Lyons, Colorado - The St. Vrain Creek watershed on Colorado's northern Front Range, is critical to maintaining the health, biodiversity, character, and economy of communities within the region, including Lyons and Longmont. The creek is a stronghold for native fishes, receives Colorado River transmountain water, hosts one of the country’s largest outdoor industry events, and has its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and its confluence in the county with the largest agricultural economy in Colorado. The watershed has a diverse array of stakeholders that use and derive value from the waters including agricultural users, domestic water providers, conservationists, and recreational users.
The September 2013 flood brought about a reenergized and expansive era of collaboration along with hundreds of millions of dollars for stream restoration. The collaborative flood recovery created a greater level of trust and partnership among water users, and many now want to transition to discussions of water management activities that can maximize post-flood projects to further benefit and balance environmental, recreational, agricultural and domestic uses. A SMP appears to many stakeholders as a means to facilitate this transition from flood recovery to water use strategies that benefit river health.
Colorado’s State Water Plan (CWP) sets a measurable objective to cover 80 percent of the locally prioritized lists of rivers with stream management plans. CWP used the South Platte Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) to help inform this measurable objective. The South Platte BIP studied a reach of St. Vrain Creek for environmental and recreational opportunities and concluded adequate streamflows may at times be present to achieve environmental and recreational outcomes. However, the BIP further concluded that opportunities for flow improvements may be available, but additional data and studies on flow and its relationships to form and function, aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and recreation are needed. For example, the BIP referenced the St. Vrain as one of two tributaries to the South Platte River that have the largest annual potential for water availability. Furthermore, the SVLHDistrict owns a relatively senior water right, not currently in use, decreed for uses that include environmental and recreation.
With such a wide range of values and uses and intense focus of study, the St. Vrain poses an excellent opportunity to balance river health with water users’ needs through completion of a Stream Management Plan.
With few exceptions, the St. Vrain Creek watershed has historically been managed without a collective vision to maximize the river’s use while also balancing its health. American Whitewater is one of a handful of stakeholders in the watershed leading the SMP process, which is now underway. Over the next several months, water interests, paddlers, and the general public will be invited to participate in the effort. Stay tuned for more ways to help shape what the future of Saint Vrain Creek watershed looks like.