River Corridor Master Planning

Uncompahgre River
River Corridor Master Planning

Discovering the Uncompahgre River Corridor as a community amenity

S2o has led, or has been a team member, on a number of river corridor master planning efforts.  These projects serve to plan a corridor respecting the river’s natural morphology, and the habitat that it fosters, and serves to integrate the community with this river in a way that allows for recreation, access, smart development, and the preservation of beautiful natural areas, amongst other priorities.  This is the story of one of our projects as told by the team we worked with:

The City of Montrose is located along the Uncompahgre River.  Historically, this City supported agricultural and industrial land uses. To this day, gravel mining, for example, remains a significant source of income, supporting the growth of surrounding mountain towns and resorts.  Over the past decade, commercial and residential housing developments have in-filled closer to the river, largely isolating the river from public access. Montrose responded to community interests in protecting and enhancing the Uncompahgre as a public amenity by investing in planning with the support of Great Outdoor Colorado lottery funding. Currently, the river is only occasionally floated due to limited public ownership of the adjacent property and lack of access points. Montrose is just a pass-through for those visiting the famed M-wave on the Gunnison River outfall. Our project was tasked with improving public access and usage along this river corridor.

As a landscape architect and principal with DHM Design, I led the effort to prepare a master plan that describes a vision for the future of the Uncompahgre Riverway through Montrose by building on the existing natural characteristics, urban connections and broad community support. I hired Scott Shipley to examine the potential for the river to host whitewater activities. Scott found that the river characteristics support a variety of potential features and that the flows regulated by releases through the upstream irrigation system and reservoir provide consistent levels late in the season when many other rivers are low. Our team was also augmented by Walsh Environmental for ecological assessment and RPI Consulting for community input facilitation.

Scott provided a well attended presentation of whitewater parks around the world and the benefits they bring. The Montrose community showed tremendous interest in having their own whitewater park, not only for their own recreational use, but for events and spectators. Montrose supported the idea of a whitewater park drawing tourism and awareness of the larger river corridor as part of their identity. After examining the corridor with us, Scott described a number of possibilities ranging from family friendly tubing features to a competition worthy challenge course.

Master planning for a community is not easy—it can be especially difficult when including a dynamic amenity such as a whitewater park.  These parks have the potential to host extremely well-attended events.  As a potential draw to many people, each chosen location must fit within the community infrastructure, anticipating the need for vehicle and pedestrian access, parking, and restrooms. River banks can be enhanced to provide paths, hardened points for access and informal seating through the deliberate placement of boulders. Within the larger community, Montrose is particularly interested in providing a draw that supports river oriented cafes and retail shops.

With many features possible, the challenge is bringing them within reach of tight budgets. Our team identified an ideal opportunity by selecting an existing park to include our future Whitewater Park.  In this way, with relatively low investment, whitewater elements could be introduced without re-investing in infrastructure and parking.  This locationquickly gained the benefit of greater visibility and increased tourism that would in turn support additional investments. As part of a collaborative effort, the master planning process started discussions with the water district, Bureau of Reclamation, City engineering, and other agencies that have the potential to partner for the replacement of aging structures in a way that weaves whitewater features into a solution that will have many benefits for this little City that reach far beyond the scope of creating a simple play-wave.


Design of whitewater parks must consider potential impacts to the surrounding community in terms of traffic, access, parking, and public access.

By drawing attention to the whitewater features, awareness of the entire river corridor is gained, supporting investment in the overall health of the river system.

Partnerships hold great potential to bring whitewater elements within reach with cost sharing.

Collaboration with the widest range of river stakeholders is critical to gaining support for a successful project.



Economic Impacts of Whitewater Parks

economic impact table

I initially contacted S2o Design and Engineering about helping me to create a vision for a pumped Whitewater Park in the Southwest.  We accomplished this task with such a large degree of success that it has opened a tremendous can of worms down here.  The site plan created by S2o is so attractive that we literally have people from the surrounding Towns and Cities trying to get us to move our project to their location.  S2o identified our customer base and designed a profitable concept around our target audience—this is a project that everyone in our region believes is a clear success.

We are now in the process of working with our local City to try and solicit funding for the project.  We are targeting funds from a variety of sources including local government support, state and federal grants, and investor financing.  We expect our final funding portfolio to be a mixture of these options.

As a part of the process of soliciting funding we have needed to know three key elements related to the economic impacts of whitewater parks:

The first question was, “how many people in our area like to raft and how many of these folks are likely to come visit our site if we build this thing?”  In order to understand the answer to this question we commissioned a Market Analysis from S2o Design and Engineering.

