Poudre River Whitewater Park adds recreation, economic growth to northern Colorado.
Coursing through the heart of downtown Fort Collins, Colo., the Poudre River is now home to the country’s newest whitewater park. Driven by river park engineering firm S20 Design and Engineering, the new whitewater park features a series of waves for rafters, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders, a wading area for families, a pedestrian bridge, and extensive bank reconfiguration. The project, located near Old Town at Vine Drive and College Avenue, brings the river back to a more natural state, provides the community a greater connection to the river, and invites economic development to the area.
“The Poudre has always been a classic Colorado destination for river running, and now its recreational amenities will be more accessible than ever,” said S2O Design founder Scott Shipley. “Not only is it a beautiful site for a river park, it’s also a perfect example of various entities coming together to create a great focal point for the town.”
Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design provided design, planning, permitting, and construction services to the project. S20 was chosen because of its expertise with whitewater park development and familiarity with the market. The park will officially open in September 2019.
Design and construction of the Poudre River Whitewater Park was a complex process with several moving parts and a broad array of stakeholders. S2O Design was charged with converting the dangerous Coy Diversion Dam, which was a barrier to fish passage, into a usable park area that also encourages fish migration. The river features needed to provide low- and high-water functionality to a wide variety of users, with extensive bank restoration and reconfiguration to bolster animal habitat and improve stormwater management.
Funding the $12 million project was achieved through both public and private partners. The city’s Building on Basics tax initiative, a program introduced in 2015 for community improvements, contributed $7 million; the city’s Storm Water, Natural Areas, and Parks and Rec departments contributed $3 million; and private donations totaled more than $2 million, including a $1 million gift from longtime Fort Collins residents Jack and Ginger Graham.
“The Poudre holds a very special place in our city’s history,” said Jack Graham, former U.S. Senate candidate and Colorado State University athletic director who spearheaded the school’s new on-campus stadium. “It has been in need of some TLC for decades and the park’s environmental repairs and restoration, coupled with its recreational features, will bring needed energy and economic development to the River District and downtown.”
Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell added, “The river, and its new park, is a true treasure for our community and a legacy for our future. It will build community, strengthen our downtown, and contribute to our vibrancy and prosperity.”
Bringing the project to fruition was a long time coming. It was formally approved by voters in 2015 as part of the city’s Community Capital Improvement Program, but was in the works for nearly 20 years prior. “We first started talking about it way back in 1986, so it’s great to finally see it come to fruition,” says Tim O’Hara, a commercial photographer who served as the lead fundraiser for the project.
Previous efforts at building a river park there had stalled. Shipley, who holds a master’s degree in Engineering and is also a three-time Olympian and World Cup slalom kayak champion, was able to organize the project’s multiple stakeholders, navigate the long public process, and drive the design decisions that led to its final construction. “A lot of other companies had looked at this, but we were the only ones who were able to get it done,” said Shipley.
S2O Design has completed several other river recreation and restoration projects in Colorado, including the Eagle River Park, Durango Whitewater Park, Canon City Whitewater Park, and Bohn Park in Lyons, Colo.
About S2O Design
S2O Design is an engineering firm specializing in innovative river engineering, restoration, and community-focused whitewater park design. Our team of expert boater-engineers has planned, conceived, designed, and created some of the best in-stream whitewater parks as well as largest and most dynamic recirculating whitewater parks in the world. S2O Design is led by engineer, Olympian, and three-time World Cup Kayak Champion and Freestyle Kayak Champion Scott Shipley. For more information, visit S2ODesign.com.
Located in the middle of downtown on the Boise River, Phase II of the Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation Boise Whitewater Park, designed by S2O Design, officially opened to great paddling panache with a standing- (and surfing-) room only crowd on the river’s banks downtown.
Already close to some of the best whitewater in the country, Boise, Idaho, is now giving paddlers (and surfers) another reason to visit the Gem State: a gem of a whitewater park, whose second phase celebrated its official gran opening and ribbon-cutting on July 25.
