David Johnson, courtesy photo

Guest Opinion by David Johnson

Editor’s note, David Johnson is the owner of Crystal Fly Shop. 

I’m writing to express my belief that a Crystal River augmentation project with a $1.5 million budget at Janeway would be detrimental to the Crystal River, to the Janeway ecosystem and contradictory to a long-term goal of Wild and Scenic designation. 

The idea of rechanneling part of the Crystal through Janeway was presented at a Restoration Workshop I attended in 2018, and is still under consideration with the West Divide Water Conservancy District and Colorado River Water Conservation District. The goal would supposedly be wetland reconstruction and “natural storage” of water within the wetlands to prolong flows. 

I have spent a lot of time at Janeway and nearby, and instead of benefiting the wildlife, as has been presented, wetland reconstruction would do more harm than good. Janeway hosts elk, deer, turkeys, bears, mountain lions, coyotes and a slew of small mammals and waterfowl.

Particularly in the spring and winter, Janeway is crucial to elk as the meadow provides grass for foraging. Creating a side channel through Janeway would deplete these grasses, grow more willows — which is a much worse food source for big game in the winter — and leave empty ditches full of mud and red sandstone for most of the year where grass once grew. 

 In fact, a wetlands already exists in the wooded area at the north end of Janeway where the river bends back to the east and creates aquifers during high water, so an additional wetland is not needed. That wooded area provides cover for animals, but is nearly impenetrable at certain spots. During winter and spring, elk come out of these and other neighboring woods because they need the grass in the open meadow. 

The Avalanche and Janeway areas have been ground zero the last couple of years (hundreds of thousands of years, really) for mudslides coming out of the Swiss Village area, the Narrows and Avalanche Creek. If you park at the Forest Service sign, you will see the detritus of this summer’s mudslides still lining the banks and the shallows of the river — often many inches deep. If a channel is carved out of the river at the south end of Janeway, that channel will filter tons of sediment into the Janeway meadow from Swiss Village and choke off vegetation. That meadow would look like the old campground near the Avalanche trailhead just up the road — a mud pit. 

Creating another diversion off of the Crystal River will only decrease flows year round, most importantly during mudslide events when the river needs flows to be as high as possible to flush sediment downriver. 

Water is the greatest artist and provider of life. For millions of years, water has used erosion as its medium to sculpt the mountains and landscapes that we now see, and rivers have carried away the crumbs of that rock and earth in the form of sediment. This is what rivers do. This is why the Crystal Rivers needs to remain undammed, and Wild and Scenic — or a hybrid version — may be the best way to assure this

From a fisheries standpoint, many of the most popular and productive fisheries in the West are tailwaters — dam controlled. More consistent flows create more dependable insect life, consistent temperatures and often better reproductive rates for trout and salmonids (unless dams themselves create obstacles to upstream spawning areas).

The reason why the Crystal would not benefit as a fishery from damming, like other rivers have, is because the Crystal Valley simply has too much erosion and the river needs these large natural spikes in flow to flush sediment; which, in this case, keeps it from choking off insect life and oxygen levels for fish. 

In the last few years, natural erosion of mainly sandstone in twenty or more slide paths from Perham to Placita has put more material into the river system than even the human-induced erosion at Coal Basin. When you add the massive amounts of slate from Slate Creek in Marble to the mix, it becomes obvious that any type of damming of the Crystal River will just add large deposits of sediment within the river system since dams are almost never managed to provide flushing flows when sediment levels are so high. 

This is why we need Wild and Scenic designation, and this is why we need to leave Janeway “unimproved” as a condition thereof. Leave the Crystal alone, and leave Janeway alone. If the river wants to find its way into that meadow, it will.