Watershed council touts victories, eyes opportunities | VailDaily.com

Watershed council touts victories, eyes opportunities

Derek Franz

The Eagle River Valley is a place where nature and urban areas are braided tightly together in a mountain corridor that houses the headwaters of the Colorado River as well as Interstate 70 and world-class ski resorts. That means the people here have a special responsibility to keep things in balance.

The Eagle River Watershed Council is the lead watchdog in that regard, and on Oct. 1, the group gave an update on its ongoing projects to Eagle County Commissioners.

“At the last Eagle River Cleanup, someone mentioned that our Community Pride Highway Cleanup is the largest event of its kind in the country,” said ERWC’s new executive director, Holly Loff, who started in July.

The last highway cleanup in April had 900 volunteers and removed 12 tons of trash from Eagle County’s main roads.

The Eagle River Cleanup recently had 350 volunteers and cleaned more than 68 miles of river. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the event, which all the Eagle River communities contribute to.

Commissioner Sara Fisher said she would like to see these practices rub off on visitors.

“How can we get people to be mindful of their trash in a way they might not be where they are from?” she asked.

To that end, the ERWC plans to expand some of its programs and events, such as RiverFest, which provides ticket-holders with dinner, drinks and a rafting tour, and is a fund-raiser for ERWC.

“This year, RiverFest raised almost $20,000 and sold out two days before, so we’re looking to expand it next year,” Loff said. “We’re also looking to grow our education programs to include courses for fishing guides. We started it for raft guides this summer and we have ideas to formally launch a one-day crash course for elected officials that teaches them about water laws and ecology.”

Loff said the council would also like more “river stewards,” who are volunteers that collect data from the streams on a regular basis and report back to ERWC. The group has its own monitoring sites all over the valley, of course, but the more data it has, the better.

ERWC currently has seven stream-flow monitoring sites, nine biomonitoring sites and two real-time temperature monitors, and the group is slowing adding more stations along the waterways every year.

“It’s good to stay ahead of the curve and have robust information so you can narrow in on something when an issue arises,” said Eagle County Environmental Health Director Ray Merry.

After many years focusing on the Eagle River, ERWC is starting to tackle the Colorado River on the remote northern end of the county. Since that part of the Colorado is far away from dense populations, consistent baseline data has never been collected to monitor it.

That’s about to change.

“Colorado State University is out there right now doing an assessment,” Loff said. “Their report will be out next spring and we’ll get started with projects that the assessment identifies.”

In the meantime, there is still plenty to do in anticipation of future issues.

“There may be some opportunities at the county level to revisit site development regulations and think about low-impact design elements and ways to get out in front of potential water quality impacts,” said ERWC Water Program Director Seth Kurt-Mason. “We’re having some conversation with the stormwater authority about making it more consistent how stormwater is handled across large jurisdictions.”

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