A Community-Minded Partnership That Matters

The Western Slope of Colorado overflows with breathtaking natural beauty, where pristine rivers wind through picturesque landscapes. In this paradise, a committed team of professionals at SGM have been working tirelessly for 37 years to protect invaluable water resources and the communities that depend on them. Forever Our Rivers is proud to partner with SGM, an engineering, consulting, and surveying firm to champion healthy rivers and safeguard the Western Colorado way of life.

SGM’s Dedication to Water and Community

SGM, headquartered in Glenwood Springs with regional offices scattered across the Western Slope, is deeply ingrained in the communities they serve. It’s one of the reasons we love their partnership so much! They play pivotal roles in engineering projects that impact our daily lives, from the roads we drive on to the water we drink. Their expertise lies in providing comprehensive environmental and water resources engineering services, crucial for supporting complex water development projects across Colorado.

What sets SGM apart is its team of dedicated experts, including engineers, scientists, surveyors and GIS specialists. From planning to implementation, SGM actively engages with water users and communities, building relationships to address project needs effectively. Even more is the fact they live where they work. They know firsthand what is happening with our rivers and water and are experiencing it right alongside all of us.

Championing River Health: SGM’s Notable Projects

SGM has a track record of protecting our rivers and watersheds, including projects aimed at improving water quality. Notable endeavors include developing the 2015 and 2022 Colorado Basin Implementation Plans, funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the Grand Valley Watershed Plan Update funded primarily by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) 319 Nonpoint Source (NPS) and the Grand Valley Drainage District, and the Upper Rio Grande Watershed Assessment funded by the CWCB, Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team and the CDPHE. They’ve also provided technical expertise for pre- and post-fire hydrology and hydraulics to inform watershed-based planning efforts and Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program projects, especially in the wake of Colorado fires like East Troublesome, Grizzly Creek, Pine Gulch, 416 and Lake Christine.

Moreover, SGM is a leading water/wastewater firm in Western Colorado, helping municipalities and special districts provide safe drinking water while supporting water efficiency and conservation.

Prioritizing Community and River Conservation

The efforts of SGM positively impact local communities and the environment in multiple ways. Their involvement with organizations like the Middle Colorado Watershed Council addresses critical challenges facing the Colorado River. They also encourage local volunteerism, actively participating in clean-up initiatives and water festivals that educate children about the importance of the water they drink and the rivers they play in.

SGM’s core values are deeply rooted in community-mindedness. They understand the significance of their Western Colorado roots and invest their time, energy and resources in supporting the communities they serve.  We’re lucky to have their strong focus on the Western Slope.

The Power of Partnership: Forever Our Rivers and SGM

SGM’s partnership with Forever Our Rivers embodies the spirit of cooperation and collective action. Angie Fowler, PE, Water Resources & Environmental Sector Leader at SGM, emphasizes, “We jumped at the opportunity to be involved with Forever Our Rivers due to their mission to help watersheds thrive. Partnerships like this allow SGM to combine resources for the betterment of our rivers and communities.”

With organizations like SGM partnering with us, the future of Colorado’s rivers is brighter than ever. The collaborative efforts are a testament to the fact that, together, we can protect and preserve the lifeblood of our communities, ensuring that these magnificent rivers continue to flow for generations to come.

Something to Smile About: Our Latest Grant Awards

Photo by Paige Hahn

With a mission to improve the health and vitality of rivers, Forever Our Rivers is pleased to award funding to ten nonprofits across Colorado. In September, those organizations received $51,430 for community-centric river projects. “We are thrilled to support projects on Colorado’s Western Slope, in the San Luis Valley, and along the Front Range,” said Ann Johnston, executive director. “Through the financial support of individuals and businesses, we can make great things happen. We are so grateful for your confidence in our work.” 

The following projects were supported and are listed in no particular order:

A Fishable, Swimmable South Platte River

A dedicated team of young advocates from across metro Denver is on a mission to make the South Platte River not just fishable but swimmable. The focus is on the upper reach of Segment 15, a 26-mile stretch extending north from Denver through Adams County. Lincoln Hills Cares leads the charge by employing ten to 12 youth for this critical initiative. In addition, eight to 10 young participants will be part of the summer-based River Team.

Animas and San Juan Rivers Recreation

The San Juan Citizens Alliance in Durango has long championed improved river access along an 83-mile section of the Animas River. Now, their efforts extend downstream of the Animas confluence in northern New Mexico. What makes this endeavor even more crucial is the community’s transition from fossil fuel to recreation after the closure of a coal-fired power plant and coal mine, which cost over 500 jobs in 2023.

