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Input & Feedback Encouraged re: Operations on West Vail Pass, I-70

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) today released recommendations to improve safety and operations on West Vail Pass on Interstate 70. Virtual public engagement begins today and will continue through Oct. 21. CDOT welcomes input on all projects and feedback is encouraged during the virtual public engagement period.

The Proposed Action is a package of improvements including an eastbound and westbound auxiliary lane on I-70 on the west side of Vail Pass in Eagle County, from the East Vail exit (Mile Point 180) to the Vail Pass Rest Area (Mile Point 190). Other improvements include a widened inside shoulder, reconstruction of tight curves, wildlife underpasses and fencing, water quality improvements, truck ramp and parking enhancements, median glare screens and relocation of two miles of the recreation path that is currently next to I-70. The latest technology will be used to add variable speed limit and message signs and a way to close the pass immediately through a remote system when necessary.

A detailed description and evaluation of the Proposed Action has been documented in the Environmental Assessment (EA) and Section 4(f) Evaluation, which considers benefits, impacts, and proposed mitigation for numerous environmental and community resources. The EA and Section 4(f) Evaluation can be found on the project web page:

Due to current limitations on public events during the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), CDOT will provide a virtual opportunity for public engagement. A video summarizing the study, findings, and next steps is available on the project web page and printed copies are available at the locations listed below. Community members are invited to view this at these materials at their convenience before submitting a comment. Public comments can be submitted any time during the 30-day public review period (Sept. 22 – Oct. 21).

Printed copies are available at the following locations:

Vail Public Library
292 W. Meadow Drive
Vail, CO 81657

Town of Vail Administration Office
75 S. Frontage Road
Vail, CO 8165

The report will be available for review and comment from today through Oct. 21. Public input will be considered by CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration prior to issuing a decision document to determine if the project can move forward as planned.

CDOT has obtained $140.4 M for construction of the first phase of improvements, which could begin in 2021. Funding includes a $60.7 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) gra awarded this summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the project moves forward, CDOT will continue to pursue additional funding to complete the rest of the project.

To learn more about the project, join the mailing list, or submit comments, visit Comments can also be provided via email or the project hotline phone number: 970-331-0200, or by mail to CDOT, attn: John Kronholm, PO Box 298, Eagle, CO 81631-0298.

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RELEASE: Bennet Applauds House Passage of CORE Act as Amendment to National Defense Authorization Act, Calls for Senate Passage

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act as an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This is the second time the House has passed the CORE Act and taken a significant step toward protecting over 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities, and boosting the state’s outdoor economy:

“The CORE Act was developed by Coloradans and, once again, the U.S. House of Representatives heard their voices loud and clear. For over a decade, communities across our state have worked together in an effort to protect public lands and secure outdoor recreation opportunities, which are vital to our state’s economy,” said Bennet. “Now, it’s up to the Senate to deliver, and the inclusion of the CORE Act in the NDAA provides a real opportunity to see this across the finish line. I’m grateful to Congressman Neguse for his leadership and tireless work to pass the CORE Act in the House, again. I will keep pushing for bipartisan support in the Senate so we can finally sign this longstanding Colorado priority into law.”

“It has been nearly 9 months since the House of Representatives passed my bill, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, and still the Senate has not taken the legislation up or brought it to Committee for consideration,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “The CORE Act was carefully-crafted by Coloradans over the last decade and they deserve to see this bill—which would conserve treasured public lands in our state and make major investments in our outdoor recreation economy—considered by the Senate. The CORE Act would create the first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale to honor the 10th Mountain Army Division and the legacy of Sandy Treat, a local WWII veteran, with an overlook named in his honor. As a result, the bill’s inclusion in the NDAA makes perfect sense, and I am proud to see its passage out of the House today.”

In 2014, Bennet’s Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act with U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO-3), which protected more than 100,000 acres in the Hermosa Creek Watershed in SW Colorado, was signed into law as a part of the Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA.


The CORE Act, which combines four Colorado public lands proposals developed over a decade, builds on longstanding efforts to protect public lands in Colorado by establishing new wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas, including the first-ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale.  

The CORE Act is the product of years of work by Colorado counties, businesses, recreation groups, sportsmen, and conservationists to hammer out compromises and develop a balanced, broadly supported public lands bill. Bennet and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO-2) introduced the CORE Act in January 2019 with the support of counties, cities, towns, local leaders, conservation groups, sportsmen, and a wide range of outdoor industry businesses. It quickly gained momentum in the House, with a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in April, and later passed out of committee in June. The CORE Act passed the full House of Representatives in October with bipartisan support. 

Prior to House passage, in September 2019, Bennet sent a letter to Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) requesting the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hold a hearing on the CORE Act. However, no further action has been taken. The bill awaits further consideration in the Senate.

Bennet has sought every opportunity to pass the bill in the Senate. Earlier this month, Bennet introduced the CORE Act as an amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA. In June, Bennet introduced the CORE Act as an amendment to the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which also included long-standing Bennet priorities to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and invest in our public land management agencies. In February 2019, Bennet pushed to include the CORE Act in the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which permanently reauthorized LWCF and included new protections for millions of acres of public land in other states across the West.


