Glenwood Canyon monitoring project secures funding for second phase

Nathan Bell, a consultant with the Silt Water Conservancy District, points out the accumulated sediment where the canal that takes water from the Colorado River feeds the pumping station. An upstream water quality monitoring project, which received funding approval from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, could help alert the district when mudslides occur in Glenwood Canyon.
Heather Sackett / Aspen Journalism

SILT – Water managers are addressing the aftermath of the Grizzly Creek fire and subsequent landslides in Glenwood Canyon by continuing a water quality monitoring program.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council this week received funding approval for the second phase of a program that will continue to collect and disseminate weather and river data downstream of the Grizzly Creek burn scar. The Colorado Basin Roundtable approved a $ 72,200 state grant to continue collecting data on seven rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon, which will provide information to the National Weather Service, a quality autosampler of water, soil moisture sensors, a new rain gauge and water quality monitoring. station in the Rifle / Silt area and a data dashboard for easy access to information.

The first phase of the project, which was implemented early last summer before the monsoons, addressed immediate water quality issues, collecting data from rain gauges every 15 minutes.

The second phase of the project is an early warning system that will allow water users downstream of Glenwood Canyon to know when dirty water from mudslides is heading towards them. The MCWC hopes to have all the pieces in place before the spring runoff.

“Given how post-fire events occur, we’ll be looking at the impacts for the next two to five years,” said Paula Stepp, executive director of Middle Colorado Watershed Council. “The part that really excites me is the cooperation between stakeholders and downstream users. “

On July 29, a heavy rain storm triggered mudslides in Glenwood Canyon, which left motorists stranded overnight and closed Interstate 70 for weeks. Because the soils scorched by the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire do not absorb moisture, the rain sent rocks, sediment, and debris down drainages, across the freeway, and into the Colorado River.

But the mudslides did not only affect the river at the site of the torrential rain. The dirty water cascade also had impacts on agricultural and municipal water users downstream of Silt, whose only water source is Colorado.

The sediment-laden water caused problems for the town of Silt’s water treatment plant, which had to use more chemicals to sediment the sand. The increased manganese and iron suspended in the water gave it a brownish tinge to the taps. It also fouled up a set of filters, which the city spent $ 48,000 to replace. Filters normally last four to five years, but had to be replaced after just one, said Trey Fonner, the city’s public works director.

“If we knew what was going down the river, we could shut off the water intake and let the river clean up for a bit before turning it back on,” Fonner said. “If our tanks are full, we can stop and let the worst go. “

Town of Silt Director of Public Works Trey Fonner highlights how filters at the water treatment plant were affected by turbid water from mudslides in Glenwood Canyon last summer. The city had to replace them at a cost of $ 48,000. Heather Sackett / Aspen Journalism

Impacts of the conservation district

The mudslides also created challenges for the Silt Water Conservancy District, which supplies river water to around 45 heads through a canal and pumping station. Although the city may temporarily shut down its water intake because it has about three days of water supply, the conservation district continuously pumps water and it is difficult to shut down for a brief period.

“It’s not really a system that can be shut down easily,” said Nathan Bell, district consultant and roundtable member. “It’s extremely heavy. It’s a nightmare.”

This earthen channel carries water from the Colorado River to the Silt Water Conservancy district pumping station. Silt from the Glenwood Canyon mudslides last summer has accumulated in the canal.
Heather Sackett / Aspen Journalism

The main problem in the neighborhood is that the earthen canal that brings water from the river to the pumping station is silting up. Cloudy water also acts like sandpaper, causing more wear and tear on machinery and shortening its life. The district plans to clean the canals more frequently and install drop structures to catch the sludge before it reaches the pumping station.

The data generated by the monitoring project will allow the district to better plan and budget for the inevitable increase in maintenance and repairs, Bell said.

“It cuts down on the variables you have to manage,” he said. “It gives us a head start.”

The Silt Water Conservancy District supplies water from the Colorado River to approximately 45 heads using this pumping station. The sediment-laden water from last summer’s mudslides acted like sandpaper, wearing out machinery.
Heather Sackett / Aspen Journalism

The data dashboard will allow downstream users and the general public to configure text alerts when a parameter of interest is too high or outside a specific window. Users of silty water, for example, could set an alert when the rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon register a certain amount of rain, increasing the likelihood of a dirty water plume heading their way.

The total cost of the second phase of the project is almost $ 1.3 million. The watershed council is asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a grant of about $ 650,000 and is also awaiting funding from the US Geological Survey. Garfield County has pledged $ 15,000 over the next three years and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will contribute $ 50,000.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with the Vail Daily and The Aspen Times. For more information, visit

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