A cloudless sky and clear waters

A cloudless sky and clear waters from the Uncompahgre River at Riverbottom Park earlier this year.

Parts of the Uncompahgre River have become “unstable” and “injured” over time due to past land use practices, leaving some areas packed with landfill material like debris and rubble, City Engineer Scott Murphy said.

But now, the City of Montrose will be able to refine portions of the river, in part due to a $400,000 grant given to the city by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The funds come through the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program to enhance the Uncompahgre.

The grant will begin the first phase of river restoration improvements for 0.65 miles of the Uncompahgre within city limits.

CWCB Board approved the funding during a board meeting back in January; the city had previously applied for the grant in October 2018.

Additionally, aerial images have shown the river channel has migrated around 400 feet in some places over the past 50 years, Murphy indicated.

“It’s a pretty unstable breach of the river which is bad for the habibat because once the fish habibat gets established it gets wiped out as the river moves,” he said.

City of Montrose grant coordinator Kendall Cramer also said the Uncompahgre has experienced flow modifications and encroachment, which has developed a wider channel, bank stabilization issues and a lack of aquatic and riparian habitat.

“It’s an excellent project that’s going to enhance the river corridor,” Cramer said. “It’ll invest in the Uncompahgre River, which is one of our greatest assets in terms of tourism and recreation.”

He added the project will fix those problems as well as create better aquatic environments, stabilize the river banks and give the public better access to the water.

The city is hopeful this project will be the first step in receiving a gold medal fishery designation within the Uncompahgre River, Murphy said. Once completed, this section of the river will join a section of the Gunnison River which connects to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and joins the Gunnison Gorge.

According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website, gold medal standing is reserved for state waters that produce a minimum of 60 pounds of trout per acre and 12 trout measuring 14-inches or longer per acre.

“It’s (gold medal fishery) means superb fishing habitat quality,” Cramer said.

Both Cramer and Murphy agreed the project is a great companion to Mayfly Outdoors’ Colorado Outdoors and the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority projects as well as the soon-to-be-constructed “Connect the People to their Parks and Recreation.”

The project design is being done by Ecological Resource Consultants, which won the bid for it in 2017. The River Restoration Committee and volunteers have helped the project come to fruition and have given input on the design, Cramer said.

The city anticipates construction to begin in winter of 2019-2020. Due to the river flow, work has to be completed within a four-month timeframe of November to February, when the water is at its lowest point.

“It’s a beautiful river that we need to take care of for its riparian habitat,” Cramer said.

Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.

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