Boulder Creek

Green Heart

The status of the creek is green!

Today Social Media for #bouldercreek:



May 26, 2016

Boulder Creek has a voice.  The final signatures on the Waterkeeper Alliance licensing agreement are complete and Boulder Creek, a Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate is launched. This organization is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance organization and operates as a project of the Colorado Ocean Coalition.

This organization is dedicated to monitoring, protecting and preserving the creek and the watershed and building a community of individuals and organizations that support swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters that flow from the source to sea.

Boots on the ground effort to find, observe, photograph and monitor key locations in the watershed.  Open for citizen contributions and support.  Contact the Boulder Creek waterkeeper team to suggest new locations or to provide images and commentary.


water dropConfluence of North Boulder Creek and Middle Boulder Creek:

water dropConfluence of South Boulder Creek and Boulder Creek:


water dropConfluence of Coal Creek and Boulder Creek:

water dropConfluence of Boulder Creek and St. Vrain Creek:




water dropArapahoe Glacier:

water dropHeadwater  of North Boulder Creek:

water dropHeadwater of Middle Boulder Creek:

water dropHeadwater of South Boulder Creek:

water dropHeadwater  of Coal Creek Creek:



water dropBetasso Water Treatment Plant:

water drop75th Street Wastewater Treatment Facility:

water dropBarker Dam:

water dropGross Dam:





Boulder Creek points of view,  positions and recommendations under development. 


