Eagle River Watershed Council: The river is all of ours to protect
At the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference this fall, the closing speaker, Kelly Romero-Heaney, assistant director for water at Colorado Department of Natural Resources, shared about the number of unprecedented climate events Colorado has seen in recent years — from crippling drought, multiple record-breaking wildfires and torrential rain to large mudslides.
Events like these are frequently used as ways to encourage folks to take action, but it can be overwhelming to continuously hear about these historic disasters. Rather than dwell on those, Kelly instead inspired us to be undaunted. The work we do as water professionals in the state is critical, and we must press forward with our chins held high.
This resonated with the Watershed Council staff and board of directors, and our work shows that we are undaunted by the challenge to advocate for the health of our watershed. Our rivers are empowering, beautifully wild and our home, and they bring us joy, freedom, peace and connections. We know that the river is all of ours to protect, and we are proud of what we accomplished in 2021 to do just that.
Our rivers were low this summer, peaking below average and at times running as low as 30% of average. This meant higher stream temperatures later in the summer, leading to stressed trout and even fish mortality. The Watershed Council stepped up to the challenge and developed a new temperature alert system that reports on river temperatures throughout the day and highlights when it is not safe to fish. Next year, we plan to have a predictive system that will let anglers know the forecast conditions in the morning so they can plan accordingly.
Educational programming was back in full swing this year, most notably with our second-annual Eagle River Water Festival and a summer full of Watershed Immersion events. The Eagle River Water Festival brought nearly 300 fifth graders to Colorado Mountain College for a day of water education taught by 14 community partners. The students learned about soil health, macroinvertebrates and more, while connecting with the place they call home. One student proclaimed that this was the “best day ever,” and we had to agree. This season’s Watershed Immersion Series taught our community about snow science, meditation (to the sounds of the rushing Eagle River) and the history and legacy of the Homestake Valley.
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The Watershed Council continued to work to break down the language, financial and knowledge barriers to river experiences through our bilingual community float and fly-fishing clinics. In doing so, we empowered more than 20 families to spend time on the river and helped to connect them with the incredible resource.
Our project season was kicked off by the 27th annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup, convening hundreds of volunteers and removing 22 tons of trash from our watershed — that’s the equivalent of 22 original VW Beetles. We continued with numerous projects throughout the summer, restoring riparian areas and reducing erosion with 508 new plants, laying 115 pounds of native seeds, closing 26 social trails and laying 500 yards of erosion control fabric. This work keeps the river healthy for our community, but also for the 40 million people who rely on it downstream.
We continued to work on removing noxious and invasive weeds through large-scale restoration projects and our collaborative Weed Warriors program. With the help of the Bureau of Land Management, Eagle County, an all-female sawyer crew and numerous volunteers, we were able to remove 2.25 acres of tamarisk along the Colorado River in Dotsero. The Weed Warriors program helped to remove hundreds of bags of noxious and invasive weeds and included an educational event that engaged the entire Red Hill Elementary School.
There is exciting work ahead as well, as we launch the Clean & Flowing Rivers Initiative, comprised of stormwater and water efficiency action here in Eagle County. We know that our rivers and our community are changing, and we are stepping up to the challenge of reducing consumptive water usage and creating a dialogue around the best practices for stormwater management.
The work that Eagle River Watershed Council does is not possible without the support of our community. Our community supported us with more than 3,900 hours of volunteer time — kudos to you! We are working diligently to reach our $70,000 year-end fundraising goal and to plan for all that 2022 will bring.
Here at Eagle River Watershed Council, we are undaunted, and we are here to protect our rivers alongside you.
James Dilzell is the education and outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council, and Tom Allender is the current board president. 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 ERWC.org.