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Eagle River Watershed Council: What in the watershed?

James Dilzell
The Current

Dear ERWC: Winter is certainly going to return, but with a warm week behind us I’m thinking about spring cleaning and one of the items on my list is the adventure vehicle. What is the best way to clean my truck with the least impact on our rivers?

— Mike, Eagle

Mike: Some might say the answer is to wash at home, where one has direct control regarding water usage and detergent choice. However, when it comes to the health of our watershed and overall water quality, that’s actually not recommended.

Washing a car at home can be more economical and allows time to get into the nitty-gritty details, but what it doesn’t allow for is the capture of contaminated water.

Modern and established car washes adhere to strict standards set in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Through the Clean Water Act, they’re required to capture the water running off your car — full of phosphates, oils, dirt and other chemicals — and route it to treatment facilities or approved drainage facilities.

This allows for all of those chemicals to be neutralized and removed before entering the waterways. The drains at the end of driveways are for stormwater and they flow directly into our rivers and streams with no treatment whatsoever.

Water quantity should also be taken into consideration, especially given that we are in the arid west and water is a precious resource. Commercial car washes use 60% less water on average compared to washing a car at home, making them far more efficient at removing the six months of road dirt and magnesium chloride caked on your SUV.

Here in Colorado, commercial car washes are able to use “reclaimed water” or wastewater that has been treated to a safe level but can’t be used for drinking water. This reduces the stress on drinking water supplies and reduces the energy used for treatment.

There is an appropriate way to wash your car at home, should you decide that is still best for you. The EPA recommends the use of biodegradable detergents that are water-based and free of phosphates. It is also a best practice to wash vehicles on a lawn or similar surface. This allows for the contaminants to filter out through the ground before entering the streams — and hey, this waters your lawn too. Additionally, it is recommended to use some form of spray control, such as a pressure washer or other hose attachment to reduce water usage.

Are you curious about critters around the rivers? Do you want to know how snowpack is measured? Do you have questions about our watershed? The Watershed Council has answers! You can email dilzell@erwc.org with your questions – and they might just be featured in articles like this one in our new series: What in the Watershed?

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 erwc.org.


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