The second question we needed to know the answer to was, “If the expected number of people show up, will our venue be profitable?”   In order to understand the answer to this question we commissioned S2o to undertake a Business and Market Analysis.

The last question we needed answered is, “how will the visitors that come to my park affect the economy of the surrounding city and region?”  Our host City wanted to understand these effects so that they could judge how much they were willing to contribute to making this project happen.  In order to address this question we had S2o undertake an Economic Impact assessment.

We had a lot riding on the results of these studies and were being held to a very high standard.  The State commissioned a large and well known independent accounting firm to review our business model and market analysis prior to analyzing our grant application.  This accounting firm not only reviewed the numbers but applied several sensitivity tests to see how robust the business model was in the face of lower attendance or lower price point.  S2o’s Business model and market analysis passed with flying colors.  The accounting firm did not suggest a single revision.

The economic impact study did even more for our case.  Again, it was a well documented study based on actual user data from our region.  When the City’s economic team took it apart—checking the source data for content and validity and applying their own analysis to check our results—and came back with the same comments as the state:  “it looks good”.



The Instream Whitewater Park

Durango Whitewater Park
Durango Whitewater Park

My name is John Brennan and I’m the local coach here in Durango.  I’m also the guy that traditionally manages the club’s efforts to maintain our whitewater park.  Historically we did all of this work ourselves but we have been seeking out a way to get one of the experienced design teams involved in creating some specific play features.  In an effort to make this happen I have been working with the Animas River Task Force here in Durango to get buy-in as well as to get the design moved forward.

I know that Brian Brown has told you a little bit about how our process got started (link) so I wanted to focus on the design part of this process.  As Brian mentioned, we focused our design efforts on forming a task force that was filled with a variety of characters representing a number of different interest groups related to this project.  The task force included fishermen and environmental groups as well as rafters, kayakers, and members from the interested public.  The idea was to get input from each of these groups in order to move a project forward that benefited the most people.

Once we brought S2o on board as our whitewater design team we were pleasantly surprised to find that they were focusing their efforts on working with us.  Rather than presenting a design for us to approve or disapprove they included us in the process.  We were able to tour various sites along the river with their design team and give input into the things we liked and didn’t like.  We also worked with them to record the things that we found important—both good and bad—about how the park should look and act.  S2o then included us in the design process by articulating our “likes” and “dislikes” for the project and then providing a variety of design alternatives that best fit these objectives.  We worked with them to shape these many designs into one design that we all liked.  It was like we were able to watch the design take shape in front of us.  It was a process that made sense to us, as kayakers, and also to the other people in the room.  It was a design that we could all agree on.

The team also worked with local permitting people right from the start.  This helped our task force a lot because it allowed us to make informed decisions about the whitewater park.  Sometimes we would favor one site over another, or one type of wave over another, but S2o Design was able to tell us how that affected permitting requirements or water availability.  In the end we were able to be a part of a process that was not only attractive to our task force members, but something that they were able to get built within our budget.  This was a process that not only met our needs, but also moved the process quickly towards completion.


Insist on being a part of the process—the last thing you want is to have a designer drop a design on your table and tell you this is your best option.

Bring all the river users to the table through a committee or through public meetings.  You want everyone to take a stake in creating your whitewater park.

Pick a team that is not only knowledgeable, but that can work in front of a crowd.  Getting buy-in from our community has been one of our toughest hurdles and having a team that could helpus to educate and include our community has been a real benefit.

S2O Design Whitewater Park Featured in Riverbreak Magazine.

A Stand Up Paddle Boarder at the Durango Whitewater Park
A Stand Up Paddle Boarder at the Durango Whitewater Park

Check out this article that where the S2o whitewater park is featured in Riverbreak Magazine.  Here is an excerpt from the magazine:

2017 Animas River Days: River Surfing Comp

Durango is the place to be today! The surf comp “Animas River Days” (June 1-3) is the third stop in the Colorado Surf Circuit. Standup and shortboard river surfers are competing for cash prizes. The Ponderosa Wave is big and beefy, the surfing should be nothing short of exciting. Tune in to Surf Anywhere’s FB page at 12:45 Mountain Standard Time for the finals. Jacob Kelly will be covering the event live!


River Surfing at S2o’s Whitewater Park in Durango

Check out this great video of River Surfing at the Durango Whitewater Park.

SUP Durango Whitewater Park
Surfing Smelter Wave at the Durango Whitewater Parkof the Durango Whitewater Park during Animas River Days.

