Nestlé Waters North America, Inc. began improvements to its reclamation habitat, near Ruby Mountain recreation area, the first week of April and expects to be finished by the end of May.
In 2009, when Nestlé purchased the property on the banks of the Arkansas River for its three natural springs, the corporation committed to reclamation of the fish hatchery there to a more natural state.
Mike Allen, communication relations consultant for Nestlé, said the project is about two weeks behind schedule because of unexpected piping materials.
He said the old fish hatchery had plumbing throughout.
Allen said, despite the delay, he and Nestlé are “content” with how the project is going.
After Nestlé received a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Stream and Wetlands Restoration permit, the first step was relocating the trout that had entered the hatchery system in the past year and a half.
Greg Policky, fish biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, assisted with the relocation.
Allen said about 300 fish were relocated to the Arkansas River in March, and a screen was installed in the lower pond to prevent fish from traveling to the ponds under construction.
He said, despite the construction, the fish keep coming back – proof, he said, that the site is an important habitat.
Allen said removing the concrete raceways from the hatchery was the first construction at the site.
Miles Construction Co., Buena Vista, was awarded the bid contract, he said.
Allen said the plan is to remove all man-made structures, culverts and excess piping to make the site as natural as possible.
He said the lower pond will stay much the same and will continue to measure the flow via the weir until that is removed; then flows will be measured from the wells.
Allen said removing the weir will require approval by Chaffee County, which means Nestlé must provide records proving monitoring the wells could be done long term.
Part of the plan is to create a natural trout-spawning habitat, he said.
The middle pond, where the majority of the concrete had been, will be transformed into a meandering channel.
In the end, Allen said there will be less surface area than when the project started.
The upper pond will be six to eight feet deep with a waterfowl habitat island.
Allen said ducks have begun to visit the unfinished island, even during construction.
Rod Van Velson, former fish biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, has been hired to consult with Nestlé on river natural rehabilitation.
He will be on site to help with the stream system component in a couple of weeks, Allen said.
Students from Colorado Mountain College Natural Resource Management have been assisting with the project since 2010, Allen said.
They have helped with revegetation, he said, and have been a “good partnership.”
After reclamation is finished, the students will continue to monitor the area.
The only man-made feature will be the newly constructed parking lot for school buses, which will also feature an informational kiosk about the habitat.
Allen said the site will not be open to the public but will be available by appointment to schools and education groups like Greater Arkansas River Nature Association.
He said Nestlé didn’t want to create a park, but a preserved natural habitat with the opportunity for education.