Conejos River Partnership

The Conejos River, the largest tributary of the Rio Grande in Colorado, faces a multitude of challenges, including low streamflow, habitat loss and inefficient irrigation systems. The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration is stepping in to create efficient diversions that ensure water users can access their full decreed water rights under all streamflow conditions, benefiting farmers and ranchers for generations.

Connecting Kids to Rivers

Collaborating with the Hispanic Affairs Project and Upward Bound, the Colorado Canyons Association provides young adults and youth with exciting river rafting trips to connect with their local rivers and national conservation areas. This initiative empowers emerging leaders and aids first-generation students on their college journey.

Restoring the Yampa River

Despite ample snowfall, the Yampa River faces threats from dry soil and hot temperatures. This poses risks to ecosystems, agriculture and tourism. Funding for the Colorado Water Trust will bolster river health, allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to purchase water for instream flows.

North Fork of the Gunnison River Trail Project

Colorado West Land Trust is acquiring seven acres of riparian habitat for public open space and trails along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. This vital corridor will connect Delta County School District green space to Paonia’s downtown and library. Protection will ensure these wetlands continue to provide food and habitat for wildlife. It will also ensure this area’s role as a migration corridor for big game. The trail will be closed during elk and deer migration season.

Gunnison River Basin Watershed Education

Friends of Youth and Nature ensures underserved youth in several Colorado counties connect with water and nature through education and recreation programs throughout the year. The TRY (Together for Resilient Youth) program offers aquatic life education, stand-up paddle trips and visits to local parks and fish hatcheries while also addressing food insecurity with participants.

Jasper Springs River and Wetland Restoration

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is embarking on a project to restore seven acres of freshwater emergent wetlands along Jasper Springs, which flows into the San Luis Valley, supporting fresh drinking water, agricultural and ranching needs.

Taylor Park Headwaters

High Country Conservation Advocates and Gunnison Valley Mentors are teaming up for an ongoing restoration project at the headwaters of the Taylor River. This project employs low-tech, process-based restoration to mimic beaver dams, preserving riparian and wetland ecosystems. This initiative will give Middle school girls a unique opportunity to experience riparian restoration.

Education on Climate and Colorado Rivers 

Eureka! in Grand Junction leads a program along the Colorado River, introducing local students to climate change and water science through hands-on education, data collection and restoration. Funding supports scholarships and reduced tuition for underserved, low-income, bilingual youth.

Many other worthy organizations applied for funding. We are looking for additional funds for these projects and time is of the essence! If you are interested in supporting river health, please send Forever Our Rivers a donation today.

We’ll make sure that we spend it where it is needed most. Because as experts in river health, we don’t just cut checks and call it a day. We meticulously vet our nonprofit partners, exclusively teaming up with passionate and diligent nonprofits. Our grant programs play a vital role in filling critical funding gaps. Together, we can make an even greater impact on the rivers and all that depend on them.

Tributaries to the Colorado River get a funding boost 

Photo by Omar Salmon

Forever Our Rivers is excited to announce grants totaling $169,591 to support the restoration efforts in the Dolores, Escalante, Verde and Gila rivers spanning Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Restoration will focus on removing thick stands of invasive trees and bushes.

Invasive species wreak havoc on river systems. Some plants, like tamarisk, form dense thickets and grow to 20 feet. They bring fire danger to the river because their growth includes high levels of dead leaves and branches. And that’s not all! They make themselves at home by aggressively colonizing. Their leaves deposit salt above and below the soil, making it difficult for native species to survive. 

Tamarisk is not the only problem; Russian olive, tree of heaven, Siberian elm and many more species absorb large amounts of water, create dams that block water flow and destroy native vegetation. Plus, thickets of invasives make it difficult for recreationists to access the river.

Without native species, a river runs down a slippery, unhealthy slope that reduces its ability to function and deliver ecosystem services properly. What does that mean? Well, to start, both water quality and quantity decline.

Plus, native species, from bugs to butterflies, fish and frogs, even elk and beaver cannot survive or breed without their appropriate, native food and nesting sites. 

More than 4,988 acres across these Colorado River tributaries have been treated and thousands of the nasty invasive plants have been destroyed due to a long-standing partnership between Forever Our Rivers, the Walton Family Foundation and Conservation Legacy. 

Ann Johnston, the executive director of Forever Our Rivers Foundation, aptly observed, “Restoration is a process that happens over time, almost always extending beyond the timelines of individual projects. That is one reason this award is so important”. 

