Derek Franz

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June 27, 2012
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Two-year study begins on the Colorado River

In terms of scientific data, there are still blank spots on the map of the Colorado River as it passes through Eagle County.

The Eagle River Watershed Council is now beginning a project with the county and Colorado State University to fill in those blanks.

"We were updating the Eagle River watershed plan and discovered there wasn't much scientific data for Eagle County's stretch of the Colorado River," said Melissa Macdonald, ERWC's executive director. "We are essentially doing an inventory of the river to get a baseline of data that will help us prioritize future projects there."

The lack of data for the Colorado River was noted a couple years ago when an advisory team started updating the 1996 Eagle River watershed plan. The advisory team includes all the stakeholders of the watershed, including the county, water providers, municipalities and government entities such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

"It was during that conversation that we decided to devote a chapter to the Colorado River in the new watershed plan that is being proposed," said Eagle County Senior Planner Cliff Simonton.

The updated plan will likely go out for public comment in July and will be considered for adoption by the county planning commission in September, after all comments have been reviewed and integrated.

Meanwhile, ERWC is beginning its separate project to collect data on the Colorado River.

"Ideally we would already have the baseline data before coming out with the new watershed plan but we'll accommodate it somehow after the study comes out," Simonton said. "The study might affirm what the plan recommends or it might trigger a future amendment to the plan. In any instance it will be very beneficial."

The timing of ERWC's baseline study is also appropriate now that Eagle County Open Space is acquiring more public access points along a river corridor that was previously isolated by private property.

"We'll be able to get a baseline of how the river is doing now before it sees more use and developments that could affect it," Macdonald said.

The ERWC completed a similar project on the Eagle River with CSU that was published in 2005.

"That has been our Bible for projects on the Eagle River," Macdonald said.

The data helps identify potential threats to healthy river habitat or areas that are already in need of attention. For example, a recent ERWC project in Edwards addressed a part of the Eagle River that was becoming too warm and slow moving, which negatively impacted fish habitat.

ERWC has already received a $30,000 grant from the Colorado Basin Roundtable for the Colorado River study and applied for much more grant money at the Roundtable's meeting in Glenwood Springs on Monday.

"The Colorado Basin Roundtable gave us $30,000 and encouraged us to apply for another $20,000 grant and a $90,000 state-funded grant," Macdonald said.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable is expected to give ERWC a recommendation for the state grant.

For now, Macdonald said ERWC is collecting and organizing all the fragmented studies ever done on Eagle County's stretch of the Colorado River, setting the stage for the comprehensive study.

"We are about to put temperature monitors in three spots along the river and the project will be starting in about a month," Macdonald said. "I think it will take about two years, which is how long the Eagle River study took, and there will probably be some obvious restoration projects we can pursue before the project is finished."

Macdonald said RiverFest 2012 will be celebrating two of the county's new public access points on the Colorado River with a ribbon-cutting on Aug. 11. The event doubles as a fund-raiser for ERWC, featuring guided float trips and dinner for $75 per person or just $40 for the dinner. For more information, visit or call (970) 827-5406.

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The VailDaily Updated Jun 27, 2012 01:15PM Published Jun 27, 2012 01:14PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.