The South Arkansas River, or Little River, is a tremendous biological resource. From its origins high in the Sawatch Range, the South Arkansas flows along and through public lands, ranchlands, businesses, and residential neighborhoods—providing the primary source of drinking water to the City of Salida and valuable habitat to the many wildlife species that use the river corridor.
While rivers and wetlands make up only 2% of our land cover in Chaffee County, 80% of wildlife species use them at some point in their life cycle. Healthy riparian areas, or the green ribbons of vegetation that line rivers, act as a living filter and help attenuate floods, enhance water quality, and recharge groundwater.
Central Colorado Conservancy and Trout Unlimited have been partnering for several years to enhance the South Arkansas River. Together, we conducted the first-ever watershed assessment of the South Arkansas River and have since worked with multiple landowners to provide resources, expertise, funding, and volunteers to implement river restoration projects. Projects have included working with private landowners on projects to enhance fish habitat, remove car bodies that were being used to stabilize banks, plant native riparian vegetation along stream banks adding species diversity, and improve water delivery systems while reducing annual maintenance.
We are currently working on a conceptual river restoration design for the lowest 1-mile reach of the South Arkansas River. Through a grant funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, we will look for strategies to protect high-functioning reaches where the river can access its floodplain to drop out energy and sediment, attenuating floods, and recharging riparian wetlands. We will also look for ways to restore reaches that have been channelized or disconnected from the floodplain and enhance riparian vegetation that has been lost.
We are excited to be collaborating with the Upper Arkansas Soil Conservation District, Trout Unlimited, the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative, and the local agricultural community on an integrated water management plan that will work to bring the many watershed improvement efforts underway into one cohesive plan and identify projects that strengthen the economic viability and longevity of working lands while enhancing community values such as river health, fire resilience, and water quality and quantity.