Included in the grant award are funds for strike teams. These teams check out the four river areas annually to see how things are going. “One of the most important tasks for strike teams is to collect data about previous years’ noxious plant treatments and native regrowth,” said Johnston. “Think of the strike teams as nature detectives, collecting the past data, identifying which treatments are most successful and altering processes going forward to reflect that.” 

On-the-ground restoration is accomplished by RiversEdge West of Grand Junction, CO, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners of Escalante, Utah, and in Arizona, the Friends of the Verde River and Gila Watershed Partnership.

Preserving the Spectacle: Kokanee Salmon Run in the Gunnison River

As the leaves begin to show their vibrant autumn colors in Colorado, a natural spectacle unfolds along the Gunnison River that draws locals and tourists alike. The Kokanee salmon run, a remarkable event, not only captivates the eyes but also underscores the critical need to help our rivers thrive. The Kokanee salmon make a crazy journey upstream from Blue Mesa Reservoir to the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, and their survival depends on the efforts of wildlife and river organizations like Forever Our Rivers. This salmon run offers excellent and unique fall fishing opportunities as the seasons change.

Patrick Blackdale, fly fishing guide with Willowfly Anglers at Three Rivers Resorts, believes fishing for Kokanee salmon is one of the most fun angling opportunities in the Gunnison Valley. “It’s great for both beginner and seasoned fly fishers. One of the best ways to experience the Kokanee run is by hiring a professional fly fishing guide through a company like Three Rivers Resort. They know the best spots and can teach you where and how to fish for these unique and iconic landlocked salmon,” he mentions.

What are Kokanee salmon?

Kokanee salmon are a close relative to the Pacific sockeye salmon. While the Kokanee are landlocked, they have a similar reproductive process, which includes migrating upstream in moving water to spawn. They are a sight to behold, particularly during their spawning season when their silvery-blue bodies transform into fiery shades of red and green. The salmon were introduced to the Blue Lake Reservoir around 1966 and made themselves right at home. Now, they’re like the “cool kids on the block,” loved by anglers and nature buffs. While they aren’t from Colorado originally, they’ve sure found their place in the Gunnison River and play a pretty important role in the ecosystem and economy. 

While non-native species like the Kokanee salmon may not have naturally evolved in this Colorado river, they are like the puzzle piece that fits just right, filling in gaps that would otherwise be empty in the food chain. Kokanee are an essential food source for various native predators such as bald eagles, ospreys, river otters and bears. Their presence can support the survival and reproduction of these amazing creatures. Kokanee also attract those who love to fish and get a kick out of catching them—giving a boost to the local economy. “An absence of Kokanee salmon would undoubtedly affect all of the above,” Patrick continues. 

The Incredible Kokanee Salmon Run

“Autumn is a special time for anglers here,” Patrick states. Imagine a river teeming with flashes of brilliant red as thousands of Kokanee salmon swim upstream to spawn. This mesmerizing event takes place in a few destinations in Colorado, with the Gunnison River being one of them, transforming the river into a living tapestry of colors. Running anytime from late August to mid-October, these salmon embark on an epic upstream journey from the depths of Blue Mesa Reservoir to the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery in Almont, CO. The journey is tough, sure, yet essential for the continuation of the species.

“I enjoy the hard-fighting nature of Kokanee salmon, as well as their unique appearance,” Patrick continues. “As a guide, the Kokanee offer an opportunity for novice anglers to learn to fight strong fish in good numbers. It is certainly a less “technical” fishing style than most trout fishing, which makes it great for beginners.“

River Conservation’s Effect on Salmon

Now, imagine standing in awe as the Kokanee make their majestic run. Beyond this captivating sight lies a profound lesson about the significance of maintaining the health of our rivers. These waterways are not mere channels; they provide homes that sustain diverse aquatic species, conduits that send clean water to communities, and soul soothers that provide amazing recreation for individuals.

In recent years, the hatchery has found that not as many salmon are returning and numbers are dwindling. It’s possible that the drought in the past few years has been one of the biggest challenges for the salmon. Blue Mesa Reservoir’s levels were nowhere near where they used to be. The waters are warmer which makes a less-than-ideal environment for the Kokanee. 

In a nutshell, it’s like a chain reaction. If the river isn’t in good shape for the Kokanee salmon, it becomes a food desert for birds and bears.  And when waters become too warm, the whole natural balance goes bonkers. Even the local economy could take a hit if anglers decide to cast their lines in greener pastures. So, conservation isn’t just about saving some beautiful salmon – it’s about keeping the entire show running smoothly. When we look after our rivers, we’re basically looking after ourselves and all the critters sharing this awesome place with us.

