Practical watershed plan good for any community
June 2, 2013
In the late 1870s, mining began in earnest with the discovery of gold and silver in areas above the Eagle River just south of Minturn. The town of Gilman was developed a decade later, and while production of gold and silver from the mines declined, operations shifted their focus to zinc ore in the early 1900s. An underground mill was constructed to extract lead and zinc ore because the space in the canyon (running right alongside the Eagle River) was just too narrow. By 1985 the mine was abandoned, the shafts and tunnels were allowed to flood and soon orange-colored water full of a variety of dissolved metals ran into the Eagle River, resulting in catastrophic fish kills miles downstream — a local story told to the nation by the news program "20/20."
The failing Eagle Mine was inspiration enough for over 100 citizens to work with county and town representatives to draft the original Eagle River Watershed Plan in 1996 — one of the first such plans crafted in the state.
A watershed plan is an important tool for any community looking to protect and improve local water resources. It helps citizens and decision makers identify conditions — like the Eagle Mine — that are sources of local pollution that need to be monitored, controlled or mitigated. It also provides a blueprint of actions and strategies to avoid future sources of pollution or impairment to area waterways.
Our amazing quality of life and economy is connected to the health of our rivers, creeks and lakes that surround us. Drinking water, snowmaking, trout fishing, hunting, boating, community parks, golf and other activities that we take for granted depend on clean water. We've evolved from our Western heritage as a ranching and mining region to a premier outdoor recreation and tourism destination. Threats to water quality and water resources have also changed over the last 100 years but are just as numerous and continue to grow as our communities do.
A clear, up to date, and easy to understand shared vision for that 'next chapter' of our legacy on the landscape that protects local water resources — the lifeblood of our valleys — just makes perfect sense.
Tambi Katieb is a professional land planner and serves as director of policy and planning with the Eagle River Watershed Council. On May 15, the Eagle County Planning Commission adopted an updated Eagle River Watershed Plan. For more information or to download a copy of the 2012 Watershed Plan, visit http://www.eaglecounty.us and http://www.erwc.org.