Restoring water flow at Peanut Lake

In the fall of 2015, we removed an artificial berm along the banks of the Slate River. The man-made berm restricted the natural flow of the river, causing it to creep towards Peanut Lake. Just a few feet of beaver dam precariously separated the Slate River from Peanut Lake. A wet spring could have easily caused the river to breach the beaver dam, draining Peanut Lake.

What’s worse, mining residue in the form of heavy metals rest at the bottom of Peanut Lake. Though they pose limited danger if undisturbed, the heavy metals could have leeched into the Slate River in the event of a breach. That would have contaminated the water supply for working family ranches, thirsty children, and plants and animals downstream.

Peanut Lake saved

Luckily, it looks like we are out of the danger zone! By removing the berm, we allowed the river to expand into its natural path away from Peanut Lake, As spring run-off reaches its peak, the new separation between the Slate River and Peanut Lake remains strong. Though we can’t know what the future holds, we do know that we’ve saved Peanut Lake from imminent danger.

Despite this wonderful news, our work at Peanut Lake is far from over. Now, the Land Trust will continue to ensure that wetland plants and new seedlings survive, so that the river and lake banks remain fortified. After all, your local Land Trust made a commitment to care for this land for the benefit of our community, forever.

Thanks to the Crested Butte Community School for assembling willow bundles. These are living bundles of native willow were planted in June of 2016 to help return the river bank to its healthy, vegetated state. For the reclamation to truly be successful, we must watch the health of the wetlands plants closely to ensure the bank is springing back to life.

Here’s our plan to measure our success:

  • Nine transects spanning the Slate River, which were put in place and monitored in 2014, will continue to be monitored for the next four years, to document where, when and if the Slate River channel moves, and the shape it takes.
  • With the removal of the man-made berm, we expect the Slate River to migrate more naturally in its floodplain and reduce the stress on the eastern bank of Peanut Lake.
  • We’ll visit the site each year during peak run-off to assess and look for indicators of appropriate function, including water flowing over the river banks, which is a natural wetland process that promotes a stable riparian community and provides a water source for wildlife.
  • Vegetation will be monitored annually and replanted as necessary to ensure an abundance of healthy willows and other native wetland plants. We’ll also be on the lookout for noxious weeds, which are known to take advantage of disturbances like the removal of the berm.

Peanut Lake is a community treasure. Not only is the lake, with Paradise Divide in the background, one of our most favorite views, but it is also an important home to geese, ducks, and herons. The loss of wetlands and freshwater lakes throughout the country has been expansive. Thank you for not allowing that destruction to happen here at home.

If you would like more information about our monitoring efforts, or can help us finance these studies, please contact Hedda Peterson, Stewardship Director, at 970.349.1206, hedda@cblandtrust.org.