Blue River Watershed Group moves forward with long-term plan to assess water issues in the Blue River

The Swan River Restoration Project in Breckenridge is pictured on Wednesday, June 3. River habitat, damaged for years during the mining era from the use of dredging, is slowly being restored.
Jason Connolly/Summit Daily News archive

DILLON — In 2019, the Blue River Watershed Group started working on an integrated water management plan in partnership with Trout Unlimited to understand why there is a decline of fish between the Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs and how to reverse or mitigate the problem.

The plan and its associated research is also intended to guide future goals and projects in the Blue River basin watershed.

The local water management plan is part of the larger Colorado Water Plan, which aims by 2030 “to cover 80% of the locally prioritized lists of rivers with stream management plans and 80% of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans.”

Blue River Watershed Group Executive Director Erika Donaghy said the local water plan is a way to protect the Blue River watershed for its multiple uses, including being part of Summit County’s summer and winter recreation economy. 

“In terms of planning for our future — and as the climate is changing and we know water is getting more and more scarce — … it’s a proactive plan to make sure that we are really using this scarce resource really wisely going forward and how do we protect its quality,” Donaghy said.

The conservation efforts in the plan also line up with Summit County Open Space and Trails efforts. Summit open space Senior Resource Specialist Jason Lederer explained that the county’s main goal is to have thoughtful management of natural water resources. 

“The county has, in partnership with groups like the Blue River Watershed Group, worked hard to restore streams to a natural condition so that they provide better ecological function in terms of habitat and water quality components,” Lederer said. 

The Blue River Watershed Group is in phase one of the plan, which includes assessing the conditions of the entire watershed by breaking up the watershed into three reaches. Donaghy explained that in this first phase of the plan, the group is putting together detailed descriptions of each of the reaches, including compiling information such as the average temperature of the water, the state of aquatic life, whether there are mining impacts and types of habitats. 

These descriptions will come from data and studies that already have been done as well as new studies. The plan is meant to evaluate all uses of the watershed, including municipal as well as agricultural uses. Once the initial stage of the plan is complete, Donaghy said there will be some areas where there simply isn’t enough information to move forward, requiring more research and studies be conducted. In other areas, the group will have the information they need and can come up with solutions to improve issues that have been identified. 

“What I envision is having that phase two part really be laying out some of the issues that we’re seeing and areas for improvement in the watershed,” Donaghy said. “And then from that will come some of those really specific project recommendations.”

Donaghy said many projects could be similar to the Swan River Restoration Project, which was led by Summit County Open Space and Trails to restore an area heavily impacted by dredge mining. 

“The overall goal is just to really assess all of these issues in the county and how we can keep as much water in the river as possible,” Donaghy said.

She said the group is working on the first draft of phase one, which is about 50 pages. While the group is still waiting on some data, the draft eventually will be presented to the group’s advisory committee, which is made up of stakeholders such as agricultural users, recreational fisherman and interested residents. Donaghy said she expects the group will start phase two next year. 

“(The integrated water management plan) is a long, ongoing process, and I think what this really is intended to be is kind of a living document,” Donaghy said. “I think it’s really going to inform what we as Blue River watershed group are doing for the next decade or so, so I’m really excited for that because it’s going to be a really useful sort of strategic plan for our organization and give us confidence that we really are doing what the community wants us to do.”

Donaghy noted that the group is still asking for community input. She said community members can get involved by joining the advisory committee or completing a survey regarding the watershed. Survey and advisory committee information, as well as volunteer signup information for a river cleanup Aug. 29, can be found at

As for community involvement in water issues, Lederer said there is a lot of public interest and offers for volunteer help when it comes to restoration projects. He said people also bring issues to the attention of the county.

“We get a lot of questions and people definitely raise concerns, and it helps us because we can’t be in all places at all times,” Lederer said. “So sometimes we may not be aware of something or there may be an issue that we need to respond to. Certainly, the community is well engaged in a lot of the work we do.”

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