Sign In
CPW News Release
CPW News Release
CPW sees Gunnison River restoration project completed

John Livingston
Southwest Region Public Information Officer

CPW sees Gunnison River restoration project completed

Heavy equipment is used as part of a restoration project on the Gunnison River.
GUNNISON, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in partnership with the City of Gunnison, recently saw the final phase of a Gunnison River restoration project completed.

The project focused on sections of the Gunnison River near the city of Gunnison and included instream habitat improvements that will enhance holding areas for trout. It also improved the function of the river channel and two irrigation structures, stabilized previously eroded banks and revegetated degraded riparian areas.

“The idea of a project here and our initial discussions of funding started as early as 2012,” said CPW aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “We changed what our initial proposal looked like to apply for a significant grant to fund project construction instead of just planning, and it is great and exciting now a decade later to see all the finished improvements throughout the reach of the Gunnison River for the Gunnison area.”

Design and engineering work was completed by CPW while construction of the project was made possible through grant funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Additional fundraising to support construction came from the Goddard Ranch, the LOR Foundation and Trout Unlimited as well as CPW.

Brauch said none of the work could have been done without the City of Gunnison taking the lead in the initial request for grant funding along with the excellent partnerships with project partners and support from the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Gunnison Basin Roundtable.

“The Goddard Ranch was a key partner because they own the opposite stream bank from our Gunnison River State Wildlife Area,” Brauch said. “Working with the Goddard Ranch and the city with the Van Tuyl Ranch made so much sense and contributed significantly in obtaining funding to get this done.”

Phase 2 engineering work was completed in 2021 by contractor WaterVation, and the project wrapped up April 1 with revegetation, bank and fish habitat improvements, and six dedicated boater access points completed by North State Environmental at the city’s West Tomichi Riverway Park.

In fall of 2021, CPW’s project worked to improve the function of the Wilson diversion that irrigates the Van Tuyl Ranch, which was bought by the City of Gunnison. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation purchased the river corridor of the ranch in part to mitigate loss of fisheries habitat and fishing opportunity when Blue Mesa Reservoir and the other Aspinall Unit dams were built and transferred it to CPW to create what is now the Gunnison River SWA.

Large amounts of sediment had previously piled up at the Wilson diversion. The sediment would have to be cleared annually. Now, heavy equipment will not be needed. Phase 1 also included work on the Piloni diversion which often required annual excavation of the river channel to build the diversion up in order to divert water.

“It disrupted the river each time the channel had to be dug up,” Brauch said. “In the case of the Wilson diversion, there was significant sedimentation that had piled up over decades and impacted the function of the river channel. Now, it is diverting at a more appropriate point and the reach is restored.”

Brauch said bank improvements will also decrease sedimentation and improve river condition, while one repaired bank will also maintain a city trail on Van Tuyl Ranch that had been washed away when a previous bank failed.

The improved diversions are fish-passage friendly, Brauch said. Boulders were also strategically placed in the river that will improve trout habitat.

“We went beyond just the diversions to look for opportunities to improve fish habitat within those reaches. There are now more velocity refuges for trout within that reach,” Brauch said. “Those instream habitat features should continue to support a quality trout fishery within the Gunnison River. 

“I did follow up with a fish survey last year, and we did see improvement in the fish utilizing the reach now. It’s good news to see the work has had a benefit for the fishery.”

Brauch thanked the hard work of former Gunnison city planner Steve Westbay for instrumental work in getting the project off the ground. Brauch credited city engineer Cody Tusing for seeing it through to completion. He also thanked CPW staff for critical survey, engineering and permitting work, in particular Matt Kondratieff, a stream restoration researcher, and Eric Richer, a hydrology specialist.

Southwest Region Water Resources Specialist Ryan Unterreiner said the completed project was in spirit with Colorado’s Water Plan and the Upper Gunnison Basin Implementation Plan. He said the project highlights all the benefits that can trickle down to multiple stakeholders when there is a strong private and public partnership.

“When projects are designed to improve boater passage, fish passage, instream habitat, lead to reduced maintenance for an agriculture producer and protect and secure water delivery to a senior water right, it really is a big win for the water community,” Unterreiner said. “The Upper Gunnison water community really came together on this one, and the results are impressive.”
Share Share
Tweet Tweet
Share Share
Forward Forward
CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 42 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW's work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.
Copyright © 2022 Colorado Parks and Wildlife, All rights reserved.