By Christina Medved, Watershed Education Director and Heather Lewin, Watershed Action Director at Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt, CO.
A rancher, a scientist, an angler and a conservationist walk into a room… “Wait a minute,” you say, “I’ve heard this one before! Something about water being for fighting, right? Remind me the punchline again?” Well, this isn’t the same old story with the same old punchline. Roaring Fork Conservancy (RFC), currently in its 20th year, is working with an empowered group of stakeholders to rewrite the story of water in the Roaring Fork Valley. The privilege of living with ready access to cold mountain streams, abundant trout, vibrant agriculture and spectacular scenery is one we do not take for granted which is why we continue to work to bring together the diverse groups invested in their protection.
If you have not encountered us before, RFC is a local watershed organization, bringing people together to protect our rivers from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork high above Aspen to its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, from the Gold Medal waters of the Fryingpan River, to the banks of the free-flowing Crystal River, we continually assess and work to improve the health of our rivers, and we empower the community and next generation to do the same—reaching over 100,000 individuals since our inception.
Inspiring people to take action requires not only scientific knowledge, but also experiential knowledge and a common ground, or common water in this case! Through our work with the recreational and agricultural communities, our knowledge is enhanced. Learning from the people who are working the land and on the rivers each day (as sometimes we wish we could be!) provides insights that might not be documented anywhere except the mind of the water user. By working with these stakeholders, we are able to craft studies to address real needs with real benefits to the river. In turn, we are able to share our learnings with the greater community through adult and school programs throughout the year.
Through proactive science and watershed planning, RFC helps inform decision-makers at the municipal and county levels and direct on-the-ground improvement and restoration projects. All of RFC’s endeavors—scientific studies, restoration project, policy work and educational campaigns—are rooted in the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan published in 2012, and focus on water quantity and quality and riparian health. The thread through all of our projects is building relationships with each stakeholder. Here are some examples of RFC’s work in action:
Crystal River Management Plan: During the 2012 drought, the Crystal River experienced significantly low flows, to the tune of 1 cubic foot per second (cfs) in the lower reach where the instream flow right is 100cfs. The Crystal Valley, mecca for both ranching and recreation, was feeling the demand gap of the drought. How could it be possible to look out for the interests of all water users involved, including the river? You listen to the concerns from stakeholders and work together to answer the tough questions about how to efficiently and fairly use and share the invaluable water resource. To tackle this complex issue, RFC partnered with Public Counsel of the Rockies and Lotic Hydrological to produce the Crystal River Management Plan, one of the first stream management plans in Colorado.
The Crystal River Management Plan relies on a robust science-based and stakeholder-centered approach to consider complex interactions between the physical components driving watershed structure; the biological components of riverine ecosystems; the social context of competing perspectives, needs, and values; and the existing legal and administrative frameworks governing water use in an effort to identify and evaluate management and structural alternatives that honor local agricultural production, preserve existing water uses, and enhance the ecological integrity of the river.
Stakeholder meetings held throughout the planning process served to clarify outstanding questions, summarize results from previous studies, refine planning goals and objectives, and evaluate the feasibility of various management alternatives.
The Plan combines river science and community values to offer feasible and effective water management alternatives for improving ecological health of the Crystal River recognizing the competing demands for water to sustain agricultural and municipal needs as well as other environmental and recreational values in the community.
Lower Fryingpan River Comprehensive Study: Citizens and angling guides approached RFC with concerns about low winter flows, formation of anchor ice, and an abundance of algae, we would later come to name Didymosphenia geminata—better known as didymo or “rock snot”—on the Gold Medal waters of the Fryingpan River. Concerned about these potential impacts on the river resource, interested citizens along with RFC voiced these concerns to the Bureau of Reclamation, who manages the flows on the Fryingpan. From these encounters, RFC partnered with the Natural Resource Management Program at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Dr. Bill Miller, Delia Malone, and the Economics Department at Colorado State University to develop a scientific study to evaluate the macroinvertebrate population, water temperature, didymo, American Dipper population, and the economic impact of the Fryingpan Valley.
Here are a few highlights from the study:
- The macroinvertebrate population indicates a healthy river system.
- Didymo prefers oxygenated (moving) water and its presence declined after high flows.
- The Fryingpan Valley is sustaining 28 mating pairs of American Dippers. Their success is dependent on 50m of undisturbed riparian habitat upstream and downstream of nesting sites.
- The economic impact of fishing the Lower Fryingpan River is $3.8 million annually and contributes to 38.3 jobs to the region!
For details about this study and additional results, please click here.
So, a rancher, a scientist, an angler and a conservationist walk into a room… with a shared love and desire to protect western Colorado’s most precious resource: water. Please join us on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s tour of the Roaring Fork watershed on September 12 to see these one-of-a-kind areas for yourself and learn about the benefits of RFC’s work and partnerships. Learn more and register here.
For additional details about Roaring Fork Conservancy please visit www.roaringfork.org .
Christina Medved, Watershed Education Director
Christina calls Cleveland, OH, her hometown and the infamous Cuyahoga River her home watershed. Having spent a lot of time on lakes as a child, she quickly fell in love with rivers while working as a Field Instructor within Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Akron, OH. She then became the Education Programs Manager and Leaf Pack Network® Administrator at Stroud Water Research Center, near Philadelphia, PA. During that time she coordinated two watershed treks which gave high school students a full-immersion experience in tracing the drinking water supply of New York City and Wilmington, DE, and, had the opportunity to teach stream ecology workshops across the United States as well as in villages of Costa Rica and Peru. Christina has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Ashland University in OH and an M.A. in Communication Studies from West Chester University in PA. When not teaching or on the river, Christina enjoys cooking, biking, snowshoeing and dabbling in photography.
Heather Lewin, Watershed Action Director
Heather has worked with Roaring Fork Conservancy in the areas of land conservation and policy since 2010. She has B.S. in biology from Providence College and a Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy from Johns Hopkins University. She has also completed a residency in environmental education at Teton Science School. With Roaring Fork Conservancy, Heather is working on Colorado 303d water quality listings, land conservation efforts, and policy issues. Heather is also a certified raft guide and ski instructor.