Is this a sample from a healthy stream?
A watershed's water quality is the backbone of its ecosystem. People enjoy fishing, boating, and recreating along the Lake Fork because the water quality supports a healthy trout population. And health is always reflected in aesthetics -- it's beautiful out there!
Generally, the Lake Fork has good-quality water, but in some areas degraded water quality and metal toxicity affects ecosystem health, primarily the result of historic mining activities and natural background contamination, especially in the upper watershed.
Lake City’s municipal water source is from alluvial aquifers along Henson Creek and the Lake Fork, and although not documented presently, degraded water in either of these two streams may eventually affect municipal water quality. Degraded water quality also threatens fish populations, wildlife and vegetation. For example, cadmium toxicity has been documented in ptarmigan populations in the Upper Henson.
Palmetto Gulch at the headwaters of Henson Creek is by far the most heavily impacted area from historic mining. Targeted water chemistry and macro-invertebrate sampling in Palmetto Gulch, beginning in 1995, has indicated high concentrations of heavy metals in soil and water samples.
The sampling of water quality and mine dumps and mill sites in Henson Creek drainage in 2005 helped to identify and prioritize key sites for future clean-up. The historic mining attributes within the Henson Creek drainage are continually contributing metals into the creek and surrounding areas, and will continue until removal/reclamation occurs.
Little information exists for Lake San Cristobal and the main stem of the Lake Fork in areas impacted by increasing development. Identified issues include potential water quality impairments due to historic mining, leaking septic systems and grazing, hydrologic alteration, and heavy sedimentation in to the lake.
The Lake Fork’s principal tributary, Henson Creek, joins the river in Lake City and creates a sixth order stream from this confluence to the river’s terminus at Blue Mesa Reservoir located approximately 30 miles downstream.
Stream geomorphologic types in the watershed range from A1 (Rosgen classification) in the headwater tributaries to C4 on the lower Lake Fork, with sections of braiding stream channel (D4) in relatively wide valleys. Stream stability ranges from high in entrenched reaches with a stable riparian community to low in reaches with high bed load deposition and/or active stream bank erosion.
The majority of Henson Creek and the Lake Fork in the vicinity of Lake City have been channelized, but much remains undisturbed as water flows through relatively inaccessible shallow canyons.
The general pattern of seasonal flows on the Lake Fork River includes a low flow period that runs from mid-August through April where mean annual flow rates range from 44 to 207 cubic feet per second, and a higher flow period that runs from May through mid-August when mean annual flow rates range from 207 to 960 cubic feet per second, with seasonal highs in May and June due to snowmelt runoff (USGS, 2009).
River flows have a direct impact on land use, channel size, fish habitat, and flood plain and wetland ecosystems. Steams across Colorado are seeing increasing threats to their natural flows because of an increasing human population’s demand for water. The net result is generally less water in the rivers.
Rivers in Hinsdale County are experiencing this same problem. The fishery resource in the watershed has been described as the lifeblood of the Lake City community. Reduced flows, especially when combined with drought, negatively impact the community, the river, and the ecosystems that depend upon it.
First to feel the effects of reduced flows are the fish populations and the streamside wetland/riparian communities which sustain the aquatic ecosystem. These natural elements are the foundation of the cultural and economic values of the community.
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