CSU study helps prioritize Eagle River conservation plan | VailDaily.com

CSU study helps prioritize Eagle River conservation plan

Andy Stonehouse Special to the Daily

After years of man-made environmental damage – and the ever-expanding human footprint on the area – it’s clear that there’s no quick fix for the Eagle River watershed.

As a resource with infinite value to Eagle County residents, four seasons’ worth of tourists and the millions of people in a half-dozen water-starved states downstream, preserving and protecting the Eagle River’s upper reaches is a complex but worthwhile objective.

The Eagle River Watershed Council, a Minturn-based conservation advocacy group, has been working on an extensive inventory and assessment project throughout the Eagle River watershed.

Working in cooperation with Brian Bledsoe, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University, the council is seeking to identify the biggest threats to the river and its lush surroundings.

Last Thursday, Bledsoe and the council met with local stakeholders to discuss the project and help create some priorities for what will be a very extensive and thorough examination of the river’s status – and a roadmap to preserving and fixing an embattled ecosystem.

“These kinds of projects are very demanding and time consuming,” Bledsoe said. “But it’s a really exciting opportunity and a great chance for our grad students – we get to talk about the big pictures of water quality and river restoration.”

Bledsoe said that he and student John Meyer are in the midst of the biggest part of the project, analyzing data and creating computerized GIS mapping of the entire area.

“We’re also conducting interviews with various stakeholders and experts and, most importantly, reviewing old work,” Bledsoe said. “We spend a lot of time just talking to people – there’s a lot of information out there and we’re hoping to capitalize on it.”

Bledsoe said it’s also been a challenge to identify the most damaging sources of pollution in the area, with urbanization, construction and the illicit discharge of hazardous materials all doing their part to damage water quality. He said the main objective of the inventory and assessment is to provide a plan for getting the most band out the buck when it comes to actually beginning restoration and conservation projects.

“There are a lot of great ideas out there about restoration, but sometimes the heart-to-cranium factor gets out of hand and the wrong job gets done – I’ve seen lots of work in similar restoration projects that’s actually been detrimental to the environment,” Bledsoe said.

Guy Patterson, town manager for Red Cliff, said he knows how difficult it is to find environmental funding and said he hopes the watershed council makes some appropriate choices – given the tough financial times in the entire county.

“I keep wondering who gets the burden of actually paying for all of this?” he said. “I see the roadmap, but you’ve got to figure out where the money will come from. It’s like our wastewater plant – if I want to put it in, it’s going to cost $2 million, and that’s four times our annual budget. I can’t go to a bond issue … you can’t get blood from a turnip.”

Caroline Bradford, executive director of the watershed council, said that while issues such as traction sand pollution from Vail Pass have received a lot of attention, the entire watershed faces a much wider spectrum of environmental threats. She says this summer’s study is a step in the right direction.

Support Local Journalism