The South Platte River Basin (Colorado, USA) accounts for over half of Colorado’s economic activity, contains seven of the top ten agricultural producing counties in the state, and includes many areas for recreation. Water flows in tributaries in the South Platte River Basin are variable and ephemeral, with many reaches dry for large portions of the year. Historical channelization has exacerbated this problem, creating steeper banks and more incised channels. With less water getting onto the banks, the flood plain and available riparian habitat are reduced. In 2015 we initiated a watershed improvement project in the lower portion of the South Platte River Basin at Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms. Partnering with six other organizations and agencies, using a mix of federal, state, county, and private funds, we installed three in-stream structures to re-wet historical oxbows, improving hydrology from historical stream channelization. In addition to improved plant and animal habitat, restoring flows provides longer water storage in the system and increases the duration of flow in the creek. In our third season post-installation, water was flowing in the creek a month longer than what would have been available from just upstream sources. We also planted over 1,000 willows, cottonwoods, and other native riparian species and initiated a long-term monitoring program for vegetation and water quality. We have seen extended channel flow and increased animal use in restored areas. Based on the success of this minimally invasive technique, we aim to expand to other areas in the South Platte River Basin.
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019
Society for Ecological Restoration