Patrick agrees. “I believe river conservation is the responsibility of all anglers and river users. It is easier than ever to be involved with nonprofits working hard to safeguard our water. We strongly encourage all anglers and river enthusiasts to be involved in river stewardship, to give back to the waters that give them so much.”

A River Steward Extraordinaire from Marble, CO

Photo by Laurel Janeen Smith

Nestled amidst the pristine landscapes of Colorado, the small town of Marble boasts not only breathtaking scenery but an incredible small business owner and river steward, Jaime Fiske. 

“I’m passionate about connecting people with the great outdoors through our business, SUP Marble. Despite concerns about overcrowding and environmental damage, I believe that with proper education on safety and respect for nature, our landscapes can thrive,” she states.

Jaime co-owns SUP Marble with her mom, Cyndi. Renowned for her passion for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), yoga and commitment to connecting everyone to their waters, Jaime has become a true river champion. From advocating for equitable access to Beaver Lake in Marble, partnering with Forever Our Rivers, teaching students at Marble Charter School and sharing her SUP skills with the community, she has made a lasting impact on the region.

Discovering the River’s Magic

For Jaime, connection with water began at an early age when she started swimming lessons. She was competitively swimming by the time she was eight years old. Raised in a family that appreciated nature’s beauty, Jaime’s love for the environment blossomed into a lifelong passion. Her parents moved to Marble in 1996 and Jaime fell in love with the lakes and rivers of the  Crystal River Valley.

About 15 years ago, Jaime discovered the joy of SUP in La Ventana, Baja California, on the waters of the Sea of Cortez. Since then, she has ventured to and settled in the West, exploring rivers and lakes with her SUP skills. While on the vast ocean, she found the waves and unpredictable movements challenging, being pushed in various directions. Even though she had a lot of fun with that challenge, her passion has shifted to floating down rivers, where she finds solace in the unidirectional flow. Although the rivers can still be unpredictable, Jaime has developed an intimate connection with them, learning to read their currents and becoming one with the water. “In recent years, my bond with rivers has grown stronger. Everything feels better on the water. When I’m out on the river, I experience a profound sense of peace, happiness, and excitement,” Jaime expressed. “Riding the rivers fills me with so many positive emotions.”

Advocating for Our Lifelines

Driven by her determination to make a positive impact, Jaime wholeheartedly embraces the role of a river steward. Her commitment to river safety, restoration and sustainable practices has only grown stronger over the last couple of years. Sharing her experiences, she mentions participating in cleanups at Beaver Lake in Marble with her parents and picking up trash from the Crystal and Roaring Fork Rivers while fishing alongside her husband. Despite the progress made, Jaime knows there is still much to be done, and she eagerly anticipates continuing her efforts to benefit the well-being of our rivers.

Looking ahead, Jaime has aspirations to volunteer with RiversEdge West, where she hopes to learn about and actively remove noxious weeds from the riverbanks. Moreover, she encourages others to join in river clean-ups, weed removal and trail building with local organizations like the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. For those seeking a deeper connection with the lifelines of our communities, Jaime suggests delving into books like “The Emerald Mile” or “Where the Water Goes.”

SUP Marble: Voyage to Tranquility

In a quest to share their love of water and promote wellness, Jaime and Cyndi created SUP Marble in 2018 to share a “Voyage to Tranquility” in the Crystal River Valley. SUPing has become increasingly popular, and Jaime sees an opportunity to leverage this sport to make a positive impact on the rivers she cherishes. Their mission is to educate recreationists on water safety and the importance of sharing the water with the fish and wildlife that need rivers to survive. 

SUP Marble offers paddleboarding experiences, showcasing the beauty of the waterways and encouraging people to connect with nature responsibly. Through SUP rentals, classes, private lessons, and small events, Jaime also promotes mental and physical wellness, knowing that spending time outdoors is good for your health.

The Ripple Effect of Jaime’s Work

Jaime’s unwavering dedication and hard work have sparked a series of positive changes for Marble and its surrounding areas. Her efforts have not only strengthened people’s connection to rivers but also ignited inspiration for action, whether it involves donating to organizations like Forever Our Rivers, actively participating in restoration efforts, or seeking education about the rivers and wildlife that depend on them. “In one of our breakfast SUP events outside of Carbondale, we had an entire conversation about beavers! We talked about how they impact the area, their history and how they will shape the future of our watersheds. Of course, we also talked about the fun facts like their orange teeth and how their fat helps them float,” she said. “Then, after the event, we were sharing podcasts about them with each other. The learning continues!”

