Battle tested

Partnerships help repair historic fishery south of Battlement Mesa

Scott Fitzwilliams, superintendent of the White River National Forest, releases a Colorado River cutthroat trout into Battlement Reservoir No. 3 as part of a recent ceremony marking the restoration of the reservoir and its fishery. The Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Noble Energy Inc. were instrumental in rehabilitating the dam, which breached during high runoff in the spring of 1984.



If you’re thinking of driving something motorized into the Battlement Reservoirs, take heed. A recently negotiated right of way grants access across private land but it didn’t do much to improve the road itself.

According to the U.S. Forest Service guide sheet to Battlement Road FDR 847, that trail up Battlement Creek can be a “rough, steep, 4-wheel drive nightmare or it can be a haven for 4-wheel drive die-hards.”

The guide continues: “This road is not recommended as novice 4-wheel drive road, sections of lava rocks, hairpin turns, and mud bogs are a few challenges one will encounter.”

Recently, Kyle Whitaker and Eddie Rubiin of the Colorado Division of Water Resources rode their trail bikes up the 4-mile road, which had been made even rougher, slicker and more demanding by heavy rains.

It might have been faster than walking but hardly so, Rubin said.

“I’m not sure I’d do that again,” he said, gazing at the thick gobs of mud clinging to his bike. “Maybe we’re a little crazy.”

Thanks to a multi-faceted partnership between Noble Energy Inc., private landowners and state and federal agencies, a 120-year-old fishery south of Battlement Mesa has been restored and public access guaranteed.

Battlement Reservoir No. 3, which was lost when its dam breached during high spring runoff in 1984, has been repaired and stocked with Colorado River cutthroat trout.

Noble Energy contributed $120,000 to the $375,150 fisheries project and another $30,000 to mule deer habitat restoration, said Jeff Schwarz, Rockies Business Unit manager for Noble Energy.

Other partners included Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, Grand Valley Anglers, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Schwarz said Noble Energy, which has 800 producing wells in the Colorado River Valley, is involved with conservation projects in eastern Colorado, where the company is actively exploring for gas and oil.

“We’re in the business of energizing the world to better people’s lives and we wanted to do something to benefit a region in which we’ve had a major impact,” Schwarz said as he shared in the release of nearly two dozen bright-colored Colorado River cutthroat trout.

The chain of seven reservoirs at the head of Battlement Creek was built in the late 1800s by ranchers using horse-drawn equipment and evolved into popular back-country fisheries.

Maintenance of the dams was sporadic because of the time and cost, said Kyle Whitaker, assistant engineer for Division 5 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

By the early 1980s the state water engineer was expressing concern about the dams’ integrity.

The answer came in the spring of 1984, when a heavy spring runoff breached the dams and sent a gush of water, rocks and mud down country.

The reservoirs weren’t gone, simply much shallower, with enough trout surviving to attract anglers.

“We get a lot of use up here, it would surprise you,” said Whitaker, who, along with water commissioner Eddie Rubin, had ridden a trail bike up the steep, rough and on this day, very muddy road.

The repair work on No. 3 included reconstructing the dam and spillway and deepening the reservoir.

It will cover about 25 surface acres and hold 85 acre feet of water when full, Whitaker said.

“But it hasn’t been full since it breached,” he noted.

Whitaker said several ranchers, including the family of long-time rancher John Savage, donated water rights to the Forest Service.

A plan was hatched 25 years ago to restore the reservoirs but time and funding were in short supply, said John Broderick, terrestrial programs manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“There were questions about access, water rights, having enough money, all sorts of hurdles,” Broderick said. “Getting all these partners together, and getting that money from Noble, were key to making this happen.”

A permanent public right of way across private land was negotiated with landowners who for years had allowed trespass.

Access to the reservoirs is a rough motorized route and a foot, bike and horse trail. The area is adjacent to the Mamm Peak Roadless Area.

“Having the landowners grant us a right of way was very, very important,” said Glen Adams, Rifle District Ranger for the White River National Forest. “We’re hoping to connect the trail here with a 54-mile trail that goes along the ridgeline above us through the roadless area.”

Reservoirs 1 and 3 will be stocked with Colorado River cutthroat trout, said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We’re using the Trapper Creek strain, which can withstand higher water temperatures,” said Martin, who had brought the 20 brood-stock cutthroats symbolizing the fishery’s return. “We’re hoping we can foster a self-sustaining fishery up here like it was in the past.”


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