With The first phaseof the park already a huge hit with surfers, kayakers and spectators, Phase II, which Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway says is a great addition to the existing park, adds additional in-stream, adjustible features, employing S20’s patented Rapid-Bloc technology.
“It’s a great addition and extension to the existing whitewater park,” says S20 founder and president Scott Shipley, who attended the opening ceremonies to surf the wave himself. “It’s a perfect river and location for this type of park, which should become a great focal point for the town.”
Phase II includes three purpose-built wave features, as well as a rock formation creating additional rapids. The new wave features, spaced 25 to 50 yards apart, allows users to put in at the start of the existing park and circle back through Esther Simplot Park ponds and into Quinn’s Pond, back near the start.
Holloway says the entire park is now “an aquatic complex” that includes spectator seating and Greenbelt paths along both sides of the river between Esther Simplot Park and Veterans Park Pond. “It’s kind of almost two parks in one,” Holloway said.
The park was designed to provide tubers, paddlers and surfers of all levels an environment conductive to recreational and competitive paddling, viewing, and access. The uppermost feature—tested via a
1:4.5 Froude-scaled model constructed in a flume at the University of Idaho Modeling Lab—is designed to be adjustable and to be transformable from a wave to a hole, for surfers and kayakers.
“The model allowed us to create a hydraulic similarity between simulated flows and those in the proposed channel, as well as test and profile varying geometries,” says Shipley, a three-time Olympian and three-time World Cup slalom kayak champion.“The lab could calibrate incoming flow velocities to those predicted by a 2D model, fine-tune tail-water elevation via the adjustable RapidBlocs system, and create a final wave configuration that’s usable by surfers and kayakers and is adjustable across a wide range of flows and hydraulic conditions.”
All we know is that — like the nearby North and South Forks just a stone’s throw away — it’s a gem of a piece of whitewater.
Arkansas River park draws families, paddlers and economic growth to Colorado town.
Cañon City has a new attraction further solidifying the Colorado community’s reputation as a world-class destination for outdoor and river-based recreation. S2O Design and Engineering has completed work on the Cañon City Whitewater Park, a new river and pedestrian playground located downtown featuring waves for all levels of kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and rafting; a whitewater slalom gate system; a fish passage channel; and a riverfront play area for families. The project is part of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan to guide the restoration, enhancement, improvement and redevelopment of the Arkansas River.
“Cañon City has an incredible resource with the Arkansas River running through town,” says S2O Design and Engineering president Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympian and World Cup slalom kayak champion. “We’re thrilled to deliver a whitewater park that gives residents and visitors better and safer access to this iconic river.”
S2O Design was tapped to provide a river masterplan designed to beautify the river corridor, remove existing hazards, stabilize streambanks, improve access points and fish passage, and enhance the river for rafting, kayaking, tubing, and other in-stream activities. S20 Design then oversaw the project’s design, planning, permitting and construction.
The river improvement project was spearheaded by the town’s Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park (WKRP) committee, which funded S2O’s initial River Improvements Plan and promoted the project to the city council and the public. The park was funded through the City, WKRP, a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, Fremont County, and private donors.
“Cañon City is destined to become a hub for outdoor adventure,” says WKRP committee member Warren Hart. “We believe our new river park will renew interest in our river corridor and be the catalyst for Cañon City becoming another great river town.”
Whitewater parks bring enthusiasts and spectators alike to their respective communities, and create numerous measurable economic impacts through increased property values, direct spending at the site, and tourism dollars spent at local restaurants, hotels and businesses. The estimated annual economic impact on a community can be substantial, with some in-stream river parks reporting impacts as high as $9 million dollars per year.
“Historically, this area has seen mostly industrial use, so our goal was to reclaim and restore this part of the river for broader community value,” says Cañon City economic development director Ryan Stevens. “From an economic development perspective, it’s a great asset for Cañon City’s growing outdoor economy.”
Unlike other whitewater parks that often suffer flow issues, the Arkansas River boasts predictable flow rates year-round. This balances both the magnitude of the recreational experiences for different user groups, and the duration, providing attractive flows for users and events later into the season when flows dissipate in other rivers.
