Watershed booklet

Lake Como is the origin of the Uncompahgre River that runs from the top of the San Juan Mountains down to Ouray and through Ridgway, Montrose and Delta. This watershed fact is one of many explained in the new booklet, The Uncompahgre River Watershed in Ouray County, recently published by the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. (Courtesy photo)

The Uncompahgre River Watershed in Ouray County is a first-of-its-kind publication that provides answers about water quality, supply and other features of the Uncompahgre River, its tributaries and the water sources in Ouray County. Recently published by the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP), a 501c3 nonprofit with a mission of protecting and improving watershed resources, the booklet is available for free online at uncompahgrewatershed.org/links, and soon at public facilities and businesses around Ridgway and Ouray.

To determine the most valuable content to include in the compact booklet, UWP gathered input from around the county through various stakeholder outreach activities for several months in 2019. In February, UWP representatives will be presenting the watershed booklet at meetings of the Ouray City Council, Ouray County Board of Commissioners and Ridgway Town Council, and delivering copies to businesses, schools, libraries and other locations with an interest in sharing the useful information with their patrons.

“I know it was a lengthy production process and carefully written project after many months of research. Both my husband and I read it and found the information useful and interesting,” said Sue Hillhouse, a committee member for the Ouray County Community Fund, which provided the primary funding for the booklet. “We are proud to have been a part in making this possible. We look forward to its distribution and use.”

UWP used information garnered from its first six years of work on researching, monitoring, analyzing and reporting on watershed conditions to produce the guide. The nonprofit produced a watershed plan in 2013, with 143 pages of geography, history, geology, data, maps and other detailed information. Since then, UWP volunteers have taken water samples around the watershed for various projects, including the Colorado River Watch, a citizen scientist program collecting monthly samples at several sites coordinated through Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

UWP also pulled information from its various public meetings and collaborative projects, such as three mine remediation projects completed in 2017. The partnership is preparing to participate in two additional mine remediation projects in 2020 and 2021; the Governor Basin Restoration Project and a restoration project at the historic Atlas Mill that adds to work done previously. Both projects are identified on the centerfold map in the new watershed booklet.

“I’m thrilled with what our little nonprofit and our partners have accomplished. I’m most excited about the progress made towards cleaning up Governor Basin. In 2017, all we knew was that Governor Basin had very poor water quality and large mine waste piles. To make the project a reality, we’ve dug through heaps of information to better understand everything from land ownership to sediment chemistry, and together with our partners, secured more than $220,000 in commitments to restore that sensitive, high alpine area,” said UWP Technical Coordinator Ashley Bembenek in her message in the nonprofit’s annual report, which available online at uncompahgrewatershed.org/2019-annual-report.

To help the public better understand the legacy of abandoned mines in the San Juan Mountains and their impact on the watershed, UWP is organizing its annual Winter Tour of the Red Mountain Mining District, a snowshoe or Nordic ski trip to historic sites, including the Yankee Girl Mine. The tour will be guided by Ouray County Historical Society curator and author Don Paulson. The popular tour is already fully reserved with a waiting list. However, a second snowshoe and skiing tour has been scheduled for March 7 that still has openings. On that date, wildlife biologist Steve Boyle will guide a group from Ironton Park on Red Mountain Pass to discover animal tracks and winter wildlife.

Other UWP events in 2020 include a benefit for the Uncompahgre River, the return of the fly fishing film tour to Ridgway March 14 at the Sherbino Theater; Rollans Park Adopt-A-Park Cleanup in May in Ridgway; the13th annual Ridgway RiverFest at Rollans Park June 27; and Love Your Gorge volunteer work day in September in Ouray. For information on all events, visit uncompahgrewatershed.org/events.


UWP, founded in 2007 and incorporated as a Ouray County nonprofit in 2013, exists to help protect the economic, natural and scenic values of the Upper Uncompahgre River Watershed. The partnership works to inform and engage all stakeholders and solicits input from diverse interests to ensure collaborative restoration efforts in the watershed. Formore information at uncompahgrewatershed.org, email uwpcommunications@gmail.com or call 970-325-3010.