Xcel Energy Foundation Funds Riverside Habitat Improvement and Education in the Grand Valley

RiversEdge West
February 27th, 2019
Cara Kukuraitis
RiversEdge West
February 27, 2019
Xcel Energy Foundation Funds Riverside Habitat Improvement and Education in the Grand Valley
Grand Junction, CO – RiversEdge West, a Grand Junction-based nonprofit focused on the restoration of riverside lands, received $20,000 in 2018 from the Xcel Energy Foundation to support its continued leadership of the Desert Rivers Collaborative (DRC) and river-based community education program.
Riparian (riverside) habitat along many western Colorado rivers, including the Colorado and Gunnison, has been degraded by several factors, including wildfire and invasive plant infestations. As native plant communities are degraded, riparian health and functionality are compromised. Effects of degradation include diminished fish and wildlife habitat, decreased water resources, increased wildfire hazards, and negatively impacted agricultural and recreational use. Ongoing implementation, maintenance, and community education are key strategies for managing these impacts. 
The Desert Rivers Collaborative (DRC) was formed by RiversEdge West in 2012 to provide a coordinated platform for local land managers to conduct restoration efforts for the benefit of overall river health and improved local communities, through enhanced opportunities for recreation, education, and economic benefit. The DRC focuses on the Colorado River in the Grand Valley region, which encompasses Grand Junction, Clifton, Palisade, and Fruita. Projects also span the lower Gunnison River from its confluence with the Colorado River to Delta.
While the management of invasive species has been a strong focus for land managers in the Grand Valley over several decades, many projects lacked funding for monitoring and maintenance and are now in need of retreatment, herbaceous weed spraying, and/or revegetation. This RiversEdge West-led collaborative strives to ensure impactful riverside restoration at the landscape-scale through mapping, planning, joint project implementation, and accountability. 
Funding in 2018 from the Xcel Energy Foundation enabled the DRC and RiversEdge West to carry out projects that are critical in order to successfully restore riverside habitat for the benefit of the community and wildlife, alike.  Across the Grand Valley in 2018, over 124 acres of public land were treated for tamarisk and Russian olive, 84 acres were treated for secondary invasive weeds, such as knapweed, whitetop, and houndstongue and 30 acres of private lands were also treated.
“River restoration work does not happen overnight, it takes a village or as we say, a collaborative; and our partners at the Xcel Energy Foundation are instrumental in this process.”
– Cara Kukuraitis, Director of Community Outreach at RiversEdge West
Support from the Xcel Energy Foundation is also helping DRC partners to currently implement a number of projects in the Grand Valley, guided by a 5-Year Implementation Plan, which includes not only ecological goals, but management, social and economic goals as well. Over the last several years, approximately 1,300 acres of riparian restoration has been undertaken in the Grand Valley, and work is currently planned for several additional sites. In addition to hiring local contractors, these projects provide a steady source of employment for members of the Western Colorado Conservation Corps, which recruits at-risk youth and young adults. 
Another need in the community has been increased awareness about riparian ecology and river management opportunities. In the absence of such education, invasive plant, wildfire, and river health issues persist. Thus, a component of RiversEdge West’s work is focused on educating the Grand Valley community about the importance of riparian lands and how to protect them.
RiversEdge West has become a local resource for riparian restoration education by introducing riparian ecology curriculum to local classrooms across Mesa County as well as hosting educational field trips such as their Raft the River event for the community at large. Raft the River is an educational float trip where guests are toured, via boat, to various restoration sites along the river before enjoying dinner and music. Many of the attendees have reported that Raft the River provided them with their first experience, ever, on a river, even though they had lived in the Grand Valley for their entire life. Thanks in part to funding from the Xcel Energy Foundation, in 2018, RiversEdge West educated over 1,600 students and 150 adults as part of their river education program.  
To learn more about the Desert Rivers Collaborative or RiversEdge West’s education program, visit their website: www.riversedgewest.org.
RiversEdge West is a Grand Junction-based 501 (c) 3 nonprofit dedicated to the restoration of riparian lands through education, collaboration, and technical assistance.
Xcel Energy is a major U.S. electricity and natural gas company operating in eight Western and Midwestern states. The company is committed to providing cost-effective, clean, responsible energy delivered with the highest standards for safety, reliability, and responsiveness. Xcel Energy supports communities in four important focus areas: STEM education; environmental stewardship; economic sustainability; and access to arts and culture.

RiversEdge West's

mission is to advance the restoration of riparian lands through collaboration, education, and technical assistance.