In western Colorado, years of large-scale coal mining and associated activities conducted in an area characterized by extremely unstable, steep slopes has resulted in widespread erosion and debris flows that are degrading water quality and stream habitat throughout a 27-square-mile area known as Coal Basin, and contributing to sedimentation issues in the Crystal River.Problems persist, despite extensive restoration efforts conducted in Coal Basin from 1994-2002 by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety.Earlier this year, Dr. Russ Walker, head of the Colorado Mesa University Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, participated in a workshop that brought nearly 50 resource experts together to develop a strategy for carrying on critical restoration work in Coal Basin and in the downstream confluence area where Coal Creek meets the Crystal River near the town of Redstone, Colo. He presented the results of CMU's evaluation of existing water quality data and made recommendations for future monitoring. The workshop and water quality assessment were funded by the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund.Participants in the Coal Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Workshop immediately identified a series of data gaps that needed to be addressed in order to provide a sound foundation for the continued restoration effort. The lack of adequate baseline water quality data was among the significant issues. Fortunately, funding has just been obtained from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that allows collection and analysis of water quality data from Coal Creek and the Crystal River in order to provide the baseline data necessary to assess the effectiveness of this comprehensive, high-profile restoration effort.Over $300,000 in Colorado Water Supply Reserve Account grant funding was recently awarded to the Roaring Fork Conservancy for "Crystal River Watershed - Assessment and Design of Restoration Projects." Roaring Fork Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service White River National Forest are coordinating the long-term restoration effort with the assistance of CMU and other stakeholders, including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Transportation, Pitkin County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, private landowners, and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association.The CWCB funding will be used to conduct a series of assessments to identify the continued sources of sediment loading and the geomorphic processes that are degrading water quality and damaging instream and riparian habitat in the Coal Basin sub-watershed and contributing to sedimentation issues in the Crystal River. This information will be supplemented with new stream flow, sediment, water quality, macroinvertebrate and meteorological data, and used to prioritize and design a series of site- and process-specific restoration projects for the Crystal River Watershed - with emphasis on Coal Basin and the Coal Creek/Crystal River confluence area.The funding will also help cover the costs of a decommissioned mining road reclamation pilot project already underway in Coal Basin. This pilot effort will assess the cost-effectiveness and utility of using biochar, coupled with drainage improvements, to reduce the toxicity of surface runoff, improve the water and nutrient-holding capacity of soils, and enhance the growth of native vegetation.Dr. Walker and his CMU team will continue to work with the Roaring Fork Conservancy on water quality monitoring for parameters that reveal basic aspects of water quality, and those that are of the most concern. Over the next two years the restoration effort will be guided by both water quality data analysis and an assessment of trends over time - as specific restoration projects and programs are implemented in the watershed.Follow the Coal Basin and Coal Creek/Crystal River confluence area restoration efforts on the Roaring Fork Conservancy's website at http://www.roaringfork.org/coalbasin. This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. Rose Ann Sullivan is with the Roaring Fork Conservancy.
WATER LINES: CMU prof involved in Coal Creek/Crystal River restoration
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