Gross Reservoir Expansion

Boulder Creek Waterkeeper Affiliate Policy Position on the Gross Reservoir Project October 21, 2016 Introduction Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project, otherwise known as the Moffat Collection System Project, (hereinafter, “Expansion”) was recently endorsed by Governor John Hickenlooper and will triple the size of the existing reservoir located above Boulder, Colorado. Expansion proponents laud the water-saving policy from the Prior Appropriation Doctrine of western states that stores water for times of drought and increased usage derived from population growth. Denver Water and various stakeholders have reached complex agreements on how to mitigate environmental impacts while implementing the largest public works project in Boulder’s history and while diverting water from the headwaters of the Colorado River in Fraser, Colorado. Positive steps toward environmental stewardship have been made, but the fact remains that the Fraser and Williams Rivers, both headwaters to the Colorado River, will see an additional depletion of 15-20 percent of instream flow with the Expansion that is now 60 percent, dwindling the river to a mere 20-25 percent of its capacity. During times of drought, Denver Water has agreed to allow flows in the rivers, but in reality total dry phases in severe drought are likely. Moreover, wildlife habitat as well as quiet enjoyment near the reservoir site will be negatively impacted for six or more years, possibly forever changing the migration patterns of many animals including elk, deer, and birds, and depleting land prices of current property owners. There are numerous alternatives to tripling the Gross Reservoir for Denver’s water needs, and many of them originate from water conservation and reuse. There are also other sources of water, namely the South and North Platte Rivers, that studies found would be more cost effective if used and if the water is stored near Denver. Because other proven conservation measures were not given what we consider good faith review and implementation before moving ahead with a massive environmentally disruptive project, and because the Expansion will reduce the Colorado River headwaters to a mere trickle of its normal flow, despite promises to increase flow for Boulder Creek in times of drought, and because the sheer scale of the project is at odds with the flora and fauna of the Boulder area and environmental efforts taken by the city of Boulder over the past several decades, the Boulder Creek Waterkeeper Affiliate does not support the overall project. We will view Denver Water’s environmental commitments as negotiated in cooperative agreements with cautious optimism. Gross Reservoir Expansion Project The Gross Reservoir is located 20 miles east of the Continental Divide from Fraser, Colorado, and is situated in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. It was built in 1954 for water storage for the greater Denver area. 1 Approximately 60 percent of streamflow of headwaters of the Colorado River–specifically the Fraser River and Williams Fork River–is siphoned off and diverted to the reservoir through the Moffatt Tunnel. The Gross Reservoir has a storage capacity of 41,811 acre feet of water and the dam is 340 feet high. Denver Water has proposed a large expansion of the reservoir to meet projected water needs for the future in Denver-area municipalities. This would entail siphoning off even more of the Fraser and Williams Fork Rivers, from 75 to 80 percent, to nearly triple the size of the reservoir to 114,000 acre feet, increasing the water level to 465 feet. The Expansion will take at least six years and cost upwards of $380 million. Denver Water states that the Expansion is crucial for water dependability, protection against catastrophic events such as floods, drought, infrastructure failures, landslides and fires. Denver Water also states the Expansion will add a new element of sustainability to conservation, reuse water, and additional supply for new customers’ needs. Proponents of the Expansion were given a green light this summer when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the much-coveted Clean Water Act Section 401 permit certification. This permit allows Denver Water to move forward with the Expansion after review by the EPA, and through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) provides indefinite monitoring for stream water quality, nutrients, metals, temperature, and aquatic life health. It also will provide a strategy to repair stream deficiencies if they occur, and places the responsibility of Denver Water to release more water into streams below the dam when water fluctuations threaten the health of the river. In other words, the 401 permit allocates resources to protect creeks and streams on the eastern side of the Continental Divide originating from the Gross Reservoir. This is definitely good news for the Boulder Creek and its sister-streams. However, instream flow for the Fraser and Williams Rivers will be severely diminished, jeopardizing not only aquatic health and life in those rivers, but recreation on the rivers, the health of plant and animal life dependent on higher water flows, and of course downstream users. “Instream flows have legal standing, but only if it is junior to other senior water rights and doesn’t cause injury to prior water rights, which is always the lodestar,” a Justice on the Colorado Supreme Court commented. Heavily-diverted streams invariably deplete to nothing in severe drought, and instream flows in the Fraser and Williams rivers might be allowed to deplete if Denver Water’s senior water right prevails. Other rivers in the state have faced the same fate: ‘“The Fraser River got down to 4 cfs in 2002,” Ransford continued. “The Crystal River got down to 1 cfs in 2012. The Roaring Fork River got down to 5 cfs in 2012. The Dolores River regularly dries up. These are some of our biggest rivers in the state and they all but dry up.” The state’s instream flow law only allows the CWCB to appropriate junior water rights for instream flow purposes, so as not to take water from those who own senior water rights. As a result, streams where the CWCB holds junior rights are often still left shallow or dry after senior water rights for irrigation are exercised.’ The Colorado Water Plan—A Conservation Blueprint for Water, But Not Binding The Colorado Water Plan, 2 a guidance document that is not legally binding, began in 2013 when Governor John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order articulating Colorado’s values that include water management: a productive economy that includes sustainable cities, productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation, and tourism industry; efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use; and, a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers, streams, and wildlife. Numerous stakeholders engaged with state officials for two years to provide input for the Water Plan, including business, agriculture, municipalities, and conservationists. The public also weighed in with over 30,000 comments. The Water Plan was first published in 2015 with the following priorities: a statewide water conservation target for cities and towns; annual funding for healthy rivers, including assessments and restoration; and a decrease in trans-mountain diversions. The Expansion planning commission has drawn from the Colorado Water Plan’s “Critical Action Plan” provisions in order to incorporate mitigation objectives, such as increasing reuse and water-saving conservation efforts for Denver-area residents, implementing watershed protection plans, and land use that is centered around water conservation. While these efforts are well thought out and well-intentioned, the reality is that there are very few environmental mitigation alternatives in the Expansion that are required by law, and the language in the plan allows for a fair amount of flexibility on the part of Denver Water to meet its objectives. In other words, voluntary commitments on the part of large entitles such as Denver Water usually do not benefit the immediate environment and its inhabitants. