Arkansas River Diversion makes river navigable from Leadville to Cañon City

GRANITE — For the first time in more than 55 years, rafters can float the Arkansas from Leadville to Cañon City, without portaging, thanks to a project that reconnected a section of the river between Granite and Buena Vista. A partnership between two major water municipalities –  Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water – in collaboration with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, made this possible.

Dubbed the Homestake Arkansas River Diversion, it’s part of the vast Colorado Springs- and Aurora-owned Homestake Project, that brings Eagle River Basin water from the Holy Cross Wilderness to the Arkansas River Basin, through the Homestake, Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs for delivery of water to Colorado Springs and Aurora.

The Homestake Arkansas River Diversion project redesigned an unnavigable 1964 era design, just below Granite and transformed it into an industry best practice passage that allows both boaters to move down and trout to move up this previously unnavigable stretch of the river.

“Through the hard work of our Homestake partners, input from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, grant money from both CPW and the Colorado Conservation Board and easement access courtesy of the Pueblo Board of Waterworks, the Homestake Arkansas River Diversion is a shining example of collaboration creating a win-win-win project,” stated Keith Riley, Colorado Springs General Manager of Operations.

“It’s a win for water utilities and their customers because it retains a vital Homestake system diversion and flood control point – it’s a win for rafters and recreators because the boat chute makes that area navigable – and it’s a win for the environment because brown and rainbow trout can now spawn upstream using the fish passage,” Riley added.

Gone are the steep walls of blasted rock and concrete blocks jutting with rebar. The river stretch now consists of three channels – one is a fish ladder for spawning brown and rainbow trout. The second channel is a spillway/diversion to accommodate flood-level flows which have occurred in the recent past and the third is a series of six drops allowing rafts and kayakers safe passage.

“The Arkansas River Diversion was a well-planned collaboration between public utilities, government agencies and organizations that utilize the river for commercial rafting and fishing,” said Greg Baker, Manager of Aurora Water Public Relations. “We hope this level of cooperation will become the norm for any large project in Colorado.”

Cost for the $9.1 million project were paid for by a $1.2 million grant provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the CWCB, with the remaining balance split between Homestake partners Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora water.

The Arkansas River accounts for more than $74 million of the $177 million in economic impact created by commercial rafting in Colorado. Of the 322 miles of Colorado waterways that qualify as Gold Medal Fisheries (waters that yield a dozen large trout per acre), the 102 miles of river in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, almost one-third, account for that number.

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