Community Celebrates the Opening of the Fish Ladder at Watson Lake

PHOTO COURTESY NORTHERN WATER. Ribbon-cutting at Watson Lake Fish Bypass dedication.

BELLVUE, Colo. – A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on May 1 for the completion of a fish ladder at Watson Lake.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) along with funding partners Noosa yoghurt, Northern Water, Morning Fresh Dairy, Poudre Heritage Alliance and Trout Unlimited held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the ladder.

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The collaborative project is reconnecting a fragmented Poudre River. The stretch contains important spawning habitat and deep pools that provide refuge for aquatic life. Crews broke ground on the $850,000 project in December 2018, and it was completed and operating by March 2019.

PHOTO COURTESY NORTHERN WATER. Water flows through the new fish ladder at the Watson Lake diversion.

The Watson Lake fish ladder is reconnecting over two river miles. The group hopes this will be one of many ladders along the Poudre River that will allow fish to travel freely upstream and downstream, improving the health of the fishery and the ecosystem without impacting water delivery.

Noosa yoghurt has been heavily involved with the project from its inception in 2016, funding the conceptual design in 2017.

“The Poudre River is a treasure in Northern Colorado,” said Stephanie Giard, community outreach coordinator for Noosa yoghurt. “The project area is frequently visited by neighbors in the Pleasant Valley for fishing, birdwatching, or just enjoying nature. It is our responsibility to protect this valuable resource in our community.”

Watson Lake Diversion Structure is a channel spanning structure that represented a complete barrier to all upstream fish movement in the Poudre River. The structure delivers water to the Watson State Fish Hatchery and is owned and operated by CPW. The new fish ladder allows for passage through the diversion for all species present within the river reach including longnose dace, longnose suckers, white suckers, brown trout, and rainbow trout.

Designed by OneFish Engineering and built by L4 Environmental, the fish ladder at the Watson Diversion was completed in record time. Biologists and engineers from across CPW came together to work with OneFish Engineering to find the optimal design to provide upstream fish movement through the diversion structure. The construction project started in November at the end of the irrigation season. It had to be completed before spring runoff.

PHOTO COURTESY COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE. The construction of the fish ladder at the Watson lake diversion is complete.

“This project will improve river connectivity and benefit the aquatic resources by allowing fish to move freely back upstream as they wish,” CPW Aquatic Biologist Kyle Battige said. “Outside of the benefits to aquatic life, this project is important as it showcases the feasibility of fish passage at these large diversion structures and will hopefully further momentum for these types of projects. It also serves as an example of the collaboration and team effort from multiple entities that these large-scale conservation projects will have to have in order to be successful in today’s world.”

Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind said this project will be an example of future cooperative efforts on the river.

“This will be the first of several projects like these to create a healthier Poudre River for generations to come,” he said. “Northern Water and the NISP participants are proud to have been part of the cooperative effort to get this project completed.”

“This is a first step in improving the health and resiliency of the Poudre River,” said Rob Graves, owner of Morning Fresh Dairy and co-founder of Noosa yoghurt. “Through collaboration, we can preserve and protect this critical natural resource that flows through our community.

“The river has played an important role in our business and in our family for over 100 years and we want to protect it for generations to come. We hope this project and future projects will be the legacy of our family and Morning Fresh Dairy.”