It Ain't Prettygold7

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2011 was quite a year. I’m thankful. Before I wax nostalgic and get sentimental, I want to close with one last field report from the South Platte River.

Here is the good news: The mitigation efforts continue at the Sand Creek site more than a month after the initial petroleum/benzene spill was first reported. Oil spill booms are still in the river and at least seven or eight workers remain on site.  After inspecting the water coming out of Sand Creek into the South Platte on December 27, there is now little evidence of the toxic substance that was seeping into the creek at an estimated rate of 2,700 gallons/week. 

The pungent gasoline smell that was rich in the air a few days into the initial recovery effort: gone.

The blue and green petroleum blooms that I had seen moving from Sand Creek into the main stem of the South Platte a few weeks into the mitigation efforts are no longer visible to the naked eye.

When I had first visited the site some of the workers would intermittently blow an air horn. It was perplexing. I had a chance to talk to one guys working the site about it.

“The horn is for the ducks. We can’t have them swimming in the creek yet,” he said. “When they fly on to land we hit the horn. It scares them off.”

People are trying to do the right thing. The situation seems to be improving.

So here is the bad news: When Trevor Tanner and I moved 30 feet down from the confluence of Sand Creek and the South Platte river and stepped into the the water small globs of petroleum kicked up from the river’s bottom. I lifted a rock that was about the size of a baseball from the river and smelled the portion that was submerged in the sand and mud. It smelled like the gas cap from my 4Runner. I lifted another rock and the petroleum bloom that came to the surface was the size of a large pizza.

We moved down the east bank of the river and found the same symptoms. If you haven’t had a major petroleum spill in your home waters and you are interested in what it looks like, here you go.

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We crossed back to the west side of the South Platte river, which is the opposite bank from where Sand Creek flows and repeated the same unscientific test. Nothing. No gas smell under the rocks, no petroleum blooms in the water. We also saw fish in the water there.

We then trekked about 3/4 of a mile down river to the confluence where Clear Creek meets the South Platte. There was no one fishing, but there was a guy mining for gold. No joke!

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We crossed to the east bank and repeated the same field test. Same results—the river bottom smelled like gas and some type of petroleum-like residue was released to the surface.

Whatever was leaking out of Sand Creek appears to have taken up residence on the east bank of the South Platte and needs to be addressed. Just because we can’t see evidence on the surface of the water does not mean it is not there.

On that uplifting note, here is some positive news on the Denver South Platte. The Denver Post recently ran a front page article announcing a $4M project aimed at making improvements to the river. This site is miles upstream from Sand Creek and the spill site. Here are a few excerpts written by Bruce Finley:

South-metro leaders and a growing number of fishermen are pushing to let the South Platte be more of a natural river as it flows down from the mountains through the Denver area. They’re planning to rechannel the river, revegetate and bring in boulders to rehabilitate the wide, shallow waterway into a deeper, meandering river that could sustain significantly more fish.

The $4 million project run by South Suburban Parks and Recreation, with support from Arapahoe County and Littleton, would scoop a deeper channel into a 2.4-mile stretch of the river south of central Denver.

“If there was enough of a will within the city of Denver, the city could create a trout fishery through Denver,” said John Woodling, a retired state fish biologist who for years ran sampling stations that proved trout exist in the warm waters of the South Platte.

About three years ago, Woodling, 65, went along with a state water-quality-control commission reclassification of the South Platte that resulted in relaxed standards for discharges by water-treatment plants — a decision Woodling said he regrets.

“Here’s a resource that could be protected, a resource that could be far more important to our society than it is now,” he said. “We’ve been sold — and I helped sell — a bill of goods for a long time which said that there is nothing there to protect.”

Read more on Denver’s South Platte River rehabilitation plan, here.

As we move into the New Year and I think back on 2011—the good and the bad—I’m struck with one thought: just because this river is the way it is, doesn’t mean that it has to be the same in the future. 

Below are some photos from this year. As I go through these images I’m thankful. For all of you who shared your time with me this year and shared a technique, or a spot, your humor, your perspective, your compassion, a beer, your passion for the environment where you fish, a fly—thank you. You know who you are.

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A few shout outs are also due.

Drake Readers: for reading my stuff and hopefully taking something away from it.

Geoff and Tom: for giving me an opportunity to write.

My wife Sara: thanks for putting up with all my bullshit.

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Matt Dunn, Kevin Morlock, and Steve Martinez: your hospitality on Beaver Island was epic.

Kevin Wright and Mike Marcus: thanks for the introduction to the OP.

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Phil and Mitch: thanks for putting up with my carp bullshit and the exploratory missions that typically ended up – fishless.

Chris Santella: thanks for including the DSP in your book with such good company.

Todd Fehr, Cory Stansbury, Clem, Tim Emery: you put the Carp Slam on the map.

Michael Gracie: although the fish count was low this year, the fishing was fun.

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John Turcott—thanks for showing me your home water.

All my friends and family who sponsored me and donated over $1,400 to Denver Trout Unlimited and the Carp Slam (please note, here is the official list of sponsors for the aforementioned improvement project, these are your donated funds at work: initial funding will come from the City of Littleton, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Trout Unlimited, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, along with grants from Colorado Division of Wildlife and others, including Great Outdoors Colorado). THANK YOU.

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Tim Romano and Kirk Deeter—you guys set the bar. A class act. The fact that you bumped yourselves from a flight and spent 7 hours in a car with me? C’mon…

Here is a quote I’ll leave you with as you think about the new year, contemplate fishing new locations, approaching a new species, or getting involved with an organization that help protect what we all love:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

—Author Unknown

Will Rice
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