Coordinator, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project
VALLEY — What do a brown trout, raft guide, blue heron, and rancher living in the San Luis Valley have in common? They each rely on the rivers and streams of the Upper Rio Grande Basin for survival.
Throughout Colorado, rivers are some of our greatest natural assets as they sustain unique ecosystems and valuable economies. The immense value placed on rivers lead to the formation of citizens groups throughout the state that work to protect and restore the condition of rivers. Locally, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) is a group formed in 2001 to address issues of erosion, pollution, loss of habitat, degraded floodplains, and aging agriculture structures on the Rio Grande.
Since 2001, the RGHRP has worked with local, state, and federal partners on projects that improve river conditions using a multi-faceted approach to riparian restoration and streambank stabilization. The projects have resulted in improvements in bank stability, streamside shrub and tree cover, and fish habitat on over approximately eight miles of the Rio Grande. Additionally, pollution from sediment has been reduced and ability of the river to convey water has improved.
In addition to river stabilization and restoration projects, the RGHRP and local community have identified the need to improve the condition of structures built in the river. As such, the RGHRP is working with local stakeholders to implement irrigation diversion and headgate improvement projects.
One such project is the Plaza Project in the Sevenmile Plaza area of Rio Grande County. The Plaza Project includes the eventual restoration and rehabilitation of three diversion dams, four headgates, one damaged wetland, and 2.8 miles of riverbanks. To date, a planning project and master plan have been completed. Additionally, the wetland restoration activities were completed in November 2012. Funds have been secured by the RGHRP, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), project partners, and landowners to rehabilitate the McDonald ditch diversion and headgate, the Prairie ditch diversion dam and headgate, and surrounding riverbanks. The diversiondams will have passage for fish and considerations made for other forms of river recreation. The headgates will include automated measuring gates to ensure the irrigators are receiving their full water right when they are in priority.
These activities will reduce maintenance and costs for the ditch companies and improve efficiency of water diversion and management, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and opportunity for recreation. Project engineering is being provided by the NRCS.
The NRCS has been a steadfast partner of the RGHRP for over 10 years, providing engineering, funding, technical guidance, and Project management. The commitment by these highly qualified professionals to the community is evident in their efforts to partner with the RGHRP and restore the Rio Grande.
The Plaza Project and other RGHRP Projects will protect and enhance the cultural, economic, and environmental value of the Rio Grande, which given its importance to the people, plants, and animals in the San Luis Valley, is priceless.