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Hydrologic restoration of a fen in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

Abstract

Big Meadows, a 63-ha fen in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), was ditched for agricultural purposes in the early part of this century. Although use of the ditch ceased after the establishment of RMNP in 1915, it continued to intercept sheet flows in the central and southern portions of the fen, causing the ground-water level to decrease and aerobic soil conditions to develop in the mid- to late-summer of most years. In 1990, the ditch was blocked in an attempt to restore the hydrologic regime in the central and southern portions of the fen. Water-level data from three years prior to restoration and four years after restoration show that blocking the ditch successfully restored surface sheet flow, high late-summer watertable levels, and anaerobic soil conditions in much of the central and southern portions of the fen. Conditions in these areas are now similar to those in the northern portion of the fen. The long-term data from this site also indicate that summer rainfall has a greater influence on the magnitude of late-summer drying than the size of the winter snowpack. In a post-restoration year with extremely low rainfall in July and August, water levels throughout the fen decreased to levels similar to those observed throughout most of the pre-restoration period. The study suggests that this and other fens in the southern Rocky Mountains are extremely sensitive to summer precipitation and the hydrologic changes created by even small ditches or water diversions.

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Correspondence to David J. Cooper.

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Cooper, D.J., MacDonald, L.H., Wenger, S.K. et al. Hydrologic restoration of a fen in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA. Wetlands 18, 335–345 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03161529

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Key Words

  • fen
  • hydrology
  • restoration
  • Colorado
  • Rocky Mountains