The federal government is awarding $1.8 million in grant funding to address the decline in fisheries in Summit County’s Blue River.
The funds are planned to be used for habitat restoration along the Blue River downstream from Dillon Reservoir.
“We’re incredibly excited,” Blue River Watershed Group advancement director Vanessa Logsdon said. “This is one of the largest grants we’ve received, and this project is going to be an expensive project. It’s a large area of the river, and it’s basically bank-to-bank restoration.”
On Dec. 19, 2023, $1,857,570 was awarded by the Department of the Interior to complete habitat restoration detailed in the plan.
The Blue River Watershed Group has collaborated with Trout Unlimited to create an Integrated Water Management Plan.
The plan focuses on the stretch of river from Dillon Reservoir to Columbine Campground north of Silverthorne. It has been developed after years of scientific studies and research that aims to provide a solution to the environmental issues on the Blue River.
The plan also includes steps to repair the natural riparian vegetation.
The Dam’s Impact on the Blue River
The Dillon Dam has created an unnatural flow regime, below-average water temperatures due to cold water releases from the bottom of the reservoir and a lack of natural sediment and nutrient transport, according to a news release from the Interior Department.
Studies have also found unnatural temperatures from dam releases can be too warm in the winter and too cold in the summer. The temperature fluctuations disrupt the life cycles of aquatic organisms, such as trout.
In a natural river, the largest flows take place during the spring and lesser flows in the summer and fall. However, the manmade dam interrupts this pattern with unnatural dam releases.
Ideal environments for fish to spawn include deep pools and ripples. The reduced flow has caused to the river becoming shallow and homogenous.
“The goal is to get the Blue back to Gold and have a more a natural and sustained ecosystem,” Logsdon said.