Saving A Creek And The Trout Habitat

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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 I have reported on two prior occasions efforts to save a local creek.  At one point it appeared the creek may have been lost when the Colorado Department of Water Resources (DWR) post installation approved the project.  Colorado is a semi-arid state and the DWR is responsible for protecting water rights and making sure our water is properly conserved.  Water is a precious resource and the DWR was first formed 125 years ago to end wars and fighting over water resources.  Prior to the formation of the DWR there were those who took water by force therefore depriving those down stream from its use.  

That is exactly what happened in this instance wherein a few individuals seized water allegedly for ‘the good of the community’ and in the process blocked the head waters of a stream along with the destruction of the native fish habitat. None of this was done with approval or permits from any of the required government agencies including the DWR.  What was a real shocker was when the DWR after the non-permitted installation of the cistern which siphoned water out of the stream then told the violators that they would approve the project providing a few very minor corrections were included. Their report which was copied to myself stating their decision came as a shock. Minor changes like placing a wire on the access pipe in order to tell if anyone unauthorized  accessed the water, putting a gate valve on the pipe, and scraping back enough of the fill which had blocked the creek in order for water to again flow over the rocks thereby “making the fish happy”.  The above photo depicts the water flowing now and the stream restored to its pre cistern state, however the cistern still remains in place and water is still continuously flowing through it WITHOUT benefit of any of the other required changes.  

The DWR explained to me at great length how they conserve and protected water rights. I was thanked for reporting this incident.  I was given dates for restoration of the creek but personal inspection revealed nothing HAD actually being done. Those charged with protecting our water resources from misappropriation of water were actually approving a rogue non-permitted cistern and diversion of water.  

It was for this very reason I wrote the governor of Colorado outlining my observations of the DWR which had apparently lost it focus and intended purpose.   If the other divisions are equal to the one I witnessed I believe their intended purpose has been conflicted and that someone in authority needs to review the department to insure us citizens that they are back on track again enforcing water usage instead of allowing inappropriate and non-permitted installations after the fact.   I have not heard back from the Governor’s office but the DWR needs to be reviewed,  restructured, reorganized or restored to its initial function.  It should not be rewarding those who take water by force by coming along after the fact and giving them their stamp of approval.  This serves as a reward for others to do as they please until they happen to get caught and then have those in authority allow them to gain by their activity with no accountability.  

Another resident had reported the incident to the US Army Corp of Engineers  (USACE)
and before this became a permanent obstruction they promptly issued a cease and desist order giving the Landowners Association  (LOA) 10 days to restore water through the stream or face $25-50,000.00 per day fines.  Their prompt action clearly saved the integrity of the creek.  

During this process the LOA had held elections for board members wherein two board members  had been replaced and one resigned along with the President.  The new President/Chair of the Board,  Laura Barth, recognized the seriousness of the situation and did not hesitate to step right in to resolve the issue. Laura quickly coordinated the various agencies, obtained the required permits (that should have been obtained initially) and arranged for the creek to flow once again.  While the cistern still  remains in place and water is continuously running through it and being discharged down creek, the main stream is once again allowing fish to swim up and down. Without her decisive action the stream may have been left blocked over the winter and when it froze there could have been monumental damage done to fish habitat.  With association leaders like Laura and her associates we can be assured there will be no repeat situations like this in the future.  Permits come FIRST and you work with ALL authorities to see that the installation is done right and legally.

I still find it unsettling that a few people could actually insert a cistern and divert water from a creek and never get prior approval.  That the authorities who are charged with the preservation of our natural resources would then come along after the fact and grant the wrong doer permission to keep their non-permitted project.  That scenario seems wrong to me.  I believe the cistern should have been ordered out and the entire area restored and if this was necessary that all permits be obtained first, along with permission from those who hold the water rights.  I have been told there are far less intrusive systems that can be installed that are more efficient and have less impact on the environment. This system was not one of those but has none the less been allowed to remain.  I am still totally awed by the fact that those who have the responsibility to preserve our water and the water rights would give their blessing to a project that appeared so wrong.  I hope that changes in the near future and someone will look into these established agencies.  Thanks to the USACE for getting the creek flowing once again and preserving the fish habitat.