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South Jeffco’s Waterton Canyon Reopens After 18-month Closure

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After being inaccessible for more than 18 months, Waterton Canyon in south Jefferson County is open to the public again. Fishing enthusiasts, hikers and bikers have returned in big numbers.

The dredging of Strontia Springs Reservoir by Denver Water to increase its storage capacity, which was restricted by massive dirt and debris runoff as a result of forest fires, forced the closure of the canyon while the work was done.

Denver Water Manager of Media and Executive Communication Stacy Chesney said the contractor hired for the work did not remove as much sediment as expected, resulting in a contract dispute now.

The operation was supposed to siphon about 600,000 cubic yards of debris from the bottom of the reservoir, but the out-of-state contractor managed to clear only about 220,000 cubic yards.

The dredge material was pumped down a pipeline to the former Kassler filter beds at the bottom of Waterton Canyon, Chesney said. The stockpile will be stabilized by native grasses and may be utilized for future Denver Water projects.

“The challenge of this project always has been to safeguard our water supply while removing sediment brought down the river by runoff from the fire-ravaged forests,” Chesney said. “No other municipal agency has faced a similar challenge to restoring its principal water supply.”

Soon after the reopening March 1, however, some concern was voiced for how the work might have affected the water quality and fish habitat in the South Platte River in the canyon.

Tucker Ladd, owner of Trout’s Fly Shop in Denver, reported on his website that many anglers reported dismal fishing on the highly regarded stream immediately after the canyon reopened.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division, he said, was concerned enough to check the popular fishery’s populations.

Randy Hampton, spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, said reports of poor fishing prompted a biologist with the department to sample fish populations in two well-known areas on the river last week. Both spots, he said, showed brown trout of varied ages were present.

“To pull a sample and say, ‘You know what? We’ve got a good selection of all age classes’ — that would indicate the system’s got good balance,” he said.

Fishing should improve later in the spring, he said.

Ladd is concerned Denver Water and Parks and Wildlife don’t seem to work together enough.

“I would like to see in the long run, Denver Water and all the water municipalities start working more closely with Parks and Wildlife to ensure the way we do move water around (that) we’re considering the livelihood and the giant economic impact if we were to lose any of these fisheries that would have on our state,” he said.

Waterton will have to close down later this spring for three weeks to enable the removal of the 75-ton dredge once the ice melts, Chesney said.

Denver Water also added various improvements in the canyon, including more parking spaces, fencing, mini-shelters, entry gates and signage, Chesney noted.

Author: Daniel Smith

Photo: Lindsay Pierce, YourHub: Dan Uhlig of Highlands Ranch runs along the road through Waterton Canyon on March 8.

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