Eagle River Watershed Council: Monitoring water quality on our river

James Dilzell
Valley Voices

As we settle into the new year, we’ve got new resolutions, new goals and maybe even a new attitude. The transition into 2020 can be a turning point for some, but it is at the very least an opportunity to reflect on the previous year. This year, the same goes for our river.

Every two years, the Eagle River water community gets a chance to reflect through the Water Quality Report Card. These glimpses into water health provide the framework for decisions surrounding the 970 square-mile watershed that our community relies on every day for clean water.

Eagle River Watershed Council’s Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Program provides the foundation for this report. This collaborative effort collects data at nine fixed sites along the Eagle River and its tributaries. WQMAP allows our community to see threats as they emerge, monitor changes to river health and make guided decisions on priority areas to protect and preserve.  

Collected data is compared to state standards set by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Water Quality Control Commission. This allows for an understanding of current river health and highlights areas of success as well as areas of needed improvement.

Bill Hoblitzell with Lotic Hydrologic, which coordinates WQMAP for the Watershed Council, shared the findings and explained the importance of this program for the community. It is critical that decisions regarding our watershed are backed by science.

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“We can’t manage what we don’t understand. Ongoing basic data collection, analysis, and reporting makes this possible,” Hoblitzell said.

The 2019 Water Quality Report Card has outlined three major challenges to the watershed: Urban runoff and degradation of aquatic life, highway impacts to Black Gore Creek from traction sand, and water chemistry impacts from the Eagle Mine Superfund Site.

Land development poses a threat due to increased impervious surfaces, such as roads and roofs, that water cannot pass through. We might think of our community as a small and rural place, but Hoblitzell points out that “development densities and impervious surfaces in near-stream areas of Vail, Avon, and Edwards currently resemble much larger cities.” These developed surfaces allow contaminated water to rush into the river during rainstorms or spring snowmelt. Polluted water flowing into streams impacts sensitive insects that fish depend on for food.

Traction sand is a necessary part of winter, as it helps keep us safe and in control when traveling over Vail Pass. However, there are negative effects felt in Black Gore Creek due to the buildup of this sediment. It reaches the channel by way of runoff or snow thrown from plows.

A constant challenge to the Eagle River is the Eagle Mine Superfund Site. While the river has experienced improvement since cleanup efforts began, metal concentrations regularly increase during spring runoff and impact fish. Local stakeholders continue to work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state on this cleanup effort.

None of these issues are new or unknown, but their identification as key challenges in the 2019 Report Card supports continued efforts to address them.

“Despite these past and current threats to our water quality, the amazing thing is that we are able to observe the real dividends of the various protection, mitigation and restoration actions that local and state partners have implemented over time,” Hoblitzell said.

Review the full, interactive report and list of partners at

James Dilzell is the Education & Outreach Coordinator 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

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