Wildlands Restoration Volunteers is a Colorado nonprofit organization that organizes thousands of volunteers each year to complete more than 100 wild land conservation projects throughout Colorado and southern Wyoming.wlrv.org
It’s so important to have meaningful numbers to work with…To now be able to do this ongoing measurement at multiple points along the creek is game changing.
Nate Boschmann, Trails and Restoration Program Manager, WRV
By Helen Taylor
Numbers matter: Colorado group backs up restoration work with hard data
Wildlands Restoration Volunteers has spent years restoring Campbell Creek to its original splendor. Now, with donated equipment from In-Situ, they’re able to measure the full impact of their hard work.
Campbell Valley, in Northern Colorado, is one of the prettiest places you’d ever want to visit, but a closer look reveals a damaged landscape scarred by misuse and neglect.
More than a century ago, Campbell Creek was used to transport irrigation water while the irrigation canal for the area was under construction. Massive amounts of water flowing through the creek bed eroded millions of cubic yards of soil. The creek’s natural path disappeared, and the elevation of the creek bottom dropped by about 40 feet, carving a deep gash in the land and sending heavy loads of sediment downstream.
More recently, severe canal leakage has gone unchecked and created network of muddy tributaries and sinkholes that threaten the valley’s stability.
The Colorado nonprofit Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, working with several partners including The Nature Conservancy and Colorado State University, is in the midst of a years-long project to control erosion along the bank of Campbell Creek, restore the health of the watershed, and urge a recalcitrant irrigation company to address the harmful leakage.
As with most organizations that rely on donations and grants to fund their work, WRV tackles enormous challenges with more will than means, and because volunteerism is at the root of the program, most projects involve more people power than technology.
For the Campbell Valley project, WRV Trails and Restoration Program Manager Nate Boschmann has engaged a small army of volunteers to build nearly 20 post and willow structures along the creek bank. These beaver dam analogs mimic natural dams in their ability to slow the flow of water, so it can drop its sediment load, run deeper, and help reestablish the creek’s natural meander.
Volunteers are also planting vegetation in the riparian area along the creek to help stabilize the banks and create shade to cool the water temperature and improve water quality.
Some signs of recovery can be observed, but to truly understand the effect they’re efforts have on the water, WRV needs data. To that end, In-Situ has donated Level TROLL 500s and Wireless TROLL Coms, which are installed at four points along the creek to collect data on volume and temperature.
“We want to keep track of what the creek is doing, and we’re also interested in monitoring the volume of leakage from the canal and how it affects sediment load and temperature,” says Boschmann.
Despite the possibility that the sub-surface flow from the leaks could lead to a major breech, the irrigation company has little incentive to do anything about them, because, Boschmann says, much of the water is recovered downstream and a permanent fix would entail either lining the canal with concrete or putting the water through a pipe – both very expensive alternatives.
“If we can show that the leak is continuing to grow, which we’ve seen evidence of but can now measure, we might be able to convince them to do something about it,” he says.
The Level TROLLs have been in place since June, and an intern goes out monthly to retrieve the data. Boschmann says the equipment has been working well, and he plans to continue data collection for years to come.
“It’s so important to have meaningful numbers to work with, “he says.” We’ve been working on this project since 2010. To now be able to do this ongoing measurement at multiple points along the creek is game changing.”
Boschmann expects that the data will not only help inform the group’s restoration efforts and help them make their case to the irrigation company, but that it will also help with fundraising.
“If we can show definitively that what we’re doing is working,” he says, “that helps us attract the resources we need to fulfill our mission.”