Fort Collins, United States
City population: 165609
Duration: 2010 – 2015
Implementation status: Completed
Scale: Meso-scale: Regional, metropolitan and urban level
Project area: unknown
Type of area: Residental, Public Greenspace Area
Last updated: November 2021

The City of Fort Collins is "taking steps to restore flows, fish passage, and ecological function" of Colorado's Cache la Poudre River (Ref. 6). The river was "heavily manipulated for irrigation and mining" throughout the early 20th century (Ref. 6), and today continues subject to the impacts of gravel mining, agriculture and urbanisation (Ref. 1). Regional climate change predictions further complicate our ability "to understand how the river’s hydrology and ecology may respond to warming climate scenarios" (Ref. 1). The City of Fort Collins was, therefore "invested heavily in this urban river through extensive planning efforts, purchase of approximately 700 hectares of lands within the river’s floodplain, projects to address stormwater control and conveyance, water quality management, and acquisition of in-stream flow water rights", and in 2011, the City’s Natural Areas Department published the Cache la Poudre River Natural Areas Management Plan which outlined "opportunities and challenges in supporting the river’s ecological function and reducing risks to life and property during significant flood events", particularly through the implementation of nature-based solutions (Ref. 1). A suite of nature-based solutions has since been proposed and implemented by the City of Fort Collins, two of which are the Sterling Pond Ecological Restoration (also referred to as North Shields Ponds), and the McMurry Natural Area Ecological Restoration (Refs. 1 and 2).

Sterling Pond Restoration Concept Section 2 as devised by Biohabitats


Nature-based solution

  • Grey infrastructure featuring greens
  • Riverbank greens
  • Parks and urban forests
  • Other
  • Blue infrastructure
  • Rivers/streams/canals/estuaries
  • Wetlands/bogs/fens/marshes
  • Other

Key challenges

  • Climate action for adaptation, resilience and mitigation (SDG 13)
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Water management (SDG 6)
  • Flood protection
  • Improvements to water quality
  • Green space, habitats and biodiversity (SDG 15)
  • Habitat and biodiversity restoration
  • Green space creation and/or management
  • Health and well-being (SDG 3)
  • Improving physical health
  • Creation of opportunities for relaxation and recreation
  • Economic development and employment (SDG 8)
  • Tourism support


Creation of new green areas, Maintenance and management of urban nature, Management of rivers and other blue areas, Ecological restoration of degraded ecosystems, Protection of natural ecosystems, Improved governance of green or blue areas

Project objectives

"The primary objective for the Sterling Pond and McMurry Restoration projects was to remove high, artificial banks [which were] created along the riverbank during gravel mining operations" (Ref. 1). Whilst the creation of these artificial banks sought to prevent river flooding during mining activities, they caused the Cache la Poudre River and its natural processes to become "highly modified and dysfunctional", with the elevated banks resulting in "disconnect[ion] of the river from its floodplain, increased bank erosion due to increased shear stresses resulting from channel confinement, and eliminated bankside vegetation and habitat" (Ref. 1). The project, therefore, sought to undo the channelisation of the river, recognising that the interaction between surface and groundwater is "necessary to sustain river health and habitat while providing for optimal water quality (filtration) and increased water quantities", hence the river ecosystem as a whole needed to be supported, from the river channel through to the riparian forests, and associated wetlands (Ref. 1). Through the implementation of nature-based solutions, the project sought to support "the river's ecological function[ing] and reduc[e] risks to life and property during significant flood events" (Ref. 1).

