U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
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South Platte River Focus Area


South Platte River Focus Area location map


Introduction and General Description

The South Platte River has been heavily impacted through diversions, flood control, agriculture, and development. The natural hydrograph has been altered such that spring flooding is reduced in both frequency and magnitude as water is stored for irrigation, municipal, and industrial use. A cottonwood-dominated riparian forest now occupies what was historically a grassland and wet meadow floodplain. Cropland and pasture are the dominate streamside activities. Agricultural use is being replaced by recreational activities in several areas as river bottomland is purchase by private and public interests for hunting and fishing access.


Habitats
of Special Concern

The South Platte River is an important migration stopover for waterfowl, shorebirds, and neotropical migratory birds. Restoration of the habitat values historically provided by overbank flooding is our major effort. Additionally, assisting in efforts to address flow issues in the Platte River through Nebraska is also a focus of our efforts along the South Platte.

photo of phalaropes

Threats and Conservation Strategies

Intensive water development in the South Platte River Basin has been the primary factor affecting historic habitat in this Focus Area. Agricultural and related activities have been the major land disturbance in the Focus Area. However, future residential development is a increasing concern as the Denver metro area grows eastward. Interest in acquiring South Platte River property for wildlife-based recreation is high and will help slow future development.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife projects in the South Platte Focus Area are currently composed of two major types:  floodplain restoration and ground water recharge projects.

Floodplain restoration projects . . .

usually utilize irrigation water to re-establish the effects of overbank flooding. These projects use contour berm and water control to establish wet meadow vegetation in former crop or pastureland in the South Platte River floodplain. Working with landowners and our other partners, projects are designed and managed to provide spring and fall foraging sites for migratory water birds. It usually costs from $200-$300/acre to restore these areas.

Ground water recharge projects . . .

are part of the State of Colorado’s approach to address both in-state water rights issues and Endangered Species Act concerns in and along the Platte River through Nebraska. Partners for Fish and Wildlife, working with water users groups, the State of Colorado, Ducks Unlimited, and others, assists in the design of recharge projects to establish temporary wetland habitats at the site. A longer term benefit is increase in base flows to the Platte River through Nebraska as the recharge efforts increase and expand. The cost of these projects is $500-$600/acre.


Partners

In working with cooperating landowners, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program in the South Platte Focus Area has developed funding and planning relationships with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, North American Wetland Conservation Act funding, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Centennial Land Trust, South Platte Lower River Group, Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, and several smaller water providers.


Accomplishments

Partners for Fish and Wildlife projects in this focus area now account for restoration of 1,902 acres of wetlands, installation of 18 miles of riparian fencing, and restoration of 3,581 acres of associated upland habitats.

wet meadow restoration in Morgan County photo
Wet meadow restoration.  Old corn row furrows can be seen
below the water surface.


Future Needs

  • Future habitat needs include more native prairie restoration and protection, particularly to benefit prairie dog colonies, mountain plovers, and other short grass species.
  • Floodplain wetland restoration will remain a high priority because of the high value such projects provide for migratory birds. We estimate that there are 10,000 acres of floodplain habitat that could be restored in this Focus Area.
  • We will pursue opportunities to assist in recovery efforts for listed species associated with the Platte River.
  • Groundwater recharge restoration projects are a very recent addition to the Partners Program. We will determine the potential restoration acres as data becomes available.

South Platte River floodplain photo

For more information, contact:

Greg Stoebner
Partners for Fish and Wildlife
621 Iris Drive
Sterling, CO 80751
(970) 522-7440 X 133
greg_stoebner@fws.gov

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