Voices from the River: The Crick

By Cary Denison

In early May 2009, a few years before being hired by Trout Unlimited, I stood beside my friend Paul and rubbernecked at what I can best describe, using local western Colorado jargon, as a “crick” (too small to be regarded a creek). Not much more than two feet across at the widest and 12 inches deep in the deepest, the crick emerged at the toe of a scree field swung through a meadow amongst stands of trees before plummeting off the valley’s rim to Anthracite Creek below.

Paul’s job was to build a cabin in the meadow along with the requisite driveway, and mine was to secure the necessary permits, including a 404 clean water permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

This all seemed very straightforward; the waterway was connected to the rest of the watershed by surface hydrology and it had all the workings of a stream. Therefore, I assumed that the act of placing a culvert in the stream would constitute fill below the ordinary high water mark and would require a permit.

No problem. I got to work.

Three weeks later, I was standing in the same spot at crick’s edge with Steve, the representative from the Corps, who was giving me the look one reserves for crazy people. The flowing crick had vanished, save for a few puddles and the obvious channel left behind. High spring temperatures, above average number of dust on snow events, and a less than stellar snowpack had left this tributary temporarily high and dry. The seasonal (or in technical jargon, "intermittent or ephemeral") qualities of the stream left Steve in a bit of predicament. It was his job, following Clean Water Act guidelines, to determine this now-dry channel’s degree of connectivity or “significant nexus” with larger perennial streams considered navigable waters.

Steve wasn’t alone in this struggle. Determining the connectivity and importance of these smaller bodies of waters and wetlands have been a struggle for the Army Corps and developers alike. In 2014 the EPA and Army Corps made efforts to update the definition of “waters of the United States,” which would have clarified the protection of these ephemeral and intermittent streams under the Clean Water Act. The scientific literature that informed the proposed rules undeniably demonstrated that seasonal streams, regardless of their size, are connected to downstream waters and strongly influence their function.

 But Paul and I didn’t need to read peer-reviewed studies to know that this little crick, like the millions of other intermittent streams like it, combine with other unnamed water sources, transporting runoff, sediment, food and many other important elements vital for cold, clean, fishable waters.

The Trump administration is currently taking comments on the so-called “Clean Water Rule,” which protects more than 60 percent of Colorado’s stream miles that are classified as ephemeral and intermittent.

Not all streams are trout streams, but if we intend to protect those we cherish, we’ll need to protect all these little cricks we often don’t notice.

Stand up for the Clean Water Act--the most important law for protecting our home waters--by going to TU's Action Center

Cary Denison is a project manager for TU's Colorado Water and Habitat Project in western Colorado


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