Editor's note: The Vail Daily is running a series of articles on nonprofits that are participating in Colorado Gives Day, Dec. 4.
The Eagle River Watershed Council is a local, nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring, conserving and enhancing the health of our streams and rivers for people and wildlife. The group believes that our rivers and streams are the life-blood of our valley and contribute greatly to the local economy and quality of life. The Watershed Council advocates for local rivers through restoration projects, educational programs, scientific studies, data collection, partnerships and community volunteer projects. And the nonprofit is nearly finished with a new Watershed Plan in partnership with Eagle County.
Eagle County has two distinct watersheds defined by ridge lines from which melting snow and rain drain ultimately into the Eagle or Colorado rivers. The Eagle River watershed is home to a unique network of mountain streams contributing to the Eagle River, which is wholly located in Eagle County. Three quarters of the watershed lie in public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, yet the Eagle River and its tributaries are under threat from increased urbanization and diverse past and present land uses. Black Gore and segments of Gore Creek are listed by the state as impaired for sediment and aquatic life. The Eagle River, which is impacted by a mining Superfund site above Minturn, also has segments listed as impaired for temperature and sediment with aquatic life impairment being monitored. The Watershed Council is currently partnering to ascertain the causes of impairments and ultimately rectify them to the greatest extent possible. They are also performing a scientific study of the Colorado River in Eagle County with Colorado State University to obtain baseline information and identify future restoration and conservation projects.
The Clean Water Act says rivers must be fishable and swimmable. The Eagle River Watershed Council coordinates water quality data collection through its partnership with U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, River Watch and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. The Watershed Council provides interpretation of that data in order to understand the health of local rivers. Threats to local waters include heavy metals from the Eagle Mine Superfund site, traction sand migrating off West Vail Pass into Black Gore Creek, storm water and urban runoff in Gore Creek, as well as and nutrient loading - to name a few.
The council also works to restore and revegetate the stream banks using hundreds of volunteers and school children annually. The vegetation holds the rivers' banks so they don't slough into the stream adding sediment and causing widening and over-heating. These banks, called the riparian corridor, additionally provide a home to many animals and birds.
The Eagle River Watershed Council also organizes the annual Community Pride Highway Clean Up in the spring, when teams of more than 850 volunteers remove trash from 121 miles of four highways in Eagle County. Plus, they organize Eagle River Clean Up in the fall with teams of community volunteers picking up trash along 59 miles of our rivers.
From the River Watch water quality monitoring program, volunteer opportunities, and community education programs like the Water Wise Wednesday Series and in-school programs, the Eagle River Watershed Council seeks to educate the general public about issues affecting our rivers and about the roles we play in those issues - and the roles we can play in creating healthier rivers and streams.
For more information on volunteer opportunities, donating to the Watershed Council, and a complete list of projects both present and future, visit www.erwc.org.