Eagle River Watershed Council: The river is in our hands | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Watershed Council: The river is in our hands

James Dilzell and Tom Allender
The Current
More than 125 miles of major waterways traverse Eagle County. The Eagle River Watershed Council protects the 970 square miles that make up the Eagle River Watershed and 55 miles of the Upper Colorado Watershed through Eagle County.
Eagle River Watershed Council/Courtesy photo

Western rivers have been major news this year. National and local news outlets have reported heavily on record low flows, dropping reservoir levels and drought conditions throughout the region.

Honestly, it’s overwhelming.

However, the state of the rivers also ignites our passion here at the Eagle River Watershed Council. Our rivers are critical for our community — wildlife and aquatic life depend on them for their habitat, local anglers depend on them for sport and work, and we all depend on them for our own existence and sanity. Our organization exists to advocate for the health of our watershed. Along with our partners, volunteers and the community at large, the Watershed Council is here to make sure those waterways that we count on are clean and flowing.

To support this goal in 2022, we’ve made sure to deliver and expand impactful programming throughout our watershed. The Watershed Council hosted its largest Eagle River Water Festival, which brought more than 400 fifth-graders together to learn about all things water.

Our annual Community Float brought together bilingual raft guides from Timberline Tours and families from the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement for a float down the Upper Colorado. Even with extra boats and increased capacity, we still filled 64 seats and created a waitlist. Staring down the low flows and high river temperatures, we deployed water efficiency resources and continued to build out water efficiency programming like rain barrel workshops.

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Our rivers were helped by numerous restoration projects. Partner organizations, local volunteers, and an all-female fire crew from the Western Slope came together to treat more than 4 acres of invasive tamarisk. We worked with the U.S. Forest Service to find a temporary solution to sedimentation and erosion concerns on Wearyman Creek and reopen a beloved OHV trail — while also working to determine a path forward to creating a lasting and sustainable solution in the future.

Brush Creek saw collaboration and the deployment of Pole Assisted Log Structures to restore in-stream habitat, work that will continue in 2023. Our clean-up efforts expanded through our Community Pride Highway and Eagle River Cleanups, and we were able once again to bring our community together to celebrate their hard work throughout the summer at the Volunteer Thank You BBQ this fall.

Through our longstanding Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Program, we worked to expand river temperature education monitoring on the Eagle River to empower our angling community to better protect our fish populations. This program also serves as a data clearinghouse, with information and analysis on water quality collected since before the new millennia.

After nearly five years of stakeholder meetings, scenario modeling and a lot of thought, we are wrapping up the Eagle River Community Water Plan that will allow for a better understanding of future scenarios within our watershed and act as a guide for future restoration projects and watershed protection initiatives, as well as serving as a tool for local leaders.

On a recent flight, an avid angler shared that angling wasn’t just something to do, it wasn’t just a hobby — it was their way of connecting to self and our world in a way that brought the feeling of life. It’s about immersing yourself in a stunning landscape, feeling the water flow around your waders, and hearing the sounds of a trout swimming out of your hand. A lot of us can relate to this feeling that the landscape we live in allows more than just something to do. It’s a way of life.

We went on to talk about our rivers out West and how important it is that we work to protect these incredible and dynamic systems. This is work that is up to all of us.

In the Eagle River Watershed, we rely on you, our incredible community and our partners. The protection of this water-dependent landscape relies on the involvement of all of us — from volunteering with and supporting the Watershed Council and local conservation initiatives to talking about water around our kitchen tables.

Together, the rivers are in our hands. Will you help us protect them?

James Dilzell is the executive director for Eagle River Watershed Council, and Tom Allender is the current board president. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Learn more about the Watershed Council and get involved at erwc.org.

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