April 7, 2023
Benjamin Wilson, Senior Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District
400 Rood Avenue, Room 224
Grand Junction, CO 81501-2520
Re: PUBLIC NOTICE: SPK-2014-00518 Clinton Gulch Reservoir Expansion Project
Dear Mr. Wilson,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposal by Clinton Ditch and Reservoir Company to expand the Clinton Gulch Reservoir in Summit County, Colorado.
The Colorado Native Plant Society is a statewide organization with seven geographical chapters. We are a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the knowledge, appreciation and conservation of native plants and habitats of Colorado through education, stewardship and advocacy.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Public Notice states that this project would inundate 3.02 acres of wetlands, including 1.27 acres of fens. As you know, fens in the Rocky Mountains are a rare resource which provide unique habitat to many species, including endemic plants. Because the peat in fens accumulates so slowly, they are an ancient resource which are impossible to replace.
As a recent European peer-reviewed article in Biodiversity and Conservation states: “Restoration or de novo construction of peat-forming fens cannot compensate for a loss of ancient fens.” (Peterka, T., Tichý, L., Horsáková, V. et al. The long history of rich fens supports persistence of plant and snail habitat specialists. Biodivers Conserv 31, 39–57 (2022). https://doi.org /10.1007/s10531-021-02318-0)
The loss of any fen acreage in Colorado is concerning to us, but even more so here where there is no firm proposal for mitigation. The project public notice states:
The applicant has not provided a complete compensatory mitigation plan at this time but has provided conceptual information about how they plan to conduct compensatory mitigation. In general, conceptual mitigation plans include re-establishment, rehabilitation, and enhancement of wetlands in the upper Blue River watershed at various sites. The applicant is also considering purchasing compensatory mitigation credits from the Western Slope In-Lieu Fee Program operated by the National Forest Foundation.
The lack of firm compensatory mitigation plans in the application makes it difficult to evaluate whether ‘no net loss’ of fen wetlands can be obtained by the project sponsors. In future analyses of the project, USACE needs to critically examine and discuss the issue of fen restoration: where has it been attempted; where has it succeeded and failed; what factors seem to determine success or failure; how is Alliance Center, 1536 Wynkoop St Suite 911, Denver, CO 80202 www.conps.org firstname.lastname@example.org success or failure measured; how long will monitoring continue to ensure success; what backup plan is in place if the restoration efforts fail?
An analysis of 10 years of attempted fen restoration in Europe showed that restoring fens is not a sure thing:
Rich fen indicators of vascular plants and bryophytes did not respond to any of the restoration treatments. This indicates that species introduction in combination with further habitat restorations may be necessary to re-establish the original rich fen flora. Nevertheless, we conclude that the combination of ditch blocking and clear cutting are effective measures to partly restore wetland vegetation on previously drained and forested fens, while peat subsidence along the ditch may restrict the success further away from ditches. (P. Hedberg et al. Vegetation recovery after multiple-site experimental fen restorations. Biological Conservation 147 (2012) 60–67)
Once an actual compensatory mitigation plan has been submitted, it can be examined in the context of actual experience to determine whether it is adequate. That conclusion cannot be reached now.
Likewise, without an actual proposal stating the size and scope of any use of the Western Slope In-Lieu Fee Program, the adequacy of that mitigation option cannot be assessed. A recent report by the Environmental Law Institute (Kihslinger, R., McElfish, J.M., Jr., Scicchitano, D. (2020). Improving Compensatory Mitigation Project Review, Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C) examined the USACE In-Lieu Programs and found that project approval delays were common, often due to the lack of detailed information:
The draft instrument is complex and is the first phase that includes all of the elements that must be thoroughly reviewed by the IRT [Interagency Review Team]. One provider told us, “the devil is in the detail; more work needs to be done by the provider, and more time is needed by the IRT to review this body of work.” (ELI 2020 at 12)
Although ‘the devil is in the details’, here there is no detail regarding the in-lieu program to be considered, so the public cannot evaluate the adequacy of using the in-lieu program for this project at his time.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments. We also endorse the comments submitted by Save the Colorado.
Co-chair, Conservation Committee
Colorado Native Plant Society