The Paradox picket baffle and restoration revisited in 2022

In 2013, a flood changed the course of East Paradox Creek, several miles east of Bedrock Colorado, so that the creek no longer connected to the Dolores River Oxbow. Oxbows, usually in the shape of a “C” or “U”, provide critical habitat for plants and wildlife, which is why the BLM prioritized restoring the original path of the East Paradox Creek back to the oxbow.

 

An aerial map of the oxbow disconnected from Paradox creek. The stream that once connected to the oxbow has started to flow straight instead of towards the left.
After a flood in 2013, erosion and a new path was clearly marked by satellite imagery for the East Paradox Creek. The creek, usually a thin and meandering ribbon flowing towards the Dolores River Oxbow, was eroding the landscape and damaging downstream infrastructure.

Rather than naturally meandering towards the Dolores River Oxbow, the East Paradox Creek carved a new path straight ahead, causing erosion to the Bureau of Reclamation’s road and groundwater wells adjacent to the Dolores River. To restore the natural curves, BLM, partners, and volunteers began installing cedar posts to create a “picket baffle”, encouraging the stream to follow its historical path to reconnect with the oxbow. The posts slowed water flow, causing a natural barrier of sediments to form and prevent the stream from flowing straight ahead to the newly eroded flood area.

 

On the left, the East Paradox stream is flooded and on the right, an aerial photo shows the extent of flooding. The original, natural flow of the stream is unrecognizable.
After beginning restoration in 2019, it was clear that the picket baffle was starting to make a difference and redirecting the stream to its historical path! Although erosion was still occurring, this was an indication that the restoration was helping restore the ecosystem.

The restoration was completed in 2019 and the team was finally able to see their picket baffle in action in 2021 when a large storm ripped through the Paradox Valley. By visual estimate, the structure was 85% effective in deflecting flows into the oxbow as shown in the drone photos. We measured success in the 2-3 feet of standing water in the oxbow delivering a healthy drink to the drought-stricken cottonwood trees.

 

A collage of many photos with BLM employees and volunteers working with different tools to restore the stream to its original flow. Large stakes were placed in the ground to re-route the stream.
With the help of our volunteers and a mini excavator, a trench was created to install more 8 ft cedar posts to the landscape. This was hard work, since volunteers had to set the posts and backfill the soil with hand tools. The payoff would be worth it!

After the storm, in October of 2021, a volunteer group coordinated by Rivers Edge West and the Dolores Boating Advocates helped the BLM install another 175 cedar posts. The additional posts extended the original picket baffle to make the restoration more effective for future storms. After much hard work, a storm in late July of 2022 and a much bigger storm in early October 2022 restored flow in the historic East Paradox channel and restored flow to the cottonwoods in the oxbow.

 

A photo of the large stakes in the ground that have successfully re-routed the stream.
After a couple storms in 2022, it was clear this restoration was a success. The East Paradox Creek returned to its natural path and the Dolores River Oxbow received water once again. With time, the banks will continue to naturally become more resilient to floods as native vegetation gets established, thanks to the BLM team and partners!

After the last storm in 2022, our BLM teams continue to monitor the progress of restoring the original flow of the East Paradox Creek. We can now see natural banks being created by the stream near the cedar posts with less erosion happening behind the posts. The BLM is happy to have local volunteers willing to collaborate and restore ecosystems. The cottonwoods along the oxbow are definitely thanking us for a fresh drink of water once again!