Vail Daily column: Plans, projects help us move toward healthier rivers | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Plans, projects help us move toward healthier rivers

I’ve always loved Eagle County’s rivers; the smell, the wildlife, the adventure, wild in the spring and tranquil in the fall. I’ve been a kayaker and done some fly fishing, but mostly use the rivers as a rafter these days, on the Eagle and Gore Creek when running and the Upper Colorado. It’s a great perspective of Colorado and Eagle County.

I first became involved with Eagle River Watershed Council during the Edwards restoration project as a volunteer. I attended a board of directors meeting, and quickly realized that this group was doing some really important work. From the community cleanups to water quality monitoring and project management, this is a group that speaks and takes action, on behalf of our community, for conservation and restoration of our local waterways.

The Eagle River, its tributaries and streams, and the portion of the Colorado that runs through Eagle County are directly related to our economic wealth. A healthy watershed means a strong tourism economy, the main economic driver in our area. It’s important that the visitors and residents of Eagle County understand this, and also understand the threats to and condition of our watershed, especially as the population grows. The more each of us knows about the issues affecting our watershed, the more able we are as a community to take steps as needed. At the policy-making level, awareness will help our representatives make educated and responsible decisions.

Old Threats

Our watershed faces some significant threats, a few of which will be with us for eternity. For example, the problems of the Eagle Mine south of Minturn were at the forefront recently. When the mine was closed in 1984, the mine shafts quickly filled with water and began spilling heavy-metal-laden waters directly into the Eagle River. Without constant attention and treatment, the Eagle River does not run clean. This year, we gathered the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the mine’s owner in an historic meeting, fostering a partnership that shows great promise in the quest to find long-term solutions.

In 2013-14, Eagle River Watershed Council commissioned Colorado State University to study and report on the 55 miles of the Upper Colorado River that run through Eagle County. Released with much anticipation this year, the Colorado River Inventory and Assessment (which can be found at our website) will guide our efforts to improve the health of this iconic American river for years to come. Tamarisk removal and riparian restoration work will begin in 2015.

Less Water, More Impacts

The single most important point raised in the report is that in-stream flows on the Upper C are only a fraction of what they once were. In addition to existing diversions moving water to the Front Range, future transbasin projects have already been outlined through numerous agreements, each of which could have serious repercussions on the health of the river. The Watershed Council is actively involved in building statewide partnerships that will raise awareness on both sides of the Continental Divide. We are also participating in the drafting of the Colorado Water Plan and support policies to protect the river.

Eagle River Watershed Council is fortunate to have an incredibly competent staff, expert consultants, and a compassionate board of directors to guide it. But it is the support of the people of Eagle County that allows us to succeed: The municipalities, businesses and individuals who generously donate both time and money. We thank you for participating in the highway and river cleanups, for attending our free Watershed Wednesday educational series, and for generally being engaged. Here’s to a healthy and productive 2015!

Pete Denise is the president of the board of directors for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The 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.