CORE Act House and Senate Bill text, a fact sheet, frequently asked questions, maps, letters of support, and more are available at  

CORE Act b-roll and other media resources are available HERE

Proposed Changes to NEPA will Limit Environmental Protections

Submitted: January 30, 2020
Contact: Holly Loff, Eagle River Watershed Council

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) recently celebrated its 50th birthday. NEPA is a federal law that promotes the enhancement of the environment and establishes the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Unfortunately, there isn’t much celebration of the 50 years of resource protection as President Trump just proposed changes to NEPA that would significantly narrow its scope and overall ability to do what it was created to do. The changes are aimed at making it easier and faster to get new roads, mines, pipelines and other projects up and running without the thorough review of potential impacts to the environment that such projects have been subject to in the previous 50 years.

Eagle River Watershed Council often participates in the public comment period for NEPA-regulated projects. This is where the local community, which knows the area in which the project is proposed best, has a voice. The proposed changes to NEPA will largely negate our local voice on issues such as proposed reservoirs, highway expansions and more.

The Watershed Council has concerns regarding several key issues in the proposed rule:

1. Simplification of the definition of effects:  This change consolidates the definition of effects and removes “references to direct, indirect and cumulative effects” and strikes at the heart of NEPA. NEPA was established to understand the variety, scale and context of effects from a proposed action, and the consolidation of these categories makes it more difficult to understand the full effects. When NEPA was declared law by a bipartisan effort and signed by President Nixon, it was in response to many years of direct, indirect and cumulative effects of harmful impacts on the nation’s water, air and land resources. Analysis of indirect and cumulative effects is critical to understanding the overall impact of every project.  

The consolidation of these terms in the “simplification” of the definition will weaken the public’s and decision-makers’ understanding of the full array of impacts from proposed federal actions. It will undoubtedly be a challenge to fully grasp how actions may affect or be affected by climate change without these effects made clear and available.

2. Major Federal actions:  ERWC has strong concerns about the intent and outcome of the proposed addition of two sentences to the definition of “major Federal action.” The non-federal agencies always can influence the outcome of an action on federal land because the land belongs to the public, not the project proponent. There is strong legal precedent that NEPA is required when there is a federal tie, regardless of whether funding is large or small for a project, or through private or local funds. The authors of NEPA were abundantly clear that the impacts on the environment of public lands were of utmost importance, and therefore, the removal of a NEPA analysis requirement for “non-major Federal actions” is again, a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the public and agency’s understanding of the scope of impacts from infrastructure projects. 

3. Page limits and time limits for NEPA reviews: The proposed rule sets page limits (currently nonexistent) for environmental assessments (EA’s) to 75 pages and environmental impact statements (EIS’s) to 150 pages and recommends shorter review periods. We agree conceptually with the overall federal efforts in the past five years to streamline NEPA. However, the quality of content and the thoroughness of important analyses will be crippled by these page limits in most cases. Transparency with the public and time for public engagement is one of the key tenants of NEPA, and these changes will undercut any relevant and genuine efforts at the agency level to implement appropriate NEPA streamlining (which federal agencies are already effectively working on, and which we applaud).

In sum, the Watershed Council believes the proposed rule weakens NEPA, reducing the public’s and decision-makers’ understanding of the scope and impact of federal actions. We strongly believe, if passed, that the rule will have devastating impacts on our nation’s waters, lands and air, and we encourage you to speak up and request that the Council on Environmental Quality halt these thinly-veiled attempts to allow major infrastructure projects to proceed without adequate regulation and mitigation.

The comment period is currently open on this proposed rulemaking. You can submit comments until March 10.  If you agree with our comments, we welcome you to use any information we shared here in your comments to the Council on Environmental Quality. You can read the full rule for yourself at   

The mighty Colorado faces challenges

The Colorado River, flowing 1,450 miles and supplying water to millions of people, plants and animals, begins in our backyard. It is up to us to ensure the quality and quantity of the headwaters. The Eagle River Watershed Council is here to help the community accomplish just that. 
Special to the Daily

The mighty Colorado. Its very name makes some nostalgic, others wishful of adventure and, still others, fearful. Whatever your feelings, we are lucky to have about 55 miles of the Colorado River flowing through our county. Not to mention the Eagle River is a significant headwaters tributary to the Colorado River, and many of us recreate on and/or near the Colorado River.

However, it is not a river without challenges, as drought, aridification, climate change, and human activities reduce flows and change the timing of hydrologic events. There are images everywhere of the “bathtub rings” in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, showing how low both of these water storage areas are, despite this big water year. And newspapers throughout the west have been reporting about the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan that was created through extensive work by the seven states in the Colorado River basin and signed by the President in April.

The Audubon Society said, “The DCP and Minute 323, the companion drought agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, are both agreements that represent a bridge strategy between the old ways of doing business on the Colorado River and the new ways that water users must adopt as the drought continues and the climate warms.”

The Watershed Council participates in the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which, as stated on its website, represents “the various water interests within the Colorado River Basin so that we can work together to solve water-related needs for the future of the basin and the state.”