Shortboarding finals at Durango Colorado durning the Animas River Days. Competitors include: Miles Harvey, Michael Tavares, Brittany Parker, Erin Livingston, and more…

Posted by Surf Anywhere on Saturday, June 3, 2017


PRESS RELEASE: S2o is a Denver Area registered Small Business Engineering Firm

IMG_0293S2o is a Denver Area registered Small Business Engineering Firm, S2o Design and Engineering is proud to be a Denver area small business.  S2o Design is registered as a small business with the federal government under the Small Business Administration.  This is something that we have done because we are proud to employ people in the State of Colorado and United States.  S2o is proud of its team of award winning engineers, architects, and planners.

You may take it for granted that your company is a “small business.” The distinction is important if you wish to register for government contracting as a small business. To be a small business, you must adhere to industry size standards established by the U.S. Small Business Administration. As you register as a government contractor in the System for Award Management (SAM), you will also self-certify your business as small.

The SBA, for most industries, defines a “small business” either in terms of the average number of employees over the past 12 months, or average annual receipts over the past three years. In addition, SBA defines a U.S. small business as a concern that:

  • Is organized for profit
  • Has a place of business in the US
  • Operates primarily within the U.S. or makes a significant contribution to the U.S. economy through payment of taxes or use of American products, materials or labor
  • Is independently owned and operated
  • Is not dominant in its field on a national basis

The business may be a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or any other legal form. In determining what constitutes a small business, the definition will vary to reflect industry differences, such as size standards.

Size Standards

Because all federal agencies must use SBA size standards for contracts identified as small business, you need to select NAICS codes that best describe your business and then determine if the business meets size standards for the selected NAICS codes. Use our Size Standards Tool to find out if you qualify as a small business. Once you have determined you are indeed a small business, you can then certify your business as small by registering as a government contractor.

Supply Irrigating Ditch Diversion Structure

fish passage, recreation
The supply ditch diversion combines fish passage and recreation into a single structure

During the September 2013 flooding every user of the St. Vrain Creek was impacted including agricultural, municipal, commercial, and recreational users. On top of impacts to the users of the St. Vrain the environmental impacts of the flood have been far reaching with the decimation of riparian habitat and severe impacts to the fishery. As the users reconstruct their critical infrastructure there is a new opportunity to create infrastructure that achieves the goals for the owner while also providing benefits for other users and the environment.

S2o is proud to be a part of this process and are implementing a design process that benefits all users and the environment in our projects. The diverse backgrounds of our team members bring expertise in whitewater park design, dam design, and river restoration design that shines in the design of multipurpose projects that benefit many interests. One example of a multipurpose project being implemented on the St. Vrain Creek is the Supply Irrigating Ditch Company diversion structure. Historically, the structure was an at grade concrete dam that was barely noticeable in the creek unless you looked close. During the flood significant erosion occurred downstream of the structure degrading the channel by up to three feet. S2o was hired by the ditch company to design a diversion dam that met their needs and benefited other users of the St. Varin Creek.

The ditch company used a temporary diversion structure for the 2014 irrigation season. The temporary structure was constructed of concrete barriers, concrete rubble, and anything else the ditch company could easily use to get water into their ditch. The temporary structure was not very effective at diverting water and was a significant hazard to any in stream user of the St. Vrain Creek. The hazards created by this temporary structure made the reconstruction of the diversion dam a high priority for safety as well as the ditch company’s need to divert water in 2015.

With this significant amount of degradation an at grade structure was not going to be possible for the rebuilt diversion structure. The first step in the design process was to determine the crest elevation of the structure. The crest elevation of the structure was dictated by the design criteria of being able to divert the allocated water down the ditch inlet. The necessary crest elevation combined with the degradation of the channel lead to an elevation drop of two feet across the structure. To create a structure that would address environmental concerns of fish passage and create a recreational experience a grouted rock ramp structure with a notch for fish passage at low flow was designed. Also, to facilitate fish passage the grouting of the structure will not go to the tops of the rocks allowing paths for fish to swim through the interstitial spaces in the structure. The hydraulic conditions across the grouted rock ramp and in the tail water pool were designed in the same manner as a whitewater park structure. This will allow the water that is not diverted down the ditch inlet to be enjoyed by recreational users. The designed structure will meet all of the project requirements by diverting the allocated water down the ditch, allowing fish passage, and providing recreational opportunities.

This project is a great example of a multipurpose structure that achieves the goals of the owner while also providing for other users. In this case the owner’s agricultural, municipal, and commercial interests are maintained with a structure that benefits recreational users and the environment.

Construction of the structure is scheduled to begin in the near future and the structure will be completed by May 1, 2015. Upon completion a highly visible structure will be in the forefront for multipurpose projects as the St. Vrain and other nearby watersheds recover from the 2013 floods. S2o is leading the way with well-coordinated multipurpose projects.

diversion recreation fish passage
The diversion structure also creates a fun surfing and tubing wave.

