RIVERS AND STREAMS ARE OFTEN CHARACTERIZED AS THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE SURROUNDING LANDSCAPE.
The power of flowing water shapes the landscape and creates the watersheds that define community and regional identities. Water quality and quantity in western rivers supports fish and wildlife, agriculture and industry, recreation and sport.
The 15 miles of the Lower Blue River is not a naturally operating river system. The entire watershed has been altered by multiple reservoirs, including Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs, which store and supply water for multiple water users. The operation of these reservoirs also includes trans-basin diversions to the Eastern Slope of Colorado. As a result, the periodicity, frequency and intensity of flows in the Lower Blue River have changed greatly from the natural flow cycle before dam construction.
The Lower Blue River corridor still provides habitat for a multitude of wildlife, from moose and otter to bald eagle and migratory waterfowl. Fish include naturalized brown trout, and may soon include whirling-disease resistant strains of rainbow trout. In fact, the Lower Blue River carries the designation of Gold Medal Trout Waters by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The river has also provided water for agricultural production since European settlement, and today it provides opportunities for many recreationists, from fishing to hiking to kayaking. Clearly, the Lower Blue River forms a key part of the identity of both Blue Valley Ranch and the local community.
MANAGEMENT OF THE RIVER HAS FOCUSED ON RESTORATION, HABITAT ENHANCEMENT, AND MITIGATING VARIABLE FLOW REGIMES.
Wetland and riparian habitat along the Lower Blue has been depleted in large part due to the damming of the river upstream. Blue Valley Ranch took an active approach to mitigate the resulting variability in flows and increased bank erosion. River restoration work has stabilized the river banks, reduced erosion and sedimentation, narrowed the channel to keep water temperatures cooler at low flows, and provided habitat for fish at all stages of their life cycle.
The adjacent floodplain benefitted from restoration too, as vegetation plantings and re-construction of side-channels, ponds and waterfowl impoundments helps to sustain ground water, reconnecting the river with its floodplain. This work has provided habitat for a multitude of wildlife including otter, bald eagle, moose and bear..
Maintaining this kind of a river system is not easy. Maintenance and monitoring is a full-time job requiring constant adjustments to water levels and attention to the smallest detail that might indicate the presence of disease or an invasive species. Continued monitoring of fish populations, macro-invertebrates, diseases and invasive species will help Blue Valley Ranch continue to adjust its management to the benefit of the river.
THE TRUEST TESTAMENT TO A SUCCESSFUL HABITAT PROGRAM IS THE RESPONSE FROM THE WILDLIFE AND VEGETATION THAT THE WORK WAS TARGETING.
Moose along the Blue River were formerly a transitory species, seldom staying for longer than a few weeks in the spring or fall. Now, a dozen or more individuals arrive in April and stay through early winter. Waterfowl and shore birds of all kinds make stops in their north/south migrations in both the spring and fall, and many species are staying to nest and raise young. Two nesting pairs of bald eagle make their home along the lower reaches of the Blue River. Colorado River otters are a regular, though fleeting site, Merriam’s turkey now winter along the river every year, and even sandhill cranes have been found nesting in the river’s corridor.
A healthy river, including its tributaries, supports healthy ecosystems in the surrounding landscape as well as every ecosystem downstream. The Blue River not only benefits the ecosystems thriving along its banks, but also provides ecosystem services to the local communities of wildlife, plants and people in the form of clean water, clean air, and recreational opportunities.