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement Denver Water entered into negotiations with several stakeholders affected by the Expansion, in order to offset environmental and economic impacts, which resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, effective in September 2013. Denver Water maintains that “nearby rivers will benefit” from the agreement, including South Boulder Creek, the Fraser, Williams Fork, Blue and Colorado Rivers, due to the following commitments by Denver Water (not an exhaustive list): -Partnered with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette to establish a 5,000 acre-foot environmental pool (six feet added to proposed 125-acre feet increase of Gross Reservoir) that will supply more water to South Boulder Creek for 17 miles during low flow periods, assisting aquatic life. -Commits Denver Water to work collaboratively with Grand County to be a flexible partner in benefitting the aquatic environment. -Ensures more water in the Fraser and Blue Rivers (Summit County) in dry years. –$2 Million to pay for water quality measures, including capacity improvements to wastewater treatment plants. –If used Grand County direct funding will be proportionally reduced. -$1 Million will be used to improve aquatic habitat in the Upper Colorado, Fraser, and Williams Fork River basins, –If used direct funding to Grand County will be proportionally reduced. -Improves aquatic habitat by allocating $50,000 to stream channelization improvements on the Fraser River, and modifying the diversion structure on the Fraser River to remove road sand that negatively 3 impacts water quality. -Ski areas have committed to improving water quality. -Agrees to enter into a “Learn-by-Doing” Effort to protect, restore, and “when possible,” enhance the aquatic environment in the Upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork River basins. –1,000 acre feet will be available annually to Grand County from the Fraser Collection System for environmental purposes and recreation. –Annual releases from Williams Fork up to 1,000 acre feet to Grand County for environmental and recreational purposes if a portion of the Fraser annual release is in use for another use, such as the Shoshone Outage Protocol. These agreements are vast improvements from prior agreements made by Denver Water and the Fraser River and Colorado headwaters, but the language of the document allows Denver Water a fair amount of leeway to not meet certain provisions if it chooses not to for the Boulder Creek and other creeks of the watershed. This is particularly true when it comes to the in-stream flow and aquatic health of the Fraser River; for example, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited’s “Learn-by-Doing” restoration agreement for the Fraser River requires a minimal amount of money from Denver Water to help solve aquatic life, stream temperature, and riparian vegetation issues caused by low-flows. Trout Unlimited states that the “Fraser River’s health has been in decline and with more water being taken out, the health of the river was in jeopardy. As the flows decrease, the sediment buildup and temperature increases-leaving trout and insect life to diminish.” And, while we do not have ‘jurisdiction,’ so to speak, of the Colorado River headwaters, as a stream-protecting environmental organization we must take into account one of the most important water sources of the Western United States, the Colorado River and its headwaters and tributaries, even though the existing agreement will help Boulder Creek and its aquatic life during times of drought. It is a difficult to weigh the two watersheds as competing interests, as when the Boulder Creek Waterkeeper Alliance is tasked to protect a waterway and watershed that is essentially gifted much-needed water from one of the most important waters in the United States, the Colorado River headwaters, in an ecologically damaging project. An attorney from Trout Unlimited, a very active stakeholder in the Expansion plan, had this to say about the agreement: ‘“We’ve put things in place that will make Denver Water be a steward of the river,” Whiting said. The agreement hashed out between Denver Water and conservationists “does not specifically say they have to tweak the flows to help the environment. It does say they have to monitor, for water temperature and macroinvertebrates. And if there’s a problem, they are responsible for figuring out why and they need to do something about it. It does not say exactly what they have to do but they have to fix any problem.”’ Aggressive Action on the Part of the Governor and Colorado Legislature to Turn High-Waste into Water Savings Could Cancel Out Need for Gross Reservoir Expansion Lawns 4 The Denver-area is subject to enforceable laws for watering lawns in the summer, including not watering more than three times a week, not letting water pool on asphalt or sidewalks, not watering when it is raining or during high winds, watering in cool times of the day, and using appropriate water nozzles while washing one’s car. It’s a start, but doesn’t go far enough, in our opinion, to offset the damage done to the Colorado River headwaters, or the environmental habitat surrounding the proposed Expansion. Lawns make up 40.5 million acre-feet of irrigated land in the United States, as opposed to 9.7 million for corn, 6.2 million for alfalfa, 5.3 million for soybeans, and 4.1 for orchards, vinyards, and nut trees. Lawns are the top ‘crop’ for water, at 59.6 million acre feet of water per year, in comparison to 11.7 million for corn, 9 million for orchards and vineyards, and 6.9 million for rice. Colorado’s top water crop is alfalfa, but second is lawns. Watering the lawn usually amounts to 50-75 percent of a home’s water use during the summer. Stakeholders, in tandem with the state legislature, could work together in order to pass other laws that limit lawn watering, or offer offsets for drought resistant turf or xeriscaping. Environmental groups argue that the Gross Reservoir Expansion would not be necessary if Denver’s lawn watering usage was put on a moratorium during low-water years. Water Reuse/Recycling Colorado, one of the last states to do so, passed a law in April of 2016 that legalized rainwater collection—up to 110 gallons at a time. While two large barrels will help offset water use in rivers, home owners should be given the opportunity to use more if their gardens or other usage requires it without being subject to fines. Water Rights Sharing In an agreement that is the first of its kind, farmers in Gunnison now conserve water in the mid to late summer for a price. In short, farmers can raise a crop in the early summer and then leave it in the river in late summer and early fall for compensation, either a lease or a sale. This program, and similar programs, could be implemented in the greater Denver area across the board with all water rights parties, saving upwards of billions of gallons of water a year. Water Banking Programs A “water banking” bill is being considered in the state legislature, that would allow farmers to share their water rights with other users without losing those rights—a reversal of the “use it or lose it” policy that is prevalent in the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, and that causes massive water waste. For example, a farmer would deposit his water right into a water bank and he or she could use it in whatever means necessary. Simple and Immediate Actions The Governor could hasten green infrastructure that results in water efficiency, such as funding greywater, reuse, and stormwater management. Cities could incorporate more education and cost-offsets for xeriscaping that would lower water usage. And, the state of Colorado could start a state-wide ad campaign to educate the public on easy ways to save water. 5 Conclusion The greater Waterkeeper Alliance, parent to the Boulder Creek Waterkeeper Affiliate, exists to be “[T]ireless advocates for the health of [our] watersheds and communities. On behalf of a grassroots constituency, we employ a variety of tools and strategies to identify problems, respond to citizen complaints, devise appropriate solutions and enforce environmental laws.” As such, we do not support the Gross Reservoir Expansion because is likely to cause lasting ecological damage to the flora and fauna of the Boulder Creek watershed due to its length of construction, size of expansion, and flexible and voluntary agreements by Denver Water to protect the waters of the watershed. Moreover, conservation mitigation efforts were not properly explored or vetted for the Denver area’s water usage that would lessen the need for such a project, if not cancel the need altogether. Finally, the project will unnecessarily deplete even more the most overused, over-allocated, and diverted river in the West, the Colorado River, through its headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Rivers, likely because the infrastructure is in place, and not because there are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly paths to secure water for Denver. Heather W-Williams, J.D., LL.M