River Restoration and Resiliency Post-Flood

river restoration, fish habitat
St. Vrain Stream Restoration Project

River restoration is a challenge–particularly in an urban environment where the river is highly impacted and the river banks are often highly developed.  Project goals and objectives must be carefully stated and  project  constraints and limitations must be carefully defined and evaluated.  S2o has begun work on a $2.5 million restoration of the St. Vrain river following the worst flood in recorded history for this valley.  The starting point of this project is the most developed, confined, and, from a design standpoint, challenging, reaches in the river.  The goal of the project?  To minimize flood impacts and increase resiliency in the river by recreating a healthy river- and eco-system.

What is a healthy river and eco-system:  one good way to understand what a healthy, resilient river looks like is to understand what a typical unhealthy river looks like.  Fortunately, we have, or had, this type of area in Town located downstream of the 5th Avenue Bridge on the North Fork of the St. Vrain.  This area was a great example of a typical urban and highly impacted river before the flood.  In this area human development has severely encroached on the river to the point where all of the flow is confined between two steep banks.  This was done by landowners literally filling the floodplain with earth to build houses and streets that were positioned right along both sides of the main channel with very little breadth left for expansion during a flood event.  In order to handle moderate flooding events the people who built on both sides of the river built higher walls with fill at higher elevations so that more water translated to more depth.  This higher depth translated to higher velocities during flood events, and a channel that was largely denuded of habitat or complexity due to scour and excavation.  The North St. Vrain in this reach had become a square-bottomed ditch.

By comparison, a healthier river is one in which the river is a complex system with a defined low-flow channel, a defined river channel, some sinuosity, and room to expand into a floodplain.  The floodplain is a riparian area that typically includes a wealth of native trees and plants on a low bench near the river.  As the river rises, energy is diffused into this area which is important.  There are also a variety of species that thrive in this ecosystem and rely on regular flooding.  Each of these components plays a role in healthy river function.

In the area downstream of 5th avenue, which is an area that can be viewed in the coming weeks as it is developed.  You will see that  S2o has designed just such a multistage river and are building it now.  In this instance the multi-stage river is wedged within a fairly tight space yet it will provide each of these components.  The process of designing and implementing this project included:

  1. a) An evaluation of the watershed at varying reach scales to define priorities and objectives for this particular reach within the context of the entire river system.
  2. b) A conceptual design process in which varying solutions to meet these objectives were defined and evaluated until an acceptable design was reached (this process included a phase of public process which all of the town was invited to and invited to pose both questions and comments).
  3. c) A computer modeling phase in which extensive floodplain modeling was completed to ensure that no one’s home or property was negatively impacted by the project and that velocities and depths met design objectives.
  4. d) Several stages of design including grading, wall plans, design of the river, design of the habitat, and planting plans.  As a part of this process the project received all required permits to verify that these plans met all the regulatory requirements for doing this work in a river in Colorado.

One of our concerns is about losing trees and riparian habitat along the river.  The design team took all care possible to preserve as much plant life as possible and is replanting extensively to replace and improve the trees and riparian habitat lost.  The good and bad news is that, over the last 50-100 years, the confined and unhealthy river has still seen tree growth and riparian growth along its banks.  Many of these trees and plants are rooted in the same fill used to encroach upon the river years ago.  In order to remove this fill and open the river up to create a healthy river system, these trees and plants need to be removed. Without this, we make only band-aid improvements that do not protect the Town nor improve stream health. We will replant native trees (over 10,000 trees or plants are being planted) as part of this project, once a healthy river system has been re-created.  Please know that tree removal is not done lightly, but that extensive survey, design, computer modeling, and analysis was been completed prior to making these choices.  Additionally, an arborist has been consulted when in doubt about individual trees and choices are then made based on this information.

Additionally, S2o has worked with consultants to implement fish habitat in microsystems along the river.  The larger pool/riffle sequence has been further modified with imported boulders and superficial grading to create pools, riffles and velocity barriers in the river.  S2o has also added woody debris and classic fish habitat structures such as bendway weirs, j-hooks, cross-veins, and deflectors to further increase the habitat functionality of the project.

The completed river will have less flood risk, be more resilient, will decrease velocities and stress on the river, and will provide a thriving eco-system for both in-stream and riparian habitat.  This is a project that meets and exceeds the goals laid out in Lyons Long Range Recovery Process and one that provides us with a Town that will better endure the next flood.

Animas River Days’ 2015 festival makes a big splash

ReBlogged from the Durango Herald


Helter Smelter

Mike Tavares of Richmond, Virginia, paddled into a crashing wave between competitions during Animas River Days at the Santa Rita whitewater park Saturday in Durango.