By blending her passion for paddleboarding with wellness and the outdoors, Jaime has reached a broader audience, instilling a sense of environmental responsibility. She has shown that regardless of background, each individual can become a river steward and contribute to a sustainable future for generations to come.

Fighting For the Future of Rivers

Jaime’s story exemplifies the transformative power of passion, dedication and collaboration. Her love for the rivers in the West has led her to become an outstanding river steward, inspiring her community and beyond to join the fight for them. Through SUP Marble and her partnership with Forever Our Rivers, Jaime has showcased how one person can make a remarkable difference and inspire more people than you realize.

Jaime continues, “Once people feel comfortable SUPing on lakes, they like to step into the larger challenge of floating down rivers. I hope to connect with even more people and guide them on how to do it safely while inspiring them to protect these precious waters. As the temperatures of rivers warm due to climate change, moving into this space will connect and teach people about the importance of supporting rivers during this change. Hopefully, they will see how warmer waters do not support native trout and the species that rely on them like bald eagles and osprey and be moved to help.”

As more people meet Jaime, the ripple effect of her work will continue to flow. She’s nurturing a region where people are healthy and safe and the rivers will thrive.

Happy National Rivers Month! We’re celebrating. Are you?

Photo by Paige Hahn

In the West, all communities depend on rivers for clean drinking water and crops, not to mention boating and fishing. Rivers are a way of life and a beautiful source of inspiration. But, we’re sure you already know this. 

Amy, our corporate partnerships manager, had a touching experience a little over a month ago that really demonstrated how important rivers are—to everyone.

“I was volunteering for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, picking up trash along the Colorado River. An unhoused man watched me working for just a moment, then immediately stepped in to help,” she said. “He mentioned that he didn’t like to wake up next to all the trash and that it made him sad to see rivers treated like that. The rivers were a safe space for him, a beautiful one at that. He continued to state how the rivers are for all of us, and that we should treat them with respect. I had to admit, I 100% agree with him”. 

Together they spent an hour picking up trash. “To see someone constantly on the go, who doesn’t have stable housing, giving his time to clean up our rivers touched my heart. We all need to judge a little less and love a little more. Perhaps we can all learn something from that,” she mentioned.

Together we’ve had a conservation impact of $2.2 million dollars—thank you, friends—with over 5,000 acres of riparian habitat restored. We’ve supported neighbors in need with educational trips on the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers, funded a new boat ramp in Delta, and helped construct beaver dam analogs at the headwaters of the Taylor River to reconnect wetlands and floodplains. Plus we’ve sent crews out to four tributaries of the Colorado River where they will spend 31 weeks removing invasive species and nurturing native habitat for hundreds of species. And we are not done yet! There are many more projects in the works and we look forward to watching the impact grow.

Outside of work, we’ve got plans! Ann, our executive director, is already systematic about collecting and reusing water as her shower warms up. This year, she will celebrate National Rivers Month by fully transitioning to native flowers in her garden. She removed her last few non-natives last fall and is looking forward to seeing the new blooms, and water savings, this month. “My mom is always hoping she can influence people to ‘natify’, a word she coined several years ago,” Ann states, smiling. Ann shares her love of native plants and trees. “Not only am I using little to no water, but I’m creating habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats. Native plants make my pollinator and birdwatching better!”

Amy plans to stand up paddleboard and dive back into her photography hobby, starting with rivers as a focal point. At home, she pledges to shorten her showers and reuse vegetable-steamed water for all her plants!

How do you plan to celebrate? One easy way is just to educate yourself. To get you started, we’re sharing five facts we found interesting.

  1. In 1948, to improve riparian habitat in Idaho’s backcountry, Fish and Game captured 76 beavers and parachuted them to a roadless area in the Chamberlin Basin. All but one survived and got right to work. 
  1. The Snake River flows through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. It is famous for Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. It’s also one of two rivers in the United States that flows north!
  1. Twenty countries in the world do not have permanent, natural rivers. 
  1. The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States, flowing about 692 miles. It starts in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, passes through Montana, and eventually joins the Missouri River.
  1. In 1900, under the cover of night, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River, increasing its flow from Lake Michigan and doubling the size of the Illinois River. 

Whatever you decide to do, have fun, learn lots and enjoy the rivers! We hope your month is full of many amazing memories. Share your river experiences with us online using hashtags #ForeverOurRivers and #NationalRiversMonth. We’d love to see how you chose to celebrate!