Implementation activities

In order to mitigate the above sustainability challenges, the following implementation activities were undertaken: - relevant sections of the river were re-naturalised through "significant removal of concrete, debris, and [five] old cars from the river bank placed there historically to prevent erosion" (Refs. 1 & 5); - "steep and unnatural banks" which were constraining the river were lowered, reconnecting the river with its floodplains (Refs. 3 & 5); - material excavated from the artificially high banks at the Sterling Pond sub-project was " the adjacent former gravel pit pond to create a mosaic of riparian woodland, wet meadow and emergent wetland" (Ref. 6); - with both the Sterling and McMurry sites having been recognised as a "degraded ecosystem", a total of five hectares of riparian floodplain forest and several hectares of wetland were restored (Refs. 1, 2 & 3); - in order to "increase native species diversity and enlarge the riparian forest", a total "five diverse vegetated zones were created – emergent wetland, wet meadow, willow, cottonwood, and upland grasslands" (Ref. 1); - 1,200 trees, 25,000 shrubs and 60,000 wetland grass plugs were planted, with an emphasis being placed on planting native vegetation and floodplain trees (Ref. 1); - removal of the Josh Ames Diversion Structure (the defunct concrete dam) sought to achieve "multiple ecological benefits including lowering river water temperatures, eliminating fish barriers, and enhancing public safety for recreational float boating" (Ref. 1); - following removal of the dam, a pool and riffle system was created which sought to "improv[e] aquatic habitat and fish passage and allo[w] for better sediment transport" (Ref. 6); - the natural channel width was restored, and sediment which had accumulated behind the dam was repurposed "to provide additional lateral connectivity and improved riparian habitat essential to insects, fish, birds, and other wildlife" (Ref. 6); - in reconnecting the river with its floodplains, it was hoped that groundwater and fluvial water could interact as an ecosystem, providing flood protection and also reducing "negative physical and chemical changes" associated with low flow periods (Ref. 1); - a pedestrian trail and designated fishing areas were installed "to facilitate public use and stewardship of the site" (Ref. 1); and - "At McMurry, a series of boulders placed at approximate water elevations were placed to help visitors understand the importance of functional floodplains, and the necessity of high river flows to spill out of its channel" (Ref. 1).

Climate-focused activities

Climate change adaptation:

  • Implement solutions to capture/store water to increase its availability and prevent shortages from droughts
  • Increase or improve urban vegetation cover to help reduce outdoor temperature
  • Restore wetlands and/or coastal ecosystems to dissipate the effects of flooding and/or storms
  • Renaturalization of rivers and other water bodies

Biodiversity conservation or restoration-focused activities

Biodiversity restoration:

  • Rehabilitate and restore damaged or destroyed ecosystems
  • Restore species (native, endangered, or unspecified)
  • Restore native species
  • Restore ecological connectivity

Main beneficiaries

  • Citizens or community groups


Management set-up

  • Co-governance with government and non-government actors

Type of initiating organisation

  • Local government/municipality

Participatory approaches/ community involvement

  • Consultation (e.g. workshop, surveys)

Details on the roles of the organisations involved in the project

The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department published the Cache la Poudre River Natural Areas Management Plan in 2011 and led the restoration efforts in combination with the Colorado Rivers Trust, a non-profit streamflow restoration organisation (Ref. 1). Biohabitats and their subcontractor, Budhoe Backhoe, were involved in the implementation activities (Ref. 6).

Project implemented in response to ...

... an EU policy or strategy? No
... a national policy or strategy? Unknown
... a local policy or strategy? Yes (The Poudre River Natural Areas Management Plan (see Ref. 4).)


Total cost


Source(s) of funding

  • Unknown

Type of funding

  • Unknown

Non-financial contribution


Impacts and Monitoring

Environmental impacts

  • Water management and blue areas
  • Improved water quality
  • Increased protection against flooding
  • Improved stormwater management
  • Reduced risk of damages by drought
  • Enhanced protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems
  • Green space and habitat
  • Promotion of naturalistic styles of landscape design for urban development
  • Increased conservation or restoration of ecosystems
  • Increased conversion of degraded land or soil
  • Reduced biodiversity loss
  • Increased number of species present
  • Increased ecological connectivity across regeneration sites and scales
  • Restoration of derelict areas

Economic impacts

  • Unknown

Socio-cultural impacts

  • Safety
  • Improved community safety to climate-related hazards
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Gain in activities for recreation and exercise
  • Education
  • Increased knowledge of locals about local nature

Type of reported impacts

Expected impacts, Achieved impacts

Presence of formal monitoring system


Presence of indicators used in reporting

No evidence in public records

Presence of monitoring/ evaluation reports

No evidence in public records

Availability of a web-based monitoring tool

No evidence in public records


Sterling Pond Restoration Concept Section 1 as devised by Biohabitats
Sterling Pond Restoration Concept Section 3 as devised by Biohabitats
Before and after dam removal (Josh Ames Diversion Structure) at Sterling Pond Restoration Site
Sterling Pond Restoration Concept as devised by Biohabitats
Information about this nature-based solution was collected as part of the UNA global extension project funded by the British Academy.