Here in Eagle County, we see additional and different threats for the Colorado River. These were identified in the Colorado River Inventory and Assessment that we drafted with Colorado State University in 2014. CRIA highlighted the need to improve habitat for native trout on several tributaries such as Red Dirt Creek and the Piney River.

Examples of such improvements include stream bank reconstruction, decommissioning of old roads and campsites that otherwise introduce sediment to adjacent streams, and revegetation using locally-harvested willows and trees. The Watershed Council has worked with the U.S. Forest Service and National Forest Foundation to implement these habitat improvement projects on Red Dirt Creek, and together, we will complete a similar habitat restoration project on Piney River this summer. These Colorado River tributaries have a significant impact on the river’s mainstem, as problems always flow downstream.

The vegetated area around a stream, or riparian area, plays many critical roles, including filtering pollution from the water and providing habitat. Unfortunately, human activity, such as recreation, roads, homes and more, have removed significant riparian areas. CRIA outlined a number of locations where the riparian areas should be restored along the Colorado River, and we have worked with private property owners to begin these restoration efforts and will continue to do so.

Noxious weeds and trees, particularly tamarisk and Russian olive, along our county’s portion of the Colorado River are a constant threat to habitat quality, have a voracious need for water, and out-compete our native plants. We work with the BLM to monitor for these invasive trees and will be out in the coming weeks identifying trees for removal.

The Upper Colorado River Wild & Scenic Alternative Management Plan will be fully implemented in 2020. The Watershed Council is an active stakeholder in this collaborative partnership aimed at balancing permanent protection of the Outstandingly Remarkable Values along the Upper Colorado River, while also providing flexibility for water users.

Partnerships, collaborations and an engaged community are all critical to protecting water rights, river health, recreation, agriculture, and our way of life here in Eagle County. The Watershed Council encourages you to stay in tune with national and local efforts to protect the Colorado River, which will ultimately protect the surrounding habitats, people, recreation, and economies of the western US.

Our newsletter, newspaper articles, and Watershed Wednesday series are tools available to help you stay informed, and our volunteer projects allow you to actively engage in the restoration of the Colorado and Eagle River Watersheds. Learn more at

Holly Loff is the executive director 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

This article ran in the Vail Daily on August 21, 2019

What in the World is W.O.T.U.S?

By Kate Isaacson

What in the world is WOTUS? Simply put, it stands for Waters of the United States. Currently, the determination of what is a water of the U.S. is being questioned and could have damaging effects to the environment and people of this country.

In 2015, the Obama administration passed the Clean Water Rule (part of the Clean Water Act) to clarify rules for the management of our nation’s waterways — and pollution thereof. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order for the review of the 2015 rule with the ultimate goal of rescinding or revising it. The revisions are now referred to as the Dirty Water Rule, which includes these changes:

  • Eliminating protections from interstate waters, such as streams that flow through more than one state.
  • Excluding from protection isolated water bodies that are not connected with downstream waterways, wetlands and prior converted agricultural lands and ephemeral watercourses (streams that flow only briefly during and following rainfall).
  • Inviting comments on any and all other issues. This could create a slew of possible negative environmental factors. Policy experts speculate that this single change could lead to the elimination of water quality standards and regulation of oil spills, sewage dumping and more.

This would eliminate federal punishments for the dumping of pollutants into these waterways.

In a recent seminar, representatives from the National Resource Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation noted that this repeal would affect 70% of waters in the United States if passed. There has been no analysis by the Trump Administration of the effect these rule changes would have on public health and safety, environment and ecological systems, and the economy — a stark contrast to the countless hours the scientific community spent researching the 2015 Clean Water Rule prior to its implementation.

We can consider ourselves lucky here in Colorado. Our state officials have created stringent laws to protect our waterways. But our state would not go unaffected if this change were to be implemented.

Tribal nations (such as the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute nations in Colorado) are not subject to state law. This federal law would directly impact these communities that already struggle with clean water access in the arid desert.

Furthermore, we are an interconnected country. Any degradations upstream could flow right through our state. Not to mention that, like many of you, I have friends and family all over the country that would be hard hit by the Dirty Water Rule.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fires in Ohio, which was caused by the unregulated dumping of industrial waste into the water. We cannot return to such conditions.

The public comment period is now closed, but a resounding 525,000 comments were received in the two months that public comment was open, showing the clear public concern for this issue.

So what can you do now? Even though the public comment period is closed, you can contact your political leaders and government agency representatives and ask them to oppose the Dirty Water Rule. Do it soon, however, as it is set to take effect at the end of this year.

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers will ultimately decide the fate of this proposal. Write letters or send emails to them and your state officials to demand accountability from the deciding entities.

You can find your representatives at or or by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tweet using @EPA, #ProtectCleanWater, and #DirtyWaterRule to call attention to the issue. And most importantly, educate yourself and stay in tune with how this rulemaking is progressing by visiting or for more information.

Kate Isaacson is the Projects & Events 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

This article ran in the Vail Daily on July 17, 2019.