It’s war against water-guzzling weed |

It’s war against water-guzzling weed

Matt Zalaznick

There is still time to stop a thirsty weed that’s creeping up the banks of the Colorado and Eagle rivers and threatening the survival of native plants and animals, officials say.

But the tamarisk, a weed native to eastern Europe and Russia, indeed has invaded Eagle County and is causing problems, says Steve Elzinga, the county’s weed and pest coordinator.

“It is in the county and it is definitely spreading,” Elzinga says. “It’s really knocking the native (river) habitat back.”

County crews have been attacking the weed for the last few years, predominantly on stretches of river near Dotsero and Gypsum. The farthest east Elzinga says he has spotted the weed has been is one plant in Edwards. Tamarisk also has been found north up the Colorado River near Statebridge, he says.

Displaces native plants

The are two problems caused by the tamarisk: its deep roots suck up a lot of water; and when it spreads, it shoves out the native plants that animals use for food and shelter, Elzinga says.

“When you displace native vegetation, you put native animals out of business,” Elzinga says. “Animals will use the tamarisk for cover a little bit, but it has no food value. It doesn’t provide a spot to live or eat.”

Tamarisk is a more serious problem farther west along the Colorado River in Garfield and Mesa counties. A Grand Junction group, the Tamarisk Coalition, has just received $50,000 from the federal government to battle the nasty weed. And U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, was involved in securing the grant from the National Forest Foundation to help fight the weed.

“These funds will aid the coalition in containing this rapidly spreading affliction on our most valuable, yet limited, resource – water,” McInnis says. “With drought plaguing Colorado and the West, we must become efficient in managing our water supplies – controlling this invasive water-guzzler is a positive step in that direction.”


A single, large tamarisk can soak up 300 gallons of water per day, with total absorption estimates in the West ranging from 2 million to 4.5 million acre-feet of water per year, McInnis says. That’s enough water to supply more than 20 million people or irrigate over a million acres of agricultural land, “an intolerable amount,” he says.

An acre-foot is equivalent to a 100-yard football field covered with water a foot deep.

McInnis also has introduced legislation in Congress to attack the shrub. His Tamarisk Research and Control Act of 2003 would give Mesa State College in Grand Junction $1 million in federal funds to spearhead weed-suppression along the Colorado River.

Tamarisk patches can be spotted near the east entrance to Glenwood Canyon, near the Eagle County line. The weed is growing on both sides of the Colorado River, Elzinga says.

Last year, Eagle County crews worked with neighboring Garfield County to clear tamarisk from the Glenwood Canyon recreation path, Elzinga says.

Cutting the tamarisk and treating its stump with herbicide appears to kill the weed, Elzinga says.

Access key

“If I find it in an area that’s accessible, we cut it and take care of it,” he says.

But not all the tamarisk patches growing in the area are easy for county crews to get to because much of it is growing on private property along the river, Elzinga says.

“I wouldn’t say we need a huge amount of resources to fight it, but we need private landowners to know what tamarisk is and to cut it out before it becomes a problem,” Elzinga says.

Though the tamarisk has spread, it is still controllable in Eagle County, Elzinga says. Concerted eradication efforts could keep the weed from sneaking north of Statebridge or overrunning the confluence of the Eagle and Colorado rivers. That’s not the case farther west, where it may take decades to get rid of the tamarisk, Elzinga says.

“We don’t have a huge tamarisk problem yet,” he says. “It’s really knocking the native river habitat back and anybody from fly fisherman to kayakers to agricultural guys who are pulling out water to irrigate crops – anybody who likes the river – they’re losing out.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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