Tavares, however, wasn’t in a boat; he was on a stand-up paddleboard.

“The water level is great this year,” he said. “It’s my first time surfing and paddling on the Animas, so I’m super-stoked.”

SUPs, as they’re called, are becoming a more common sight, and this year’s long-standing river festival – started by local paddler Nancy Wiley in 1982 – is no different. There are three new events dedicated to the SUPs – more than ever before.

Festival spokesperson Hope Tyler said there are several new aspects this year all based around the new vibe that Santa Rita is taking on, in and out of the water.

“Well, there’s the new park,” she said of the whitewater park that opened last year. “We’re one of the few parks that has eight features.”

On dry land, the hardscaping is complete. Now, the landscaping begins.

“This is what you’re going to see for upcoming events,” Tyler said.

Local rivers have spiked as snow continues to melt in the high country, coupled with good amounts of precipitation the region has received late in the year. One of the warmer days of the spring, the brown water carried logs and debris downstream picked up by the swell. Tyler said bets were going around the festival on what Saturday’s high water would be.

“We just hit 2,000 this morning,” she said. “People are excited.”

The competitions were so many, one would end, and another would begin – kayaking slaloms, SUP slaloms, SUP and boatercross. Every so often, rafts fully loaded would charge through the waves. There were dog tricks and film screenings. On Saturday night, an evening freestyle kayak competition was to be held.

On Sunday, the third day of the festival, there will be clinics all day offered by 4 Corners Riversports.

Animas River Days events coordinator Stacy Falk said competitors came from all corners of the globe.

“Last year, we had 40; this year, we have 100,” she said. “And they’re from England, France, New Zealand.”

Several professional athletes came specifically to represent SUP, spearheaded by whitewater instructors Anna and Drew Fisher of Surf the San Juans.

“The pros that are here are here because of them,” Falk said.

Ross Montandon of Noddingham, England, is on a four-month U.S. tour kayaking with his team. After the kayak slalom races, he stepped away to steal a look at the river.

“It’s like a traveling circus,” he said about his tour. In Durango for the first time, Montandon said the beauty of the West is the access.

Tyler said the 3,000 to 4,000 people that line the river for the annual river parade bear testimony.

Falk, who called Saturday “the most insane day of her life,” said event officials worked hard to make the festival stand out.

“If we want to get a sponsor like those big events that we want to compete with have, we need to prove that we can get people here, and we proved that (Saturday),” she said.

Animas River Days Recap

ReBlogged from:  http://badfishsup.com/03/animas-river-days-recap/

Team Rider Brittany Parker checked in with this recap of the Animas River Days event last weekend in Durango, Colorado. Photos by Heather Jackson.

Durango was a pleasant surprise for the Badfish crew. We had no idea how much the South-West Colorado college town was stoked on stand up paddling and river surfing. Durango is arguably the best paddling community in the State of Colorado, with a long history of whitewater paddling, so it was easy for us to feel at home at the Animas River Days at the Santa Rita Park.

To kick off the event team athletes Natali Zollinger and Brittany Parker organized a two day downriver and river surfing clinic hosted by the local paddling shop 4Corners Riversports. They worked on pivot turns, reading water, paddling technique, footwork, and had students paddling into the wave standing up by day two!

river surfing, whitewater, durango, colorado, animas, SUP, paddleboard

Saturday was jam packed with events and there wasn’t one podium without a team paddler on it. The beer was flowing from the Ska brewing tent and the crowd lined the bank waiting for the show to begin. Everyone loves carnage and the ‘Last Paddler Standing’ competition, promises it. Beginning at the top of the whitewater park the paddler has to make it through a series of substantial holes without falling off their board, otherwise it’s immediate disqualification. The crowd was roaring, rooting for most of us to fall, but Mike T. and Brittany Parker (on their 9’0” MVP) held their own placing in the top three.

Although, surf comps aren’t the norm for whitewater events, Durango is setting the stage for river surfing to become a competitive addition to event schedules. The guys were in their element and out to win. Between Zack Hughes spinning 540’s, Spencer Lacy’s pop shuv-its, and Mike Tavares’ hard carves they swept the podium.

river surfer, surfing, whitewater, animas, durango, colorado, badfish, SUP, paddleboard

river surfing, river surfer, badfish SUP, paddleboarding, animas, durango, colorado

We loved the Animas River Days but what really made an impression on us was the surf sessions outside of the competition. The local surfers are out there every day charging and encouraging others to try. They are true examples of what we all love about this community and the sport. We will be back next year! -Brittany Parker