Pikes Peak Watershed Erosion Control and Restoration Project

The Pikes Peak Watershed Erosion Control and Restoration Project is a a large-scale, multi-year cooperative project between RMFI, the Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club, the U.S. Forest Service, and the City of Colorado Springs to address severe sedimentation and erosion impacts caused by stormwater runoff from the Pikes Peak Highway.
Timber retaining walls help stabilize banks within the watershed drainages.

BACKGROUND

Pikes Peak, renowned as "America's Mountain," is located west of Colorado Springs and reaches a height of 14,115 feet. The peak is one of the principal landmarks in the western United States and provided inspiration for the song "America the Beautiful." The peak is presently the second most visited mountain in the world after Japan's Mount Fuji. Over 15,000 hikers climb the peak each year and over 300,000 visitors arrive at the summit via the Pikes Peak Highway, a 19-mile toll road, operated year-round by the City of Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is also one of the most important natural areas in the region. The mountain provides critical habitat for a wide range of native flora and fauna including populations of the federally listed Colorado greenback cutthroat trout. In addition, the Pikes Peak Watershed is the principal local source of water for the communities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.

The Pikes Peak Highway has long been a center of controversy. Beginning as early as 1952, nearly a dozen reports and studies from several organizations and agencies confirmed the environmental degradation caused by the road upon the surrounding landscape and the Pikes Peak Watershed. All of the reports agreed that the environmental impacts from the Pikes Peak Highway were a direct consequence of the highway being maintained as an unpaved road and that the lack of proper water control structures were a principal factor behind the degradation. The discharge of stormwater runoff from the highway unto unprotected slopes resulted in the creation of over 120 gullies within the watershed. These gullies facilitated the transport of road material and radically increased natural erosion rates. In addition, several critical wetlands were inundated with multiple feet of sediment, threatening their natural health and function.

In 1998, the Sierra Club filed suit in U.S. District Court against the City of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service alleging violations of the Clean Water Act in the management of the Pikes Peak Highway. In 2000, the Court ruled in favor of the Sierra Club and instructed the City of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service to address the erosion and sedimentation problems of the highway and to bring the road into compliance with the provisions of the Clean Water Act. The court set a timeline of 10 years for these improvements to be made. Under the settlement, $600,000 dollars was also awarded to the Sierra Club for remediation and restoration work outside the highway corridor. These monies were placed into a fund (the Pikes Peak Fund), with the Sierra Club, the City of Colorado Springs, and the U.S. Forest Service acting as partners to ensure the best use of these monies for erosion control and restoration work.

In 2003, RMFI was contracted by the Pikes Peak Fund to assess the environmental damage outside the highway corridor and begin prioritizing basins within the watershed for erosion control and restoration projects. This work was completed in 2005, with four basins (North Crystal Creek, Severy Creek, Ski Creek, and the East Fork of Beaver Creek) identified as a high priority. RMFI was then asked by the Pikes Peak Fund partners to oversee erosion control and restoration work in these basins through the ongoing Pikes Peak Watershed Erosion Control and Restoration Project. Since that time, the Pikes Peak Highway has been fully paved and RMFI has been working closely with all project partners to remediate and restore impacted areas within the watershed.

WORK OBJECTIVES

The primary project goal is to assist the U.S. Forest Service and the City of Colorado Springs in controlling erosion and mitigating damage to wetlands and streams within the Pikes Peak Watershed that have been adversely affected by runoff and sedimentation from the Pikes Peak Highway. Specific objectives include:

  • Completing erosion control and gully stabilization to reduce sediment entering the streams and wetlands on Pikes Peak.
  • Restoring wetlands buried by sediment to enhance wildlife habitat and improve water quality.
  • Conducting research to monitor the effectiveness of work completed under the project for use in other mountain areas impacted by erosion from stormwater runoff.

2018 WORK FOCUS

  • Complete restoration of bare landscapes and wetland revegetation.

PROJECT PARTNERS AND FUNDERS

  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Friends of the Peak
  • Pikes Peak Fund
  • Sierra Club - Pikes Peak Chapter
  • U.S. Forest Service