The Cañon City Whitewater Park will also be a draw for slalom paddlers, with boulders strategically interspersed throughout its length for eddies and gates. S2O Design also incorporated the patented RapidBlocs™ system into the park, allowing its features to be adjusted for different configurations and flows. “It’s going to be a great early and late season venue for competitive slalom kayakers to train and compete,” says Shipley, adding that the Canadian Slalom Team has already expressed interest in using it as an early-season training facility.
S2O Design has completed several other river recreation and restoration projects in Colorado, including the new Eagle River Park, Durango Whitewater Park, Poudre River Whitewater Park in Fort Collins, and Bohn Park in Lyons, Colo.
Eagle, Colorado—population 6,500—has mostly existed in the shadows of the state’s massive ski resorts, as in nearby Vail, and its recreational economy. But Eagle, a year-round community for those who work for the big resorts, has plenty to offer, including mountain scenery, a picturesque downtown, and 100 miles of easily accessible mountain biking trails. In spite of all this, it has never become a top-tier destination.
This can be attributed in part to the fact that Eagle never truly took advantage of its natural assets, like its namesake river, which formed the valley that is home to the town today. Fishermen and kayakers have always made use of the Eagle River, but it’s never been a beacon for visitors, despite its high-profile location along the Interstate 70 corridor.
“A stretch of land next to the river used to be a semi-truck parking lot, basically a pee bottle dumping station,” says Jeremy Gross, the town’s marketing and events manager. “It just wasn’t that inviting.”
That’s set to change this Memorial Day weekend, when the town of Eagle will celebrate the opening of a $2.7 million whitewater park locals hope will set off a new era of development in the area, and connect the south bank of the river with businesses and residents downtown. The new Eagle River whitewater park is the result of a multiyear effort to redevelop the river corridor, and will feature a series of artificial rapids, as well as a resculpted, repurposed riverfront, complete with parks and an amphitheater.
It will be the latest example of how smaller towns and cities see riverfronts in general, and outdoor recreation specifically, as new economic catalysts. Former assistant town planner Matt Gross went so far as to call the new park “Eagle’s beachfront.”
“This is just our way of showcasing the asset that we have,” says Gross. “It’s not like we added the river.”
Natural assets get a new lease on life
The Eagle River Whitewater Park is part of a growing number of artificial recreation areas, especially in the Rocky Mountains region, trying to capitalize on the nation’s rapidly growing outdoor economy. Eagle believes the new whitewater park can make the town a more well-rounded and attractive destination, furthering the potential of its promising location near mountain biking trails.
According to a 2017 economic study by the Outdoor Industry of America, activities like camping and water sports benefit America’s consumers, businesses, and government at all levels. These activities generate a whopping $887 billion annually—about $702 billion by travelers and vacationers—support nearly 8 million jobs, and bring in just over $59 billion in state and local tax revenue. For comparison, the entire nation’s financial services and insurance industry generates $912 billion.
Whitewater parks—either parks like Eagle’s that resurface and redesign riverbeds to support outdoor recreation like kayaking and rafting, or “pump parks” that create artificial new bodies of water for sport—represent a small part of the nation’s huge outdoor industry. They aren’t new: The world’s first artificial whitewater course, a concrete-channel course called the Eiskanal, was created for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where the sport made its Olympic debut, and parks have slowly taken root across the western U.S. since the 1980s.
But now that the idea is firmly established, a number of case studies—including an urban development in Reno, Nevada, and the huge boost Charlotte, North Carolina, saw from a national whitewater training and recreation center—point to such parks’ economic benefits. They’re increasingly being seen as a development tool, not just another entertainment option.
In Eagle’s case, it’s a project for and by the community, says Scott Shipey, CEO of S2O, the company building the park. Shipley, a former world-champion kayaker who competed in three Olympics, says it’s not just a new way to build the sport, but a chance for towns to look at their natural economic assets. The town passed a .5 percent sales tax increase to fund the project.
