Vail Daily column: Watershed council celebrates successes of 2016 | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Watershed council celebrates successes of 2016

Gary Brooks

It's been a busy year for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The board and staff would like to take this time to thank everyone that participated in the wide variety of activities presented by our organization this year — from our educational Watershed Wednesdays series held throughout the valley, the sold out Wild and Scenic Film Festival, our annual Highway Cleanup, to our signature River Cleanup event. We would like to thank all of our funding partners that supported our mission of advocating for our rivers through educational programs, special events, restoration projects, monitoring, research and community engagement.

Eagle River Watershed Council believes that our rivers and streams are the life-blood of our valley. Their preservation and restoration supports our economy, culture and quality of life.

The Watershed Council's annual programs and events represent the public side of the work we do, but we are also involved in a variety of partnership efforts such as providing water quality sampling along Gore Creek, the Eagle River and various tributary streams within the watershed. The sampling data collected and compiled by the Watershed Council is available in an interactive and easy to understand format online at wqcourier.erwc.org. The data also provides a baseline which can be used to identify emerging threats or effectiveness of stream health improvement projects.

Eagle River Watershed Council has coordinated the effort to improve water quality in our local streams through its participation in the Urban Runoff Group, a stakeholder committee that includes entities such as Eagle County, Colorado Department of Transportation, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the towns of Avon and Vail, Vail Resorts and the Vail Recreation District. This group initiated the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan in 2013 and the Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan in 2015 culminating in the Restore the Gore program, for which projects are currently underway. The Watershed Council applauds the Vail Town Council for their vision in understanding that the health of Gore Creek benefits all user groups and for beginning the process of improving water quality on the Gore.

With the addition of new boat ramps, increased river access through open space parcels and an increase in population throughout the past several years, river usage is at an all time high. We as a community need to be vigilant to balance the economic and recreational usage of our rivers that we all enjoy with the need to improve or maintain a high level of water quality throughout the watershed.

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Three Major Factors

The three major factors that are likely affecting aquatic life in Gore Creek are not exclusive to that stream and can affect all urbanized waterways within the watershed. They are:

• Pollution from chemicals used in urbanized areas adjacent to streams, such as fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides used in landscaping.

• An increase in stormwater runoff from impervious areas such as roads, parking lots, buildings and other hardscape areas that prevent infiltration of rain and snowmelt that would recharge the aquifer and support base flows.

• Loss of vegetation along the stream. These riparian plants normally play a critical role in filtering pollutants from storm water runoff before it enters the stream.

The Watershed Council, through the Urban Runoff Group, has recently completed an action plan for a segment of the Eagle River from its confluence with Gore Creek downstream to the Eagle-Vail half diamond interchange. In assessing this section of river, the Watershed Council provided recommendations to mitigate the effects of urbanization affecting water quality. This includes recommendations for changes to land use regulations, improved storm water infrastructure and projects to restore vegetation along the stream.

In 2017, we look forward to assisting with the implementation of the completed Action Plans and completing the same process through the other communities in the valley.

Watershed Wednesdays

We have a full schedule of Watershed Wednesdays, filled with great tours and engaging presentations, coming together for the year as well. Our 2017 restoration projects are in design and planning now, we look forward to utilizing our wonderful cadre of volunteers this next summer in implementing those. Stay tuned if you are interested in getting involved.

With the addition of new boat ramps, increased river access through open space parcels and an increase in population throughout the past several years, river usage is at an all time high. We as a community need to be vigilant to balance the economic and recreational usage of our rivers that we all enjoy with the need to improve or maintain a high level of water quality throughout the watershed.

Gary Brooks is the board chairman 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. Call the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.