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New phase underway in Lower Blanco River restoration project

With one phase currently underway and funding for another secured, the Lower Blanco River restoration project looks to be well on its way to completion in 2011.

The Lower Blanco Property Owners Association, working with Riverbend Engineering, was awarded $150,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to move forward with the 2010 phase of the restoration.

The group originally asked for $300,000, but adjusted the amount due to the current economy.

The additional funding means another section at least a mile in length should be restored in 2010.

The current phase, the fifth, according to Chris Pitcher of Riverbend Engineering, is slated to be complete by the end of October. The project focuses on habitat enhancement through the use of habitat rocks and rock structures in a 1.6-mile section of the river.

LBPOA President Bob Hemenger said the group hopes to accomplish more in the current phase than originally planned, extending it past the current proposed completion date since the funding is available.

Also planned during the current phase is the planting of native woody, riparian vegetation in flood plain areas.

“This phase will improve river morphology by creating flood plain benches and adjusting the channel width,” Pitcher said.

The rock formations and flood plain area work will also serve to slow down the river through narrowing and deepening of channels to alleviate possible flood issues on adjacent properties, while protecting the integrity of the river’s banks.

“The purpose of the project is to restore aquatic life function that was lost,” Pitcher said.

Hemenger has been pleased with the restoration thus far and the way the river has been left as natural as possible, while still being reinforced.

“The trout are very happy and the swimming holes are nice and deep,” he said.

While most residents owning property along the river are on board with the restoration, Hemenger said four ranch owners have opted to not have the river restored through their property during the current project, but he noted some are working with other organizations on restoration efforts.

Diminished fish and wildlife habitat, as well as changing overall dynamics of the river, affected portions of the Lower Blanco starting in 1971, when the Chama River diversion was opened, removing about 70 percent of the Blanco’s water to be sent to New Mexico.

The restoration project began in 1997 and, after a hiatus, picked up again two years ago with the hiring of Riverbend. It aims to ultimately restore a nine-mile section of the Lower Blanco. The previous four phases combined have completed about five miles.

“If all goes well, we should be done by 2011, if not sooner,” Hemenger said.

Lower Blanco residents interested in the Lower Blanco River restoration project should contact Hemenger at 264-5432 for more information.