“A lot of towns have a river running through them,” he says. “In the Midwest, there are dams near towns, which used to power industry, that are rotting away. We can give them an experience they didn’t have before. Just by doing a little bit of manipulation of that river, they can become the Breckenridge of kayaking. These mining and ski towns are starting to leverage this resource.”
Designed with Rapidblocs, a patented S2O system that allows for adjustable riverbeds and rapids, the Eagle Whitewater Park will feature spots for kayakers, rafters, tubers, and even surfers. The waterfront, now filled with parkland and public space, can host festivals and concerts, a big potential boost for businesses downtown.
“Economic development is a slow-moving ship,” says Gross. “Now, with a river park close to town, we’re hoping that increase in business brings the next business to town, and then a few more people, and then suddenly, there’s more development connecting the river to downtown. The river is a big thing we have to offer, it’s a piece of the pie.”
A new addition to beer, bluegrass, and broadband
The renewed push to repurpose riverfront property in more rural parts of the country mirrors what’s happening in urban areas like Brooklyn: With heavy industry and factories gone, games, recreation, and public space have taken their place—and become magnets for people and economic activity.
Existing projects demonstrate that these artificial rapids can really rev up local economies. In Charlotte, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which opened on roughly 700 acres adjacent to the Catawba River, welcomes 1 million visitors a year, and supports more than 500 jobs. In Durango, Colorado, the whitewater park on the Lower Animas River generates $18 million a year in economic activity, according to an economic impact studycommissioned by local leaders.
Reno, Nevada, offers one of the best illustrations of how river redesign and urban regeneration can work together. The neighborhood around the Truckee River in downtown Reno had become neglected and crime-ridden (“they turned their back on the river, to keep people inside focused on casinos,” says Shipley). Since the $1.5 million whitewater park opened, the streets surrounding the recreation site have seen a boom in new condos, restaurants, bars, and businesses. A 2007 study by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority found that whitewater recreation attracted 13 percent of the approximately 4.3 million people who visit the city annually.
“There wasn’t much down there before that, but now the downtown river park is a tourist destination,” Ben McDonald, senior communications manager for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, told High County News.
“There are as many reasons to do this as there are potential parks,” says Shipley. “These parks have millions of dollars in economic impact.”
New developments in water sports
Shipley says the industry, which has steadily grown since he founded his company in 2005, will see more expansion. In addition to the soon-to-open Eagle project, S20 is also working on projects in Fort Collins, Colorado; Canon City, Colorado; and Boise, Idaho. The company’s Rapidblocs system will be used at the site of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and S2O expects more cities, especially in the Rocky Mountain region and the Midwest, to invest in new parks.
Other artificial water sports sites have become an option: Famed surfer Kelly Slater has a company dedicated to creating artificial inland surfing parks, including a site in California’s Central Valley. S2O is also looking at more surfing options, and plans to install new technology to support surfers as part of its ongoing work in Boise, Idaho.
For Eagle’s Jeremy Gross, the river that goes through his hometown has always had potential. But now, it’s more central to the growing Colorado community’s narrative.
“If I’m trying to sell Eagle to you, we’re a quick two hours to Denver, if you leave after work Friday you can be at Eagle by dinner time, and over the weekend, ride 100 miles of trail, bring a board or kayak and get in the river,” he says. “It’s becoming more of a well-rounded destination. We’re an outdoor adventure paradise.”
S2O Design’s founder and president Scott Shipley was the lead designer of the whitewater park at US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. Today, the USNWC is the largest and most profitable pumped whitewater park of its kind in the world. Its design was tailored to maximize commercial rafting across a broad range of user groups and abilities, from Olympic-level athletes to families. The ¾-mile long whitewater park features four separate channels, including a slalom channel for world-caliber races, the world’s highest-volume big water channel, and dedicated options for beginner experiences. The park attracts more than 700,000 users a year, and boats a $37 million regional economic impact. Learn more about the USNWC and Scott Shipley in this case study.
Colorado river park crafted as world-class whitewater recreation and competition venue.