Boulder Creek water quality and monitoring plan under development.  


Boulder Creek Water Quality

Boulder creek waterkeeper envisions using educational and outreach activities to build awareness of local watershed concerns, and develop a community of active stewards that help reduce the prevalence of priority contaminants in the watershed. We intend to monitor existing EPA required sampling activities conducted by local government agencies [link to brief page describing what is included in routine monitoring – Heather can you do this? I’ll send you a reference]. As opposed to duplicating existing water quality monitoring efforts, we aim to support existing initiatives by building awareness and stimulating action, and expand existing monitoring efforts to focus on emerging contaminants for which current environmental prevalence may not be well known or understood. Areas of interest for investigation and awareness building by Boulder Creek Waterkeeper include [does this summarize everything we want to cover? I assume we want more level of detail on each, which I can do by the end of the weekend once you confirm these are the categories we want]: Endocrine disrupting compounds derived from: Personal hygiene activities such as microbeads (microplastics) and pharmaceuticals passed through sewage treatment facilities Oil and metals mining (fracking chemicals, heavy metals) Fire retardants Nutrients which contribute to dead zones Farming runoff Yard runoff Biological contaminants E Coli from wild and domesticated animals, and people Boulder Creek Waterkeeper’s goal is to harness your passion around water quality, and work with you to make a difference in your community. Is there a particular contaminant you are most concerned about? Contact us at ______ to get involved and make a difference in your local watershed.
Upcoming Events:

September 2016 Boulder Creek Community Celebration

Flowing Water Euphoria – at at location to be determined at one of the corporate friends of The Creek the entire community will be invited to celebrate the beauty and significance of the creek, admire the effort of the past year and discuss and prioritize the challenges and plans for next year.

August 2016 Geocaching Hunt

Boots on the Ground – In August 2016 the Boulder Creek community will attempt to identify, location, photograph and report on the key watershed locations identified in the ‘Boots’ tab. Citizen participants will be invited to lead the effort. Any individual or team reporting from one of the targeted locations will receive a coupon for a pint at the September community celebration.
Past Events:

May 20, 2016 6:00-11:00pm Boulder Creek Community Dinner

Boulder Creek Restoration – Flatirons Park Project We need your help to raise the $85,000 needed for The Flatirons Park project. This 2016/2017 project will improve habitat and stream flow in Boulder Creek from Foothills Parkway downstream for about 3/4 mile.


City of Boulder Logo





The businesses in and around Boulder Creek are an essential component of the community that will protect and preserve the watershed.  The organizations noted here support the mission and objectives of the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Colorado Ocean Coalition and are active participants in sharing, encouraging and promoting activities and events that support The Creek:


Clutter Logo





Each of these organizations support swimmable, drinkable, fishable water that flows from source to sea and have publicly referenced the Boulder Creek waterkeeper efforts in both their physical and cyberspace presences. 


The Boulder Creek waterkeeper activities are volunteer efforts.  For the first years of operations (2016/17ish) the primary challenge is organization, collaboration and community building which will not require significant fundraising.  Once operational there will be ongoing structural expenses and the philosophy will be to have direct ‘line of sight’ recognition for those generous donors willing to contribute to the waterkeeper efforts.

Each year these funding requirements will be determined, donors solicited and the individuals or organizations making the donations publicly acknowledged and thanked on this page. 

