UWP reports on 2017 Hydrodam Sediment Release Study

The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) has completed its first report for the Ouray Hydrodam Sediment Release Study, detailing the water quality impacts of the annual release into the Uncompahgre River. Due to the release’s increased flows and concentrations of heavy metals compared to pre-release flows in the river,the study compares metals concentrations to water quality standards for various beneficial uses of water. Additionally, the study can help determine if there are any substantial environmental or public health issues created by the release.

UWP conducted the initial Ouray Hydrodam sediment release study in March 2017, during an early snowmelt period where flows were substantially higher than typical for March. Observations from this study are specific to this year’s event and additional study should occur to improve certainty.

Here is a link to the full Study Report, published in November 2017. In summary, the March 2017 study found the following:

Change in metal concentrations during the release: Total metal concentrations increased during the release and returned to concentrations similar to the pre-release concentrations. Dissolved metal concentrations decreased for most metals during the release. Dissolved metal concentrations generally returned to pre-release concentrations following the sediment release. Both patterns are expected given the large volume of water and sediment released from the sluice gate during the sediment release.

Metal concentrations and aquatic life standards: All metal concentrations attained aquatic life standards during the release.

Metal concentrations and human-health standards during the sediment release: The EPA classifies arsenic as a Class A carcinogen (most dangerous classification). This classification results in a very low human-health standard (0.02 ug/L of total arsenic). An ambient concentration of less than 10 ug/L is considered acceptable for raw drinking water supplies. Arsenic concentrations measured during the sediment release below the dam and near Ouray exceeded the human-health and raw water supply criteria; concentrations at CR-24 near Ridgway exceeded the human-health criterion.

The arsenic concentrations measured at all three locations exceeded the human-health criterion before and after the sediment release. Arsenic concentrations measured in the Uncompahgre River near Ouray and Ridgway occasionally exceeded the human-health and raw water supply criteria during the 15-year period of record.

Although the hydrodam sediment releases influence arsenic concentrations, there may be other sources and controls within the watershed. Additional study may be warranted to better understand arsenic concentrations and sources within the Uncompahgre River Watershed.

Other metals did not exceed human-health criteria.

Follow-up study required for better understanding: UWP plans to coordinate with local stakeholders to design a follow-up study. We secured partial funding for a 2018 study from Ouray County and the Town of Ridgway, and are seeking additional funding to implement the study.

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Ridgway Updated Proposed Ordinance on River District Development

As a public service to inform the public of pending local legislation impacting the future of the Uncompahgre River, UWP is providing this link to the Oct. 13, 2017 version of

“An Ordinance Of The Town Of Ridgway, Colorado Amending The Official Zoning Map to Provide For The Uncompahgre River Overlay District, Creating River Corridor Development Regulations, And Amending The Town’s Subdivision Regulations For Preliminary Plat And Required Improvements.”

The proposed municipal law was created to accomplish Goal 4 of Ridgway’s 2011 Land use Plan Update to “preserve, restore, and re-engage the Uncompahgre River to strengthen the riparian corridor as an asset to the community”. It will be discussed at a public meeting at the Ridgway Town Hall on Wed., Oct. 18. It may go to a vote on first reading by Ridgway Town Council in November, and a final vote on second reading with a public hearing in December.

Map of Ridgway Town Properties within the River Corridor Overlay District

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TMDL 2017-18

The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership is hosting meetings to bring together local stakeholders with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to partner in a process of determining the level of pollutants in local water sources, to provide direction for future remediation projects. The first meeting is Thursday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center.

Information available on the EPA’s website describes the TMDL Process as follows:

A TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) is the calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a waterbody so that the waterbody will meet and continue to meet water quality standards for that particular pollutant. A TMDL determines a pollutant reduction target and allocates load reductions necessary to the source(s) of the pollutant.

The objective of a TMDL is to determine the loading capacity of the waterbody and to allocate that load among different pollutant sources so that the appropriate control actions can be taken and water quality standards achieved. The TMDL process is important for improving water quality because it serves as a link in the chain between water quality standards and implementation of control actions designed to attain those standards.

Local citizens sometimes know more about what is happening in their watersheds than state agencies, and this knowledge can be a valuable aspect of TMDL development. The public often contributes useful data and information about an impaired waterbody. The public can often offer insights about their community that may ensure the success of one pollutant reduction strategy over another. Citizen information and participation can improve the quality of TMDLs that are developed and can ultimately speed cleanup of impaired waters or secure protection of threatened waters. Public/stakeholder roles in the TMDL process can include:

  • Providing data and information to the states.
  • Reviewing and commenting on impaired water list.
  • Reviewing and commenting on draft TMDLs.
  • Assisting in the development of TMDLs.

Read more on the EPA website’s TMDL page.

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UWP volunteers share watershed lessons at five community events

In May and June 2017, volunteers with the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership attended five different events around the watershed where they shared lessons and games about water ecology with youth of all ages from elementary to high school. The volunteers spent a total of 20-plus hours participating in watershed education during those two months, and reached up to 1,000 students. Here are some photos of the fun activities.

June 13, 2017 – UWP volunteer Brad Wallis at Voyager Youth Program in Ridgway, photographed by Judi Chamberlin


May 18, 2017 – UWP volunteers Brad Wallis, Dennis Murphy and Dudley and Sharon Case in the fourth grade classroom in Ridgway, photographed by Christy Sabo


May 16, 2017 – UWP volunteers Michael Johnson and Brad Wallis at Colorado Park & Wildlife’s Family Nature Night in Ridgway, photographed by Mary Menz

May 9, 2017 – UWP volunteer Brad Wallis at the Shavano Conservation District’s 4th grade Natural Resource Festival in Montrose, photographed by Ellen Husch

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Alpine Environmental Consultants supports UWP with technical expertise

Welcome, Alpine Environmental Consultants!

For the past few months, UWP has been able to study, plan and implement projects with the new assistance of Alpine Environmental Consultants (AEC). The Crested Butte-based firm specializes in watershed planning, water quality data analysis and management, and project implementation.

Principal scientist and AEC owner Ashley Bembenek brings with her valuable experience and expertise. Her past consulting work includes acting as lead technical consultant on the Coal Creek project in Crested Butte, where she collected, compiled, and analyzed water quality data to create recommendations for water quality standards. She was also the author for the Upper Slate River Watershed Plan in Gunnison County, and is currently leading a collaborative mine reclamation project at the Gunsight Processing Area near Crested Butte.

Ashely is supported in her work with UWP by watershed scientist and AEC employee Julia Nave, who brings significant knowledge and professional relationships in the San Juan Mountains with her. Julia was the community program coordinator and instructor for the Watershed Education Program in the Telluride School District for two years, and is the former office manager and program assistant for the Telluride Institute.

The AEC team participated in the San Juan Mining & Reclamation Conference in May, and contributed to UWP’s poster presentation. They began on data analysis and recommendation development about the Ouray Hydrodam Sediment Release study, and plan to present a report soon.

The team’s primary role with UWP is to provide technical expertise to support reclamation activities at selected historic mine sites in the Upper Uncompahgre River. Three reclamation projects are proposed with unique public-private partnerships between local stakeholders including Ouray Silver Mines Inc., the U.S. Forest Service, Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, and others.

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