Colorado rafters, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders will have a great new playpark to surf this spring when the new Eagle River Park opens in the town of Eagle. S2O Design, the world’s premier river engineering and whitewater design company, announced today that they are finalizing construction on the in-stream features that will provide an exciting and safe experience for river enthusiasts of all levels.
“We are excited to deliver a great whitewater park for the town of Eagle,” says Scott Shipley, founder and president of S2O Design, which oversaw the project’s design, planning, permitting, and construction. “This setting matches the river’s natural morphology and utilizes the existing river channel really well. It will surely be a new focal point for the town.” Shipley is also a three-time Olympian and five-time World Cup slalom kayak champion.
The two-year revitalization project involved an in-depth feasibility study, comprehensive public input process, and a progressive design approach that included detailed hydraulic modeling. The project’s first phase, including the initial study and building two downstream features, was completed last spring. S2O Design has now completed the second phase of the project, including two more advanced upstream features as well as extensive bankside improvements. Additional features include gathering areas, pathway, and public park.
S2O’s design focused on creating a world-class whitewater venue for recreation, competitions and festivals while providing long-term riparian and habitat improvements. The whitewater park features waves, eddies, chutes, and drops that will be fun to tube and float during low flows, and large waves perfect for surfing, standup-up paddling and kayaking as flows increase.
Marking the first time ever for an in-stream project, S2O incorporated its patented, adjustable RapidBlocs™ technology into the project, which allows the features to be fine-tuned for different conditions. “We’ll be able to tweak them however we need to,” says Shipley. The design also includes a bypass channel around the two upper features serving as a recreational safe route and a fish migration pathway, and mid-stream fish channels in the lower section for upstream migration.
The Eagle River Park was funded by the Town of Eagle (in 2016 voters approved a 0.5% sales tax to fund park and trail improvements), various matching grants, and donors like local business Bonfire Brewing. Vetted through an extensive public process, and a cooperative effort with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, it is a central part of the Eagle River Corridor Plan established in 2015. The park is also easily visible from I-70, which will pull passersby into the community.
“The Eagle River Park has been on the wishlist of boaters and residents for decades,” says town Trustee Matt Solomon. “This amenity will truly connect the soul of the river to the heart of our valley.” Adds town of Eagle Marketing Manger Jeremy Gross: “The project has been a successful collaboration between the town, S20, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, our construction team and countless others. The knowledge and experience from all of these groups has made it a smooth project considering the extent of the undertaking.”
And no one is more excited about the project’s completion than local paddlers. “This park is going to make a huge, positive impact on Eagle as well as all the other nearby river corridor communities,” says former pro kayaker and sup paddler Ken Hoeve. “The features are perfect for surfing, standup paddling and kayaking. The park is going to put Eagle on the map as a great paddling destination.”
S2O Design is also completing in-channel whitewater parks on the Poudre River in Fort Collins, Colo., on the Arkansas River in Canon City, Colo., and on the Boise River in Boise, Idaho, bringing additional venues for rafting and surfing to the Rocky Mountain region.
Safe Navigation at Low-Head Dams can be a challenge. Many of these dams have had significant safety issues involving people flowing over the dam and into a keeper hydraulic that led to fatal results and dangerous rescues. Until recently, these dams, which often reside in towns and cities that once relied upon them for cheap energy, have been an unmitigated risk. However, S2o Design and Engineering has begun redesigning low-head dams to create a safe boater bypass, and often the resulting design creates attractive recreation.
Dams provide energy, water, and can mitigate flooding, but, unless they are designed correctly, dams can be hazards to in-stream recreation and a barrier to fish passage. Some of these dams, such as the Bow River Weir, have killed or injured more than 21 people. These features are virtual drowning machines. The unfortunate reality of these dams is that many of them were built early in the 20th century and few of them are designed with recreational boating nor kayakers in mind.
S2o Design and Engineering has been working with many clients to improve the level of safety at these dams. S2o works to either help remove the dam, if it is no longer needed, or to preserve and reinforce the dam while creating recreational rapids below the dam in lieu of the dangerous keeper left in the original design. S2o’s clients include everyone from small diversion dams, such as the Supply Ditch, for which we completely redesigned and rebuilt their dam, to Duke Power, who is building a large boater bypass on a 14’ high dam in the Catawba River.
