Pipe project to protect local watershed’s only native trout population now complete | VailDaily.com

Pipe project to protect local watershed’s only native trout population now complete

Buckhorn Valley neighborhood in Gypsum worked with Trout Unlimited to get more water to Abrams Creek

Kendall Bakich, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, examines a fish screen on Abrams Creek outside of Gypsum on Thursday, July 25, 2019. The screen is part of a pipe project which will allow the creek to hold roughly 40% more water, a boon for the creek's rare cutthroat trout populations.
John LaConte | jlaconte@vaildaily.com

GYPSUM — With a small trickle of water that is often on the verge of running dry, Abrams Creek may not look like much.

But it’s home to the Eagle River watershed’s only native trout population, and the fact that the green lineage cutthroat trout have managed to survive in the low water for longer than Eagle County has been inhabited by humans has made the creek the most interesting of our local waterways in recent years, as evidenced by the number of state and national agencies which have sent people here to study it.

Their goal has always been to find a way to get more water into the creek, as everyone is united in amazement by the fact that the fish have survived for this long in those conditions.

On Thursday, representatives from Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Eagle River Watershed Council, the Town of Gypsum, the Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District and Scott Green Excavating raised a toast to the completion of a pipeline from the creek which replaces a more than 100-year old ditch.

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The pipeline will allow the homes in Buckhorn Valley to receive the same amount of water they were receiving from the ditch — water to which they have a longstanding right — while leaving 40 percent more water in the creek than before.

In saluting all involved, Mely Whiting with Trout Unlimited made special mention of the fact that Scott Green Excavating excelled in their efforts.

“I’ve learned that getting the right contractor can make all the difference in a project like this,” Whiting said.

John Hill with Buckhorn Valley echoed the statement.

“Scott Green was a believer in the project from the beginning, and his knowledge of the area allowed him to complete it ahead of time and on budget,” Hill said.

Water court

Green’s part, however, was mainly completed last summer. On Thursday, finishing touches involving a fish screen and surface-water data collecting station were being applied at the point where the pipe meets the stream.

Representatives from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks & Wildlife examine a data collecting station on Friday, July 25, on Bureau of Land Management Land outside of Gypsum. The station will send data on water flows to the Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District, letting the district known when flows are high enough to divert water.
John LaConte | jlaconte@vaildaily.com

The more than $1 million project hinges on the fish screen and the data collection station. If water levels aren’t recording properly, Buckhorn Valley won’t know when they’re able to divert, as they’ve agreed to take water only when stream levels are above 1.25 cubic feet per second.

That agreement saw some referee action in water court, said attorney Steve Bushong, who helped the metro district obtain a judge’s decree which confirmed that the project can go forward without impacting the metro district’s water rights. The decree came through in November after a slight holdup from the city of Aurora, which diverts water out of Eagle County to the Front Range via Homestake Reservoir.

“Aurora stipulated out of that case; they just asked for some kind of no precedent language, which we were able to work out and include,” Bushong said.

Mefford screen

Another complicated part of the project is the diversion point itself — if it doesn’t allow fish to pass through safely from both sides, the whole project will have been in vain.

Designed by hydraulic/fish passage engineer Brent Mefford, the Abrams Creek fish screen benefits from Mefford’s many years of research with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation studying screen layout, orientation to channel flow, debris management and use of isolation gates.

“Having a fish person design a screen, they understand fish behavior,” said Kendall Bakich with Colorado Parks & Wildlife. “The way this screen is designed, it allows the fish to swim on the screen if it gets in there.”

On Thursday, members of Colorado Parks & Wildlife witnessed the fish screen working properly from both directions.

“Within 10 minutes (of arriving at the site) we had a fish in here,” Bakich said while examining the fish screen on Thursday. “It worked just like it should.”

Learn more about the project at tu.org.

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