Expense  2018 Funding Requirement Donor
Program Licensing To be Determined To be Determined
Website and Technology To be Determined To be Determined
Program Operations To be Determined To be Determined
Waterkeeper Salary To be Determined To be Determined
Waterkeeper Travel To be Determined To be Determined

For individuals or organizations wishing to donate to watershed protection efforts we encourage direct contributions to the Colorado Ocean Coalition and or the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Operating Organizations:

Waterkeeper Logo Transparent


Watershed Advocates:

Ted Ross – Watershed Advocate

Flowing water advocate.  Boulder resident, retired IBM executive, information strategy and technology consultant.  Part owner of a  corn and soybean farm in Illinois.  University of Michigan graduate.  Colorado Ocean Coalition Ocean Ambassador.  SSI Divemaster Certified.

Erin Cooper – Watershed Advocate

Growing up near the cornfields of Ohio didn’t stop Erin from discovering the magic of coral reefs during a high school marine biology course. That passion led to SCUBA, an around-the-world study abroad experience focused on global water resources, a thesis on coral reef habitat assessments, and a career in water. Erin holds a Masters of Environmental Science from Miami of Ohio, was a 2012 John A. Knauss Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellow with NOAA’s Office of Education, led Teens4Oceans’ youth marine research programs in Boulder, and now serves as the Watershed Coordinator for the Little Thompson Watershed Coalition based in Lyons. 

Heather Whitney-Williams – Watershed Advocate

Heather, a third-generation-Coloradan, developed a lifelong passion for protecting watersheds and their animal residents, while boating on rivers in the U.S. Southwest, Alaska, and Asia. She holds a J.D. and LL.M with an emphasis on water quality and natural resource law and policy (Vermont Law School). She has worked with the Cook Inletkeeper in Alaska, in policy research and analysis on Alaska-specific issues, and writes about water quality in the U.S. and in Asia, particularly with regard to mining pollution and fracking. Her most recent law review article on the RCRA-CWA fracking “livestock loophole,” was published in the Yale Journal on Regulation (Summer ’15, with Hillary M. Hoffmann). 

Join the Boulder Creek Community:

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

Contacts Details:



Boulder Creek contacts details under development. 


Legislative and Policy Context:



Boulder Creek legislative and policy synopsis under development. 


Historical References:



Boulder Creek historical archive under development. 


Watershed Overview:

Boulder Creek, 31.4 miles from continental divide in the Indian Peaks wilderness area to the confluence into the St. Vrain Creek east of Longmont, which flows to the South Platte River, Platte River, Missouri River, Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

Screenshot 2016-05-18 at 10.38.41


Drainage basin of 448 square miles including Fourmile, Wonderland, Goose, Skunk, Bear Canyon and South Boulder Creeks.

Flows through and around the towns of Nederland, Boulder, Marshall, Eldorado Springs, Louisville, Lafayette and Erie.

Environment includes high alpine origin near 13,000 feet, through mountain canyons into urban areas at just above 5,000 feet.

Historically significant during the gold rush era for mining activities, a key reason for the founding of the City of Boulder and then transitioning to agricultural activities as it enters the prairies.

Boulder Creek is fully integrated into the landscape and culture of the Boulder County, the City of Boulder, and the mountain towns from the foothills to the continental divide.  The major threats to the watershed are driven by the challenges of integrating urban development infrastructure and recreation requirements with natural preservation.  These threats include general watershed environmental challenges as well as specific projects and initiatives that are currently underway or planned:

General Challenges:

  • Urban and suburban growth and zoning challenges in and around floodplains resulting in water quality degradation, loss of riparian wetlands and creek bank encroachment.
  • Industrial agriculture depleting water supplies and introducing potentially toxic herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, feed and animal wastes into the watershed.
  • Hydrocarbon oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) creating an unnatural demand for water consumption and potential surface and or groundwater contamination.

Specific Projects:

  • Boulder County flood recovery, mitigation and prevention efforts resulting from the 2013 floods.
  • Moffat Collection System and Gross Reservoir Expansion project to divert  western slope water flows to service front range urban water requirements.

  • Eldora Mountain Resort ski area expansion and snowmaking operations.

  • Valmont Generating Plant decommissioning of the 186MW coal fired electricity generation facility built in 1924.

  • Betasso and Boulder Reservoir urban water treatment plants and the 75th Street Wastewater Treatment Facility operations and expansion.
  • Boulder Greenways program of multi-use paths for bicycles and pedestrians along tributary riparian environments.


Make a Donation!