Vail Daily column: Progress made in 2015 to improve watershed | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Progress made in 2015 to improve watershed

Pete Denise
The Current
Pete Denise

The Eagle River, its tributaries and streams and the 55 miles of the Colorado River that runs through Eagle County are directly related to our economic wealth. A healthy watershed means a strong tourism economy, the main driver in our area. And it’s not only about the money. The water attracts wildlife — moose, bear, eagles and foxes frequent our waterways. It’s drinking water for our entire community. It is 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.

This year was a busy year for Eagle River Watershed Council. One exciting accomplishment was launching new projects on the 55 miles of the Colorado River in Eagle County, each recommended in the 2014 Colorado River Inventory and Assessment. Among these are restoration projects that foster new alliances with the ranching community. Through collaborative efforts with private landowners, federal agencies and other nonprofit organizations, we have improved the health of this stretch of the Colorado River and provided an example of progressive environmental attitudes toward the watershed.

Gore Creek Improvements

Deserving recognition at year end is the town of Vail for its efforts along Gore Creek. The town of Vail is committed to improving the health of its gold medal stream. In 2015, Vail completed the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan and has moved forward with the implementation phase of the program. Key components of the plan are to revise land-use regulations, repair damaged sections of the riparian zone and work with Colorado Department of Transportation to improve stormwater runoff systems near Interstate 70.Vail has identified 42 restoration projects and 61 stormwater runoff enhancements. Eagle River Watershed Council is excited to be working with the town of Vail to implement revegetation projects that will serve as examples of beautiful, river-friendly landscaping. The Watershed Council will continue to lead the Urban Runoff Group to create similar action plans for downstream communities.

Making Dirty Water Clean Again

While the images from the Gold King Mine Spill shocked us, the reality is that amount of acid mine runoff is spilled into Colorado’s mountain streams every two days from thousands of abandoned mining sites. We’ve seen what the Eagle Mine is capable of doing to our river when left unchecked. In fact, this is where the Watershed Council has its roots. Every minute, 250 gallons of acid mine runoff flow into a water treatment plant in Minturn created solely for the treatment of Eagle Mine water. The plant removes an astounding 251 pounds of metals each day. The Watershed Council’s diligent efforts have held the responsible party accountable and have helped to develop a strategy to prevent a major event like the one in Silverton.

The Basin of Last Resort has been a problem for years. This is the pond on Vail Pass which catches traction sand from I-70 and prevents it from migrating into Black Gore Creek, a tributary to the Gore. The basin has reached a critical level more than once, and the permitting process to remove the sand has been cumbersome in the most bureaucratic sense. The Watershed Council is helping CDOT to design and implement a plan that allows more efficient access to the basin so that it can be cleaned more regularly. This approach will likely not be implemented until 2017, but the end result will be a long-term solution.

The 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 Eagle County community that allows us to succeed; the individuals and businesses who donate, the municipalities, the volunteers. We have a dedicated and reliable group of people who regularly attend our events. We thank you for your continued participation and want to let you know that there is always room for more. Please join us as a volunteer or at our Watershed Wednesday educational series, where we discuss and dissect relevant water topics. Also, if you share our values, then please donate or contact us about aligning your business with the Watershed Council’s Business Partner Program.

Here’s to a successful 2016!

For the past two years, Pete Denise has served as the president of the board of directors for 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.