Loff: River protections are missing from Eagle Whitewater Park (column)
When the Eagle taxpayers voted for the Eagle Whitewater Park, they did so under the premise that it would “improve and conserve natural areas, open spaces and wildlife habitat; protect and improve water quality in the Eagle River” as was stated in the ballot initiative.
Instead, the Eagle River Watershed Council has seen element after element designed to protect the river eliminated from the plan. Our three primary areas of concern are the lack of riparian revegetation, stormwater mitigation and fish passage.
When the design plans came out, the Watershed Council was satisfied to see that the town and project designers listened to our request to have revegetation plans included for the riparian area to help to maintain water quality and conserve habitat.
However, we have found that in an effort to meet the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit requirements, the Town spent $50,000 of park funds (taxpayer dollars) to buy wetland credits near Steamboat Springs. The Town has stated that this has relieved them of their obligation to revegetate Eagle’s whitewater project. The wetland credits purchased may improve water quality and habitat in the Yampa River, but they will do nothing for the Eagle River.
We have heard arguments that the riparian area was non-existent previously, and therefore the abandonment of revegetation is not a degradation. However, this project was sold to taxpayers as improving a degraded stretch of river — as it currently stands, the community is not going to gain these benefits.
Upon seeing the large number of denuded streambanks, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) committed to pursue grants and provide assistance with revegetating this riparian area collaboratively with the Watershed Council. Without meaningful revegetation, the risk of erosion and water quality impacts increase, as well as significant noxious weed growth that could compel the use of pesticides on the river bank. It is discouraging and troublesome that tax funds were collected to avoid these adverse outcomes, and now a state agency and local nonprofit must see the job through.
Our second concern involves stormwater management, which was to include a rain garden in the terraced upland park area. The rain garden could provide a beautiful landscape of native flowers that would receive snowmelt and rain from adjacent parking lots and paths and filter the water through the soil before it ever reaches the river. This was eliminated from the project. However, the project team explained that the areas intended to be paved will not be at this time, eliminating the impervious surfaces that would contribute to runoff. It is critical that the town commits to installing a rain garden at the same time that the park is paved.
Our third concern is for the ability of fish to move through the whitewater park. For a healthy fishery to exist, fish of all species and sizes should be able to move up and down the river to find food, reproduce, avoid predators, and pursue the best conditions each season. Originally, the park was intended and designed to have a roughened bed and “fish notches” through the lower two structures to enhance fish passage upstream through the park’s features which have unnaturally high velocities. However, upon inspection, CPW discovered that a roughened channel bed did not extend through the lower structures and there were no fish notches as previously planned. Town engineers did then agree to install some roughness features. To our knowledge, there is no plan to construct the fish notches.
The town should work with the project team to ensure that the ecological benefits of the project receive a higher priority as originally promised by:
- Insisting the fish notches be installed as designed,
- Providing support for the effort to vegetate the riparian areas, and
- Installing the foundation for the future install of a rain garden and completing the install once runoff associated with the upland park amenities is identified.
The town should live up to the goals presented to the Army Corps of Engineers, CPW, the Watershed Council, and taxpayers. This was billed as supporting our quality of life here in Eagle — it is upon the town to make it so. The Watershed Council is here to help.
Holly Loff is the Executive Director for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.