The purpose of these projects is to create a navigable river, where people who are qualified and equipped to be out paddling are able to navigate the weir or low-head dam without fear of being pulled under. We work with the client to ensure that a proposed solution meets their budget, is appropriate for the environment in which it is placed, and provides for safe navigation.
S2o Design and Engineering designs these bypasses several ways. The process can include anything from detailed physical modeling as we did for the Catawba Dam in South Carolina and the Bow River Dam in Calgary, AB; three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics modeling (CFD) as we did for the Thurman Mill Diversion in Boise, CO; or through known geometry and one and two-dimensional modeling as we did for the Lyons Ditch Diversion, the Supply Ditch Diversion, and the Pueblo Whitewater Park and Diversion project.
One of our most common tasks at the outset of a whitewater park project is to initiate the effort with a Conceptual and Feasibility Design Study
My name is Dusty Stinson—owner and founder of Coosa Outfitters in Gadsden, Alabama. Our outfitter’s store has the distinction of being the best place to buy whitewater boats and equipment in the “Store not near Whitewater” category. We are located just off of interstate 59 and have a thriving business in spite of the fact that there is no whitewater in this town today. I believe that our existence alone showcases the opportunity to create whitewater in this town. We already know that whitewater people come to Gadsden; I want to build a whitewater park here so that they will stay.
Gadsden is a former steel-mill town. We’re the type of place in which you would least expect to find a whitewater park. People here are traditional and our economy has historically been based on traditional means. Now that the steel mill is gone things are changing in Gadsden—we are proud of our heritage as a manufacturing center but would also like to evolve our economy to the realities that now surround us. One of the ways I’d like to do this is to develop a whitewater park that showcases our Town’s history and that draws people into town to learn a little bit about us and maybe drive our economy a little by staying in a hotel or eating in a restaurant.
I worked with my Town to try and find funding options for the project through a number of differing avenues but, to be honest, a whitewater park is a new concept for most folks here and it was hard to gain traction. In the end I read about Scott Shipley at S2o Design in a magazine and began to work with them to see if they could help our project develop a vision and get off the ground. Gadsden was willing to foot the bill for a site-visit and concept design study and Scott flew out to meet with myself, the Town Mayor and Town Manager, and the local Tourism Director.
Within six weeks S2o had identified a site, developed a concept design, project cost, and report that described the challenges and opportunities for the project. This information mapped the way-forward for our project by giving me something I could speak to—here is what the project looks like; here’s what it does; here’s what it costs; and here’s how we get it moving. This was something that we could use to get the project off the ground.
The design that S2o used was also highly innovative. S2o chose a site that was at an existing dam and created a design that would leverage the energy there while providing for fish passage and improving navigation on our creek. The site also had ready-made raw materials to create access, parking, and streamside amenities. My favorite part of the project was S2o’s suggestion—and architectural rendering—that utilizes the old pump-house located at the dam as a possible future vendor operation. This was exactly the kind of design that would drive visitors to come of the Interstate and experience both the whitewater and a piece of the town’s steel working history.
The in-stream design was also innovative in that it uses adjustable obstacle systems to tune the wave for varying flows. I needed a park in town that would work at low flows for tubing and lessons and at higher flows so that people would come here to boat when the surf was “up”. This high-tech solution met all of these requirements and more.
Work with your local town or city to get these things started. Its something that is going to benefit everyone and having your City on board from the start is going to avoid a lot of heartache later
Your first objective is to get this Conceptual Design Study done. The last thing you want to do is be in the Mayor’s office or a town council meeting trying to sell a project that is completely abstract—you need a plan, a cost, and a route to completion.
Understand your users and design to them—S2o did a great job of this, they understood our Town and so leveraged our Steel-mill Dam and Pumphouse to showcase our history, they understood that we would draw people from the highway who were not yet boaters so designed for tubing and rafting, and they understood we wanted whitewater for the expert as well as beginner so innovated an adjustable design.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.