts to improve several miles of river and to create economic benefits from a healthy South Platte as a new recreational centerpiece of the Denver metro area.

While appreciating the broader efforts to improve the entire greenway corridor, DTU has helped keep a strong focus on the river habitat itself. “We’re the ones focused on what’s happening below the waterline,” explains DTU member John Davenport.

Part of focusing below the waterline has been to pay attention to water quality, including stream temperature. To better document water temperatures and understand the river's fishery potential, DTU purchased and placed in-stream loggers starting in February 2016, collecting hourly water temperature data at six sites along the Denver South Platte.  Results to date, Davenport says, look very similar to those for the Arkansas River in Pueblo – a river supporting a popular trout fishery.

While finding a future for trout fishing in downtown Denver is definitely part of DTU’s vision, a healthy river and fishery is the key goal – not just trout.  “I call this a potluck stream,” explained Crawford. “You never know what you’re going to get.  I’ve hooked carp, brown trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth – all on the same fly and some on the same day.”


For Crawford and DTU, it is all about making the most of a resource that has been hiding in plain sight.  “It’s right under everybody’s nose, but they don’t think about it,” he said.  “They don’t know the grand array of fish that can be caught here.”