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Crystal River restoration gains town’s attention

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Led by AVLT plan

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Correspondent

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Public and private entities are working on a plan to restore and revitalize a stretch of the Crystal River that is publicly owned but passes through the River Valley Ranch (RVR) subdivision at the southwestern edge of Carbondale.

The project is a partnership among the town of Carbondale, the managers of RVR and the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT), a non-profit organization based in Carbondale, and is called the Crystal River Restoration and Enhancement Project.

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According to a “conceptual design” of the project on the AVLT website (www.avlt.org), the objectives of the project are to improve aquatic habitat along the 1.4-mile (7,500 feet); provide “a diversity of fishing opportunities and access;” introduce “oxbows” in the river’s course that will enhance fishing and other recreational opportunities; reconnect a series of “historical small, off-channel streams and oxbow lakes” to the river itself; stabilize the stream bed and banks; and improve the access for all users, including the handicapped, in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, among other goals.

In a memo to the Carbondale Board of Trustees from the AVLT (see the packet of information for the Feb. 24, 2015 meeting, available on the town’s website, www.carbondalegov.org), the Crystal River has been characterized as one of the 10 “most endangered rivers” in the country, according to the non-profit river advocacy group, American Rivers.

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In reports issued in 2012 and 2014 by American Rivers, the Crystal River moved up from being named the eighth most endangered river (2012) to being part of the second most endangered river basin in the U.S. (the Upper Colorado River, in 2014), according to the AVLT memo.

“These designations are a result of water diversions, threats of storage projects, and the loss and degradation of aquatic and riparian habitat,” the memo stated.

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To rectify the Crystal River’s degraded status, last year the AVLT hired Dr. Davis Rosgen and his company, Wildland Hydrology, to come up with the draft conceptual river restoration plan that won the preliminary support of the Carbondale trustees on Feb. 24.

Cost

Overall, according to the memo, the estimated cost of a detailed design plan, obtaining the needed permits for working in the river, and doing the work itself, is projected to be between $2.6 and $2.9 million, depending on variables ranging from the cost of renting equipment to the cost of obtaining fill material.

The AVLT, according to the memo, has expected to donate $20,000 in staff time, as well as $10,000 in grant money from the Aspen Skiing Company’s Environment Foundation, to the early design work of the plan.

In addition, the memo anticipated application for a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, in the amount of $75,000, to be put toward the cost of coming up with a final, detailed design plan from Wildland Hydrology. The GOCO grant would involve $25,000 in matching funds, “which AVLT is currently pursuing.”

Town Manager Jay Harrington, who has worked with Rosgen and Wildland Hydrology on municipal projects in other communities, expressed confidence in the firm and its work, and said, “We’re excited to do some restoration work on the Crystal.”

But, he continued, the town does not have the financial resources to pay for “a project of this magnitude,” and predicted funding will depend on grants from outside sources.

According to the conceptual plan on the AVLT website, the work on the river would involve “channel reshaping, river structures, bridge protection or enhancement … small bridges for trail crossings and park improvements” at the six pocket parks the town owns along the 1.4-mile stretch.

Reshaping the Crystal

As part of the reshaping of the river, the plan projects that the river would be narrowed from 150 feet at one point where it crosses the property of Tom Bailey, down to 95 feet, removing river bottom material from the center of the river and using fill material to “replace the eroded banks” to improve in-stream fish habitat.

While noting that many kinds of restorative work are needed, the conceptual plan from Wildland Hydrology notes that “the Crystal River is relatively stable through the Town of Carbondale,” and that it has not meandered much over an 18-year period starting in 1993, before there was much development on either side of the river channel.

As a wide, shallow stream, the river has been subject to some stream bank erosion, the plan states, but adds that “the overall river trend is toward recovery” from the different kinds of degradation is has experienced in the past.

Harrington noted that it is unlikely any actual work in the river will begin this year, but predicted that it could happen in 2016, depending on the availability of funding.

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