Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Celebrate recovering waterways at Front Range Watershed Days


September 25, 2019 | View PDF

Courtesy Photo

A recent photo of Left Hand Creek, two-years after the Water Center completed work on major restoration projects following the 2013 floods. Inset: The area as it appeared in October 2013.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, Niwot's Left Hand Watershed Center is partnering with three other local watershed groups for Front Range Watershed Days, a day-long event to celebrate our area waterways and learn more about the efforts to restore and protect their health.

"Watershed Days is really just to inspire people to connect to their watersheds and understand what the term is and that it's a resource that they should care about," LHWC Executive Director Jessie Olson said. Joining her group as co-hosts are the Fourmile Watershed Coalition, Saint Vrain Creek Coalition, and the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition. "We are interested in educating the public about the importance of watersheds as a resource in terms of as a place to live, a place that provides water, a place where animals can survive and thrive, and also the importance of all of these watershed groups that are invested in protecting our water resources."

The day kicks off at 9 a.m. with a "Bio-blitz," where participants will get a chance to see river scientists in action and assist in the collection of "region-scale scientific data" that will be used to assess the overall health of the system. A blitz will be held in each of the four partner watersheds, and participants will have a chance to meet and hear from a wide-range of experts on watershed science and health, from ecologists and biologists to engineers and representatives from an area water treatment plant.

"On our staff at Left Hand Watershed Center we have an ecosystem ecologist, a watershed scientist, a fish biologist, and a restoration ecologist," Olson said. "And then we have all these consulting groups that are sponsoring the event, and they're volunteering their time to come out, as well as Boulder County staff, and the City of Longmont staff and potentially even a USGS scientist."

Olson, a self-described "science-nerd," said she is also looking forward to the opportunity to engage community members during the watershed mini-tour, which provides a first-hand look at how the area is recovering from the devastation of six years ago.

"I love being with people and describing why they're seeing certain sized rocks, where and what we can learn from the bug populations in these different regions, and also just understanding the nature of different features and the geomorphic complexity in the river and how that leads to increased resilience."

Olson said that post-flood efforts to increase that resilience are proving successful, though work still remains to be done.

"We've been collecting data for a few years now post-flood, and we're really seeing a trajectory towards resilience or a trajectory towards recovery from the 2013 floods, which is really great to see....Looking at photos pre-flood versus right after the flood and what it looks like today, two years following restoration, is pretty remarkable, the level of recovery we're seeing.

"There are definitely a lot of issues still in the Left Hand watershed related to the mine clean-up activities, and the water quality issues are still prevalent in the watershed," she continued. "And we also very much have room for improvement in areas throughout the watershed in terms of allowing reconnection to the floodplain, and increasing the safety elements for folks that live in the watershed and adjacent to the stream."

Olson also sees "room for improvement" in the overall flow of the watershed and how to best serve the needs of the area's agricultural consumers, but she feels the watershed is better prepared for changing climate conditions.

"One of the exciting things we do with restoration is build in resilience for future climate conditions. So one of the projects we're working on is called a "stage-zero restoration." Basically, in layman's terms, it means we are restoring a multi-threaded channel, and we're allowing room for the river to really adjust and move around under different climate conditions. We're basically increasing complexity to allow for resilience under future conditions for species that are tolerant to dry conditions, and habitat for species that are tolerant to really wet conditions."

Following the bio-blitz, the four groups are hosting a "community celebration" in La Vern M. Johnson Park in Lyons, starting at 1 p.m., featuring hands-on and family friendly watershed activities. Attendees will also get a chance to engage with the scientists and learn more about their data collection methods, as well as see the results of their 'bio-blitz" efforts.

"At the end of the day we're actually going to do a little bit of data analysis and have some real-time reporting at the event, so the community can see how it's used and how it helps inform management decisions," Olson said.

She said that she hopes people return from the event with a deeper understanding of their local watershed and why it's important to be mindful of what's happening both upstream and downstream. She said the LHWC will be hosting additional "stewardship opportunities" throughout the year in hopes of deepening the community's investment in the health of its streams and rivers.

The Bio-blitz is free and lunch is included, but participation is limited, and Olson urged those who are interested to sign up as soon as possible. The celebration is also free, but no registration is required - just a willingness to learn more about how to protect the local waterways.

For more information and to register, visit http://www.watershed.center/front-range-watershed-days. Event sponsors include St. Vrain Anglers Trout Unlimited, Colorado Riparian Association, Stillwater Sciences, and Boulder County.


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