Willow Creek Inventory collects decades of reports

Photo by Christi Bode Aerial view of the Willow Creek floodplain.

CREEDE — Headwaters Alliance recently announced the completion of the Willow Creek Inventory, a foundational goal of the larger Comprehensive Willow Creek Watershed Planning Project. The Willow Creek Inventory was completed with support from Colorado Watershed Assembly’s Healthy Rivers Fund and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

For the past 23 years, the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee and now, Headwaters Alliance (HWA), have been working to address water quality and legacy mining impacts in the Willow Creek Watershed. However, the water itself isn’t the whole story of the watershed; for there are animals, plants, forests, people, history, culture and inevitable change.

Over the course of those years, many reports, summaries, maps and documents have been written and created, describing the challenges of the watershed. Resulting actions and projects have addressed many of these challenges. Unfortunately, reports, projects and actions have been confined in silos, susceptible to missing key information and data sharing.

For example, in the aftermath of the 2019 snowmelt runoff that caused damage to the recently reclaimed Lower Willow Creek Floodplain, HWA began asking “how could we have handled runoff better? Can a better understanding of and expanded access to information about the watershed lead to better outcomes?”

HWA set out to answer those questions and more. In 2020, HWA was awarded funding by Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), for the Comprehensive Willow Creek Watershed Planning Project. HWA is working with many partners and stakeholders to complete the Willow Creek Watershed Planning Project, including the Willow Creek Inventory, engineered designs for stream stability and restoration, flood control and habitat enhancements for key reaches of Willow Creek, and ultimately create a Willow Creek Watershed Plan to meet the State Water Plan guidelines.

The Inventory piece of that plan aims to bridge the information gap. It brings together the past 25-plus years of reports, studies, maps and more created by the multitude of stakeholders involved in addressing the water quality issues caused by legacy mining impacts in the Willow Creek Watershed. The Inventory is an online library of resources, including many of the past reports and documents in digital form, interactive story maps about the history of mining and complexities of the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Superfund Site, summary of current conditions in the Willow Creek Watershed, and a summary of current projects.

The Inventory outcomes will enable people to better protect water, lands and resources within the watershed and beyond, while also protecting life, property, and wellbeing.

The intent of the Inventory is to:

  • Compile existing reports, documents and maps, making them readily accessible and visible to partners, stakeholders and the public.
  • Share key watershed data between and across partners and stakeholders.
  • Facilitate integration and collaboration of data, resources and infrastructure across projects as a standard practice.
  • Identify gaps in the body of work, including identifying and prioritizing future needs.
  • Facilitate a reflexive practice on past findings so to invite new questions and research.
  • Promote holistic thinking, collaboration, and long-term solutions.

The Inventory is both a tool for boots-on-the-ground projects and also a philosophical manifesto encouraging readers to perceive the watershed with a holistic mindset. Visit headwatersalliance.com to access the Inventory: explore maps, find the latest data, learn about mining history and the Nelson Tunnel Superfund Site, discover the many challenges and how they are connected, and more.

For more information, contact the Development and Engagement Coordinator, Alex Handloff, at the Headwaters Alliance at [email protected].

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