water quality

Standing Strong: Clean Water for Colorado Rally

Coloradans turned out in force (and in full voice) for a Clean Water for Colorado rally in downtown Denver on Tuesday, August 22.  The event was put together by TU and other conservation groups, as well as local outdoor businesses such as RepYourWater, Confluence Kayaks and Down River Equipment. The rally—right across the street from the regional EPA building—sent a clear, loud message to the EPA and elected officials back in D.C.: Coloradans care about clean water. The rally in Denver was in response to the EPA's proposal to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule that clarified that smaller seasonal and headwater streams and wetlands are protected under the original Clean Water Act. While the 2015 Rule has been somewhat controversial in certain water circles, the need to maintain clear, logical protections for our headwater streams and wetlands is straightforward. To protect water quality downstream, you need to start from the source upstream.

The message from this week's rally was not to simply support the 2015 rule, but to remind politicians and EPA administrators that a significant percentage of Colorado's economy relies on healthy river ecosystems. As such, there is a clear line that can be drawn between clean water and economic benefits.

Among the speakers was Corinne Doctor of RepYourWater. Her remarks to the crowd echoed the importance of maintaining healthy streams in order to support the economy on which her business relies.

“The Clean Water Rule is essential. We cannot risk having the EPA roll it back," exclaimed Doctor. "That action would result in leaving the majority of the streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands in the lower 48 without protection. We, in the outdoor, and more specifically fishing industry, know that without clean water, we have no business. The sports and hobbies on which our business depends rely on the water to be clean and hospitable habitat for fish and wildlife. For this multi-billion dollar industry, our economy can’t risk that."

Even beyond the outdoor industry, this action could take away slated protections for 60 percent of all U.S. streams, 20 million acres of wetlands and waters that contribute to the drinking water for 1 in 3 Americans.

“We in Colorado need to be sure our voices are heard," said Doctor. "As a seventh generation native of this great state, I can take the outdoor playground that it provides for granted. But we can’t deny that the booming housing market and incredible job market are due in great part to the outdoor accessibility here."

Another iconic Colorado business - craft brewing - lent their support as well. A coalition of Brewers for Clean Water have spoken out for clean water (including Colorado-based breweries Upslope, Odell, Horse & Dragon, Avery, and New Belgium) - submitting formal comments from "Brewers for Clean Water" to the EPA.  "Beer is mostly water, so the quality of our source water affects our finished product," they said. "Even small chemical disruptions in our water supply can alter the taste of a brew or influence factors like shelf life and foam pattern ... Protecting clean water is central to our long-term business success."

The rally outside EPA was picked up by a number of news agencies this week - including national outlets such as the Public News Service. The large turnout and media coverage shows that Colorado's outdoor industry and local businesses have a strong voice when it comes to environmental issues that affect us at home.

"Be sure to make your voice heard, for today and for future generations," exclaimed Doctor. "We care about clean water!"

To take a stand for clean water, go to TU's Action Center and raise your voice!

We Are the Animas - Anniversary of Gold King Mine Spill

Written By: Ty Churchwell This week marks a rather unsavory anniversary for the people of the Animas River Valley in southwest Colorado.  Two years ago, on August 5th, EPA contractors doing some investigative work at the Gold King mine accidentally released over 3 million gallons of heavy metal-laden mine water into the headwaters of the Animas River near Silverton.  The plume of mustard yellow water was a visual reminder of the many draining mines in the upper watershed and made international news.  One of Colorado’s finest trout fisheries was deemed a toxic mess by the media, and Durango was seen as an unhealthy (a community with tourism as a foundation of its local economy).  This characterization probably sold lots of newspapers, but is far from the truth.

As the plume of dirty, yellow water approached Durango – eight hours down river from the source - biologists from Colorado Parks & Wildlife placed a wire cage in the Animas full of fingerling trout as indicators of toxicity.  Not a single trout in the cage died, and local anglers did not report any dead trout in the river in the days and weeks following the spill.  It appeared the Animas’ Gold Medal trout water had dodged a bullet.  We now know this to be true.

For those of us who live here and are intimately aware of the issues with mine-related water quality in the headwaters, we know the reality.  The dozens of draining mines near Silverton discharge the equivalent load of metals as one Gold King spill every 5-7 days, and have been doing so for decades.  The natural loading of metals alone has been occurring since the beginning of time.  While there are acute impacts to the fishery way up top, the fishery in Durango remains a vibrant and notable brown trout destination for anglers.

We do not wish to minimize the Gold King spill. But, this was just an event and does not define our community or river.  Looking on the bright side, there have been a number of silver linings to this unfortunate incident.

