The Colorado Youth Corps Association recently received grant dollars to help mitigate invasive plant species along the area’s rivers and protect the state’s water resources.
This will likely come as exciting news to water users in Colorado, especially those in the ag-intense South Platte River Basin, who see invasive phreatophyte plants — deep-rooted plants that obtain water from permanent ground supplies or from the water table — as a major problem and potential threat to agriculture.
A study conducted last year by the Colorado Water Institute showed that invasive phreatophyte plants continue to increase in the South Platte basin, resulting in large quantities of non-beneficial consumptive water use — perhaps as much as 250,000 acre feet per year, or 80 billion gallons. (According to 2010 numbers, all of the South Platte Basin’s municipalities used a little over 600,000 acre feet.)
In all years, and especially in years like 2012 — one in which rainfall was at a record low, some farmers’ irrigation ditches were running dry, and cities were having to watch their supplies closely — many agree some of that water could be going to a more beneficial use than quenching the thirst of vegetation along banks in the South Platte Basin, some of which isn’t native to the area in the first place.
Bottom line, farmers want phreatophytes under control.
That’s where the state’s youth is now stepping in.
The Colorado Youth Corps Association and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, will fund invasive plant species mitigation projects throughout Colorado in an effort to preserve and protect the state’s water resources.
A total of five projects in 2014 — funded through a $50,000 grant from the CWCB — will be conducted by Colorado Youth Conservation Association-accredited youth corps in conjunction with local project sponsors in four counties throughout the state. The projects are designed to control a variety of invasive phreatophyte plants, including tamarisk, Russian olive and Siberian elm.
The Weld County Youth Conservation Corps, for example, will receive $15,000 to remove invasive vegetation from riverbanks and sandbars of the South Platte River. The project is coordinated with and sponsored by Ducks Unlimited. The corps will also receive $7,500 to eradicate tamarisk and Russian olive along the St. Vrain River in a project for the Weld County Weed Division.
For the South Platte River project, the WCYCC crew will clear invasive vegetation from three protected properties located along the South Platte in Weld and Morgan counties.
This work will improve the river channel habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, as well as reduce consumptive water use. The project will start at Weld County Road 1 and extend about three linear miles toward the confluence with the South Platte River.
“The partnership between CYCA and CWCB support WCYCC to provide a more meaningful experience for the youth we serve while enabling us to provide service to the community,” said WCYCC Crew Leader Dave Woolman. Tina Booton with Weld Weeds added, “This is an excellent opportunity for the Weld County Youth Conservation Corps to help landowners and the environment by removing two devastating noxious weeds from the riparian area of the St. Vrain River. Both tamarisk and Russian olive trees consume a large amount of water, displace native vegetation and impact wildlife habitat.”
The WCYCC proposal was one of eight proposals representing $105,000 in requests for 14 weeks of work to mitigate these plants throughout the state. The goals of the awarded funds are to provide job training and experience for Colorado’s youth and young adults, and to support the invasive control efforts of land owners who have limited resources to accomplish the projects.
These efforts, by no means, will solve the phreatophyte problem, officials note.
But it represents another small step in the right direction, they say.
In recent years, the South Platte Roundtable — made up of water officials and experts in the region who convene to discuss ways of solving the water-supply gap — has spearheaded efforts to attain about $250,000 to eradicate the Russian olives and salt cedars along the South Platte River near Brush.
Local governments and organizations also have put together small-scale efforts to limit the amount of vegetation that now lines the banks — nearly all of which are plants that couldn’t be found along the river a century ago.
The Colorado Water Conservancy Board has nearly $1 million in its budget dedicated to the problem that’s taking place in most of Colorado’s river basins. ❖