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.

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.

A little fish with a big reputation: the Colorado River cutthroat trout

Even if you live in the West and fishing isn’t your passion, it still seems likely you’ve heard of cutthroat trout, swimming throughout the waters of the West. The Colorado River cutthroat trout is one of three subspecies of cutthroat trout and is native only to the Green and Colorado River basins in the Western United States. This small but mighty fish has been an icon of the region for centuries. It is an important source of food for many species of birds, as well as bears and river otters.  Fly fishing anglers from all over the states flock to Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to experience the colorful spotted beauties. 

A beautiful, distinctive fish that’s a gem to see.

The Colorado River cutthroat trout has been called one of the most beautiful fish in North America—and we agree. Their identifiable markings include a bright yellow-gold body, often with greenish-brown on its back and darker spotting on the sides. The belly is pale and the fins are reddish or orange. The trout also has a reddish stripe under its lower jaw, distinguishing it from other trout species.

The average size of these trout is around 8-10 inches in length, but they can grow up to 18 inches. A trout that size is rare because they mostly live at high altitudes where the growing season is short and much of their habitat has been degraded.

The more habitat these fish can reclaim, the better.

The trout are found mostly in the Green and Colorado River basins. Historically, they inhabited the Colorado River and its tributaries from the headwaters in Colorado and Wyoming down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. However, the population has declined significantly over the years due to human activity and introduced non-native species.

Today, the remaining populations of the Colorado River cutthroat trout are found in small, isolated streams and lakes in the higher elevations of headwaters. These fish require cold, clear water with high oxygen levels and gravelly or rocky stream bottoms for spawning.

They are another native species, threatened and declining.

The 1800s did not fare well for the Colorado River cutthroat trout. They were overfished and brought to the point of near extinction. Though their population has declined by over 90%, restocking of cutthroat and removal of nonnative species has helped. The trout are now listed as threatened versus endangered. The primary risks include habitat destruction, overfishing, water diversions and withdrawals, and the introduction of more non-native fish species.

Water diversions disrupt the natural flow of rivers and streams, affecting the trout’s ability to spawn and access their habitat. When non-native fish such as brown and rainbow trout were introduced, it opened up a whole new danger, as they prey upon the cutthroat. Climate change, wildfires and droughts also limit and degrade their habitat.

You can help this iconic fish live on.

Photo courtesy of Rick Lafaro

Efforts to conserve the trout have been ongoing for decades, including the restoration of diverse yet well-connected streams with boulders and large, downed trees that provide cover from predators. Also critical are fish passage projects, the reintroduction of native trout populations, and the removal of brown and rainbow trout from where they don’t naturally live.

Organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and wildlife agencies, are working together to protect and restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout and its habitat. These organizations also educate the public about the importance of conservation and responsible angling practices. While the cutthroat faces numerous threats, ongoing conservation efforts offer hope for its long-term survival.

Anglers can do their part by practicing responsible fishing practices, such as catch-and-release and avoiding fishing during spawning periods. Others can volunteer or give to organizations, like Forever Our Rivers, which works hard to restore aquatic and riparian habitat within and along rivers, crucial for the trout’s survival. The more habitat the better, and by working together, we can ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the beauty and majesty of this remarkable, reputable fish.

$158,000 grant improves river health in the Colorado River basin

With a $158,000 grant awarded by Forever Our Rivers Foundation, conservation crews have a head start on their annual quest to improve the health of the Colorado River basin.

Crew members will monitor, treat and prevent non-native species like tamarisk—one of the most invasive plants in the Colorado River basin—and nurture native species in Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

When harmful invasives are removed and replaced with native plants, the resulting increased biodiversity allows ecosystems to thrive and become more resilient to a changing climate.

“Combating invasive species is essential, and not only for protecting our unsurpassed hiking, fishing and boating experiences,” said Ann Johnston, executive director of Forever Our Rivers. “Rivers and streams are far more important than the water running through them.”

Conservation Legacy of Durango, Colorado, will lead the crews in partnership with watershed groups in the Dolores, Escalante, Verde and Gila Rivers of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Their Southwest Conservation Crews will work directly with local nonprofits in the individual watersheds.

“The funding not only progresses the vital restoration efforts of the watershed partnerships, it educates youth by engaging them directly with the work and helps build the next generation of land stewards,” said Nate Peters, Conservation Legacy’s watershed programs manager.

Healthy rivers provide clean water, store carbon, and serve as a buttress against the impacts of climate change. Introduced in the 1950s, Russian olive and tamarisk quickly choked waterways with dense growth that outcompeted native vegetation such as cottonwoods and willows, leading to severe channel narrowing. Preliminary research shows a significant decrease in channel width following the Russian Olive and tamarisk invasions, and a beneficial increase in width after treatment. In other words, treatment not only allows for the recovery of native vegetation but also restores more natural river geomorphology and meander. It also lowers fire danger and improves river access. 

Conservation Legacy and the Southwest Conservation Crews will continue this important work throughout the summer and fall of 2023.