A River in Need Finds Friends Indeed: Big Thompson River
Dave Piske, Conservation Coordinator
Rocky Mountain Flycasters TU chapter
From the November issue of Flypaper the chapters monthly newletter
The Big Thompson River, commonly known as the Big T, is one of the rivers most favored by fly fishermen residing in Front Range communities between Boulder and Fort Collins. Its easy access from those anglers' homes, and the presence of a healthy trout population, were the keys to Big T's popularity. The status of that trout population and its habitat was drastically altered by three days of record-breaking rainfall and a historic flood beginning September 13, 2013.
From Olympus Dam in Estes Park downstream to the western environs of Loveland, the Big T flows through a steep, narrow canyon that offers little in the way of flood plains that could have spread out and dissipated the huge dynamic power of runoff water the Big T was carrying. Homes and business structures along the river were swept away, totally destroying some communities. Highway 34, paralleling the river, collapsed and became unusable in numerous segments.
The river changed itself in many ways, re-channeling in places, destroying trout holding and spawning habitat, scouring the former streambed and depositing its rubble below the canyon mouth where the water's energy was eventually lessened. After Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists were able to make a preliminary post-flood examination of the resultant river, Ken Kehmeier, the Northeast Regional Chief Biologist, described the result as being a total re-set of the Big T's ecological system.
When the flood receded, it was soon realized that a vast recovery and restoration effort, involving a wide spectrum of stakeholders and recovery resources, would be needed. In the Big T corridor, informal groups including persons interested in recovery of the trout fishery, began to organize and coordinate their initiatives. What emerged was the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition (BTRRC), a collaboration of multiple interests working together to produce a recovery of the Big T in a manner intended to maximize the economic, social and environmental benefits of the river.
The goals of BTRRC include:
Near-term recovery of key infrastructure needed for municipal, agricultural, property owner, and recreational users, in ways that complement and enhance long-term river restoration goals.
Restoration and enhancement of riverbed structure and water flows to optimize habitat for fish and aquatic life.
Establishment of plant communities along riverbanks to enhance water quality, encourage species diversity, and improve esthetic values.
Incorporation of infrastructure designs that reduce the risk to life and property during future flood events.
As of November 1 the coalition's composition includes nearly 60 individuals representing land owners, non-profit organizations, land management agencies, local companies, consulting firms, and a host of wonderful people. Rocky Mountain Flycasters is honored to be one of the founding members of BTRRC.
So, the point of this article is what?????
When a river"resets" itself natural functions is restored in that riffle, run, pool sequences are found in an abundance and length that would have been naturally in place prior to water diversions or man-made construction. Next the notion that trout holding habitat and spawning habitat was "destroyed" is speculative. In fact, surveys of the Big Thompson in the catch and release sections located hundreds of brown trout nest along with incredible pool habitats which were functioning quite well at this weeks low flows (35 CFS).