Cary DenisonWATER LINES

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December 20, 2012
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WATER LINES: Trout Unlimited & ditch company launch Gunnison River dam, habitat improvements

Fishing enthusiasts and irrigators gathered on the Gunnison River near Austin Dec. 6 to celebrate the initiation of construction work on a collaborative project that will benefit fish, rafters and irrigators. This was the official groundbreaking for a project to modernize the Relief Ditch Diversion on the Gunnison River. The project, a partnership between Trout Unlimited and the Relief Ditch Irrigation Company, will improve control over irrigation diversions for irrigators while benefiting native fish, non-native game fish and wildlife habitat in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. This project is the latest example of the kind of multi-benefit project promoted by the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, which endorsed the project for a $50,000 Water Supply Reserve Account grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Total project costs are expected to exceed $780,000.The Relief Ditch diversion dam, which is used to divert water for farms east of Delta, was a cobble push-up dam constructed annually by the irrigation company with heavy equipment working in the river. The dam created several problems, including erosion of nearby river banks, a build-up of sediment downstream, and a migration barrier to fish. It also posed a safety hazard to boaters.Gunnison Gorge Anglers, the local Trout Unlimited chapter, have led the effort to replace the push-up dam with a permanent low-head diversion structure and a grade control structure - improvements that will remove the fish barrier and hazard to boaters and expand habitat for several native fish. Trout Unlimited and partners will install a new headgate that will reduce maintenance and expense for irrigators and improve the control over diversions. Trout Unlimited will also restore the eroded riverbanks near the project with native plantings and erosion-resistant fill. Trout Unlimited expects the project construction effort will be completed March 2013.Many rivers and streams in the Colorado River Basin have become fragmented over the years by diversions, preventing fish movement and degrading habitat. Trout Unlimited is working with local partners on numerous win-win projects like this one that open up river habitat, address infrastructure problems, and improve irrigation efficiency. "We're pleased the project is moving forward," said Mel Frazier of Relief Ditch Irrigation Company. "We've enjoyed working with Trout Unlimited on this project and look forward to the improvements to the system." For more information on the project, contact Cary Denison at 970-596-3291, cdenison@tu.org. 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.Cary Denison is Gunnison Basin Project Coordinator for Trout Unlimited and member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable


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The Post Independent Updated Dec 20, 2012 01:07PM Published Dec 20, 2012 01:06PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.