Eagle River gets restoration tips from the Sahara | VailDaily.com

Eagle River gets restoration tips from the Sahara

Stephen Kasica
Vail, CO Colorado

EDWARDS – The Eagle River Watershed Council is taking a tip from restoration in the Sahara Desert for the Eagle River near Edwards.

On May 11, volunteers and students from the Vail Mountain School planted 20 juniper and blue spruce trees housed in an “intelligent water incubator,” called a Groasis Waterboxx, along the dry, cracked banks of the Eagle River near the Hillcrest Bridge. This nonprofit-funded project could save thousands of dollars in watering and maintenance expenses, as well as expedite the restoration of the river’s habitat.

Purportedly, Waterboxx is designed to aid plant growth in drought-ridden areas. It produces and captures water through condensation and rain, rather than from in-ground irrigation.

The taproot, the “mouth” of the plant, grows deeper faster, to the water table deep below the surface of the bank. After the plant matures and is self-sufficient, the container can be removed and reused.

In 2010, the year after this device debuted on the market, it won the Popular Science Magazine’s “Best of What’s New” innovation of the year award. Waterboxxes have helped to restore deforested farmlands in the Sahara Desert, and there are seven sites around the United States being used as test site by Groasis. The 20 in Edwards are among first to be implemented in the American West – they are also being used in New Mexico.

Pete Forbes, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation consultant with Groasis, flew to Edwards for the planting.

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“This is really a pilot in this area,” Forbes said. “Planting and getting data is the first step in various trials in the U.S. These are small trials and if it works we’ll be expanding next year.”

Through funding from the Western Hardrock Watershed Team, a program of the Southwest Conservation Corps, the Eagle River Watershed Council will supplement restoration efforts in the Edwards Eagle River restoration area with a Dutch invention called a Groasis Waterboxx.

This project is intricately tied with the Western Colorado community. Waterboxxes and trees were provided by the Western Hardrock Watershed Team, based out of Durango. Volunteers from the NCCC and the Vail Mountain School helped plant the trees. Seventh and eighth graders from Vail Mountain School who helped plant the trees will be further studying the effects over the summer and through the fall.

“The students love working with the river,” said Kate Blakslee, the volunteer coordinator at the Vail Mountain School. “It’s one of their favorites.”

Optimistically, planting new trees in this way could save thousands of dollars in watering and gardening expenses, and it could also speed up the restoration of the Eagle River near Edwards.

Last year $10,000 was spent watering saplings and pull competing noxious weeds; this year it is hoping to send half of that, especially with the dry summer approaching, said Melissa Macdonald, executive director of the watershed council.

“This year is the worst on record, so far, since 1976 – because of so little snowfall,” Macdonald said.

The Waterboxxes are intended to implement the continuing efforts to restore the area. When more trees shade the river, the water temperature lowers and attracts more fish. Also, more trees attract more of the leaf-eating insects that fish eat.

Adjacent to the 20 Waterboxxed trees are 20 similar trees planted in the banks as a control group. Over the next two years, the Eagle River Watershed Council will be monitoring the progress of the both trees.

After a week in the soil, the blue spruce trees are looking healthy, but the juniper trees may have already died. The junipers arrived with dry with unhealthy roots, however 20 more Waterboxxed trees will be planted this fall.

Stephen Kasica is an intern for the Vail Daily. Reach him at 970-777-3196 or skasica@vaildaily.com.