1)  The issue and threats of acid mine drainage (AMD) in the west has been brought to the attention of other communities where legacy mining exists in their headwaters.  EPA estimates that 40% of western headwater streams are impacted by AMD.

2)  Lawmakers in D.C. are finally paying attention to the problem of AMD in the west.  This may prompt regulatory changes, such as enactment of Good Samaritan legislation and/or reform of the General Mining Act of 1872.

3)  The elected leaders of Silverton, recognizing something must finally be done, made the decision to seek a Superfund cleanup of the many mines impacting water quality.  In September of last year, the upper Animas River was formally placed on EPA’s Superfund national priorities list.  Crews are already in town and the multi-year cleanup process is underway.

With the Gold King spill in our rear view mirror, TU and local anglers are looking forward to helping craft programs that mitigate the impact of mine drainage in our headwater streams.  In the meantime, the Animas River in Durango remains one of the finest trout fisheries in Colorado.  One need not travel to Chile’ to net a 27” meat-eating brown trout.  We here in Durango know those monsters reside in the Animas right now.  With cleanup efforts underway, this amazing fishery can only get better. Follow along with the progress at www.WeAreTheAnimas.com.

This article was written by Ty Churchwell, San Juan Mountains Coordinator for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project located in Durango, CO.

Revegetation at Lower Creek Site

By Lauren Duncan On June 14th, Trout Unlimited’s Abandoned Mine Lands team joined up with Colorado Trout Unlimited volunteers and US Forest Service staff and volunteers for a successful revegetation workday at the Lower Creek project site.

The Lower Creek site is located approximately 9 miles northwest of Boulder within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland in Boulder County, Colorado. Lower Creek (formerly known as Carnage Creek), is a tributary to Left Hand Creek in Boulder County and drains into the South Platte River is the prior to the 2013 floods, the area was used as an unregulated, undesignated shooting area for several decades. The accumulation of lead and target debris within the site became apparent during the flood event of 2013. In 2015, Trout Unlimited, the US Forest Service and RMC Consultants remediated the site to reduce concentrations of lead in soil, surface water, and streambed sediment.

The project team had the opportunity this year to revisit the site to complete follow up sampling to ensure the success of 2015 construction and to revegetate the site in areas where vegetation was struggling. This year’s efforts were extremely successful! Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group has conducted water quality sampling at the site, and their efforts have revealed greatly reduced lead levels across the site.

The revegetation work day included upwards of 20 staff and volunteers and, in several hours, we incorporated 600 pounds of fertilizer, 1,350 pounds of Biochar and 4,200 pounds of compost across the site. This was a tough day of work, but because of the efforts of everyone involved in the day, it was a great success.

Throughout this summer and early fall, Trout Unlimited and the Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group will continue to monitor revegetation success and perform water quality sampling under different flow conditions. We look forward to the future success of this site and are thankful to all our volunteers, project partners and for our continued programmatic support from Newmont Mining and Freeport-McMoRan.

Lauren Duncan is a projects manager for Trout Unlimited's Abandoned Mine Lands program in Colorado. 

New Clean Water Rule

On June 17th, 2015 the Denver Post posted Colorado Trout Unlimited executive director David Nickum's, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler's article that highlighted the new clean water rule from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. The new rule is not an expansion of the Clean Water Act, but rather a "clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction," to quote the article directly. The rule allows for the water fish use as their habitat, and Coloradans use for safe drinking water, to be protected. It also ensures the protection of streams and wetlands that are essential to Colorado's outdoor recreation economy. The full article can be found below. Photo by RJ Sangosti for The Denver Post


For nearly 15 years, 10,000 miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands in Colorado have been at greater risk of being polluted or destroyed due to confusion over what bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act. That all changed last week thanks to a new rule from the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that restores protections to the vital waters that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and safe drinking water to two out of three Coloradans.

The rule is a clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. It gives Colorado's farmers and ranchers a clear understanding of the rules that protect the water we rely on for the production of healthful food while maintaining all of the existing Clean Water Act exemptions for normal farming activities, and in some cases, strengthening them. The rule also gives Colorado sportsmen certainty that the wetlands and headwater streams that form the backbone of our state's $3 billion outdoor recreation economy will be safeguarded.

Contrary to what opponents have claimed, the rule does not expand the Clean Water Act. The rule does not protect any new types of waters or regulate ditches. It does not apply to groundwater, nor does it create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, or address land use or private property rights.

In crafting the long-overdue final rule, the agencies reviewed comments from more than 1 million Americans. Advocates on all sides had called for the clarification the rule provides, prompting the EPA and Army Corps to hold more than 400 meetings with stakeholders. The final rule is a clear victory not only for farmers, ranchers and sportsmen, but for all Coloradans. Unfortunately, it may not last long.

