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How Creating Duck Habitat Can Protect Colorado's Water Supply

Thursday, February 1, 2018 -- GOCO

Imagine walking from Canada to Mexico and having nowhere to stop. Okay, you have somewhere to stop but there’s no food there. And you are very hungry.

That’s the reality migratory birds are facing as water becomes scarcer. Colorado provides a critical stopover for the hundreds of thousands of birds migrating between Canada and Mexico every year. But as water from the South Platte River is in higher and higher demand, the wetland habitat these birds need to thrive is dwindling.

 

Our partners at Ducks Unlimited, Colorado Open Lands (COL), and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) are trying to change that. We teamed up with CPW to interview experts from Ducks and COL to learn more about this important work at Prewitt Reservoir. GOCO funded this project through our habitat restoration grant program, and CPW operates a state wildlife area at Prewitt Reservoir.

All birds need is a few inches of water for nutrient-rich smartweed (essentially the superfood of the bird world) to start growing. Ducks and COL are installing water control structures that will direct water in the most efficient way possible, creating new wetlands out of shallow flooded areas of sand.

In the first photo, you’re looking down at the top of the water control structure. The opening is at ground level, and pathway for the water is dug underground.

The metal panel in the middle of the structure is what controls the water. When it’s stacked all the way up, like it is in the photo, it acts like a dam and keeps water from flowing out of the river or into a different part of the reservoir. Water managers can remove sections of this panel to slowly increase the amount of water that flows through, ensuring that just enough is used to create those critical wetlands, and no more.

In the second photo, you see Ducks biologist Matt standing where the water will come out (and ultimately fill up). These water control structures are being installed across Prewitt to help create more wetlands without using more water.

We’ll be back at Prewitt in the spring to see how it all turns out. By then, the giant beach we were standing on will be underwater and bird migration will be in full swing!

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