March 28, 2024

Kawuneeche Valley Effort Earns National Funding

The Kawuneeche Valley Restoration Collaborative (KVRC) is expected to start taking bigger strides soon toward improving portions of the Colorado River headwaters ecosystem, thanks to an influx of funding in recent months from a variety of grant sources.

Award letters have been coming in from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSmart program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s RESTORE Colorado initiative, the Nature Conservancy, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Grand Foundation’s Windy Gap Fund. Each of the funding notifications has come as welcome news by KVRC’s nine partner organizations, who have now raised about $2.3 million and have several planned initiatives in need of those funds to get off the ground later this year or in 2025.

There is no shortage of work ahead for the group. The Kawuneeche Valley, which surrounds the Colorado River as it flows through Rocky Mountain National Park into Shadow Mountain Reservoir, has been an ecosystem in decline for many years. With increases in elk and moose populations and historic land uses over several decades, the willow and beaver populations have almost vanished. That has led to a loss of beaver dams, which create wetlands that provide important ecological services. Without beaver activity, the valley’s once wet meadow is now a drier floodplain and less resistant to the effects of drought, wildfires and a changing climate.

people standing in the KVRC valley of RMNP
Leaders of the Kawuneeche Valley Restoration Collaborative inspect the river channel in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This change has a broad scope of negative short-term and long-term implications, including potential water quality impacts for Northern Water and others who utilize the Colorado River as a water source. 

The goal of KVRC is to restore and protect the characteristics of the valley by bringing back ecological and hydrologic functions that have been lost due to the imbalances in play.

In addition to Northern Water, KVRC partners include Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado River District, Grand County, Town of Grand Lake, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited. Those entities are collaborating with a team from Colorado State University that for decades has studied the ecosystems within Rocky Mountain National Park. After forming in 2020, the group spent two years planning and designing projects, and then in 2023 began its first boots-on-the-ground undertaking with noxious-weed treatments in strategic areas of the valley.

With the recent funding, more work is expected to get underway later this year, such as enclosure fencing around a 32-acre priority area that will allow for vegetation regrowth, particularly for willows. In addition to continued planting and protecting of willows to help restore beaver populations, KVRC is also looking to build simulated beaver structures to encourage healthy wetlands, with some of that work potentially starting in late 2024 or in 2025.