Before the clean water rule was even finalized, some members of Congress began to engage in last ditch efforts to block the anticipated rule, and restart the multi-year rulemaking process. Now that the rule has been written, these attacks have intensified. Inflammatory rhetoric about an administrative "power grab" are driving attempts to pass legislation in both the House and Senate that would force the agencies to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the rule. Not only would these efforts unnecessarily delay a process that has been well vetted from top to bottom, it would also have serious, damaging impacts on our water supply, our local farmers, sportsmen and our state's economy.

As Congress considers this unnecessary delay, Colorado's senators have a critical role to play. Sen. Michael Bennet has supported these efforts to protect clean water in the past, while Sen. Cory Gardner has been in opposition. We urge them both to do what's in the best interest for their constituents and oppose efforts to derail the clean water rule.

There is a misconception that all farmers oppose the clean water rule. In fact, farmers, ranchers and sportsmen have stood side by side for decades in the fight for clean water, and were present during the many public meetings and listening sessions the agencies held as they were forming the final rule. As we face down 11th-hour efforts to block the rule, we urge support for the clean water rule across the Continental Divide, from headwater trout streams to farm fields, to sustain our Colorado way of life for us and future generations of farmers, hunters and anglers.

Rain's Effect on Rivers and Fish

Taken by David Zalubowski

Colorado has become unrecognizable. If one were to take a look out of their window while flying into DIA they would see nothing but green, lush land for miles and miles. “Wait a minute,” the natives are thinking, “I haven’t seen anything like this in Colorado… this isn’t normal.” But it’s becoming the new normal thanks to persistent and consistent rain storms that have dominated the afternoons for the past month. Although May is usually Denver’s wettest, cloudiest month these storms have led to rainfall amounts that are far from the usual. So far in 2015 Denver has received more than 11 inches of rain, just a few inches shy of the total average yearly rainfall amount of 14 inches. All this rain is not entirely unwelcome. Too much water is still not enough water for Coloradans considering the fact we’re an extremely dry state and no stranger to droughts. Overflowing rivers and streams, hydrated agriculture, and plentiful amounts of water for cities is far superior to the severely water deprived lands states like California are currently suffering from. On the other hand, too much rain does not bode well for river and fish health.

More rain means more pollution ending up in our rivers due to runoff that picks up pesticides, sediment, bacteria, and other pollutants as it makes its way into our rivers. Bad bacteria and pollution could lead to oxygen depletion, or even hypoxic river conditions; conditions that are not conducive to healthy aquatic environments.

The sudden influx of water also creates rivers with a much higher velocity than is normal. According to USGS, the South Platte River is flowing at 782 percent of its normal flow, and the Cache La Poudre is flowing at 702 percent. These high river flows due to rain could be a symptom of climate change. The usual source of water for Colorado’s rivers is snowmelt, but as temperatures rise and snowpack lessens in the lower mountains (below 8200 ft.) it’s possible rain could become a new water source. However, A report done for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (click here for full report) states that as of right now it’s difficult to tell whether average annual precipitation will increase or decrease within the next 35 years. Due to high variability, determining whether long-term trends in annual precipitation are changing is nearly impossible right now, so this year’s immense rain falls could just be a temporary anomaly. That being said, it’s important for anglers to recognize that changes in water sources are quite possible.

Water flowing at high rates due to rain means the river turns into a muddy mess, which disrupts trout activity. Trout are water snobs; they thrive in cold, high quality, extremely clean water (as stated in Trout Unlimited’s State of the Trout article, the full article can be found here), the likes of which this rain does not produce. However…

Not all hope for good trout fishing is lost. With the rain comes some benefits as well. When rain falls on water, it oxygenates it, which brings life back into the river and raises trout activity levels. Rain also allows for bugs to be washed into the rivers, piquing the trouts interest and making them more likely to bite. Another bonus? Rain regulates the water temperature, and adds humidity to the air which is conducive to hatch activity.

CTU Hiring River Cleanup Intern

Colorado Trout Unlimited is hiring an intern to help with our River Cleanups across Colorado. Most of our 24 chapters host at least one cleanup a year and we are hiring an intern to help make a bigger impact with river cleanups in local communities. This intern will also help to bring a strong conservation message to the cleanups and help to strengthen cleanup partnerships. This is a non paid position, however we will work with your college to arrange credit for the internship. Click here to view the position description. To apply for this internship please email your cover letter and resume to Stephanie Scott at sscott@tu.org