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There’s a Weed in my Watershed

Tamarisk is considered a noxious weed, driving out native cottonwoods and willows while consuming large amounts of ground and river water.

Weeds are a part of our watershed, whether we like them or not. Some weeds are a nuisance, but some are more harmful than others. Here in Eagle County, there are 35 plants on the noxious weeds list. Noxious weeds pose a threat to agriculture, recreation, wildlife, property or public health.

These plants are often prolific, changing the landscapes around them into a monoculture and driving out native species, including wildlife. According to the Colorado Noxious Weeds Act, action must be taken to control noxious weed species on both public and private land within the state.

This may seem daunting, but there are numerous resources available to help identify these invasive species and provide support for successful eradication. In addition, many resources also educate on how the removal of noxious weeds protects the plants that are native to the High Rockies.

Eagle County Government offers resources for the community, including education, site visits (should you have a property of concern) and other resources. Visit eaglecounty.us/weeds for more.

For a complete list of noxious weeds in Colorado and for more information on the Colorado Noxious Weeds Act, click here.

Some weeds are beautiful, which explains why they were introduced in the first place. This is a fantastic resource to replace those sometimes gorgeous noxious weeds with a native option.

Watershed Council Announces New Staff

 

Eagle River Watershed Council is pleased to announce the selection of Kate Isaacson as their new Projects and Events Coordinator.

Kate was chosen for this role because of her enthusiasm for environmental sustainability as well as her administrative skills and experience with event planning.   Her interest in conservation grew immensely in Boulder, CO where she earned a B.S. in Business Administration along with a minor in Japanese, at the University of Colorado.   After graduating, Kate headed for the mountains to pursue her love of all things outdoors.  She spent a season working with the Village at Copper gaining experience with their major summer events such as Copper County, Guitar Town, 3 Ring Weekend, etc. There she met her husband, Drew, who is her partner in all their fun adventures including: backpacking, rock climbing, backcountry snowboarding, snowmobiling, biking, a few attempts at surfing, and more.

Kate joins Holly Loff, Executive Director of the Watershed Council, as well as Lizzie Schoder who serves as the Watershed Council’s Education and Outreach Manager.

“Kate is a great match for our team with her passion for conservation and love of the outdoors.  Her organizational skills will make planning and implementing our river restoration projects seamless and will keep our events, such as the annual Highway and River Cleanups, running smoothly with fun new twists to make our volunteers feel appreciated,” said Loff. “We are really happy to have her on board.”

Eagle River Watershed Council encourages the community to meet Kate Isaacson during upcoming volunteer projects, including the Miller Ranch Open Space Riverside Restoration Project on Thursday, August 24th and Friday, August 25th in Edwards and the 24th Annual Eagle River Cleanup on Saturday, September 8th.

Want to join the fun? No experience is necessary- these are great opportunities for families, friends and business groups to give back to our community. Learn more about the Watershed Council at www.erwc.org. Kate Isaacson can be reached at isaacson@erwc.org or 970-827-5406.

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 www.erwc.org.

ATTENTION ANGLERS: Please Read Before Fishing!

 

Due to high water temperatures, low flows, and reduced oxygen in the water, fish in the river are under extreme stress. Additional stress from fishing, catching, handling, releasing, and wading may result in the onset of disease and/or fish mortality.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking for your cooperation in a VOLUNTARY FISHING CLOSURE from 2pm to Midnight.

Please consider fishing at higher elevation lakes and streams where environmental factors are much less severe.

If you must fish:

  • Do not play fish to exhaustion
  • Do not remove the fish from the water while releasing it
  • Fish early in the day when water temperatures are cooler

If current conditions persist, Colorado Parks and Wildlife may consider a mandatory fishing closure to preserve the fishery resource. Remember, this is a resource we want to preserve and protect for the long term – not just this summer!

For more information, please contact Glenwood Springs CPW at 970-947-2920 or Eagle River Watershed Council at 970-827-5406.

Eagle River 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. To learn more, call (970) 827-5406 or visit www.erwc.org.

 

High River Temperature Alert in Effect

EAGLE COUNTY–Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Eagle River Watershed Council, and the Eagle River Valley angling community are asking for your voluntary participation in protecting our world-class fisheries.

The 2018 fishing season in the Eagle River and Upper Colorado watersheds is in full swing and fishing is good with prolific insect hatches. Currently, the Eagle and Upper Colorado are experiencing unusually low flows and high water temperatures. As a result, resource managers, non-profits and fly fishing industry professionals are leading a voluntary high river temperature alert effective immediately. As a best practice under these conditions, please stop fishing by 2 PM daily.

Water temperatures in local streams and rivers are highest in the late afternoon and evening. When these temperatures approach 70 degrees Fahrenheit, fish are less active and more prone to stress. Anglers are advised to carry a thermometer to know water temperatures throughout the summer. Fish should always be handled with extreme care and should not be brought out of the water once temperatures reach 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Anglers are advised to fish higher elevation lakes and streams where waters are cooler. All anglers are encouraged to wrap up their trips by early afternoon as many local commercial guides and outfitters intend to comply by reeling in and ending trips by 2PM.

Colorado State Agencies and local industry groups will vigilantly monitor our aquatic environments and meet weekly to assess fishery stressors. In the event conditions worsen, Colorado Parks and Wildlife may initiate voluntary fishing closures and may also consider mandatory emergency closures in relation to high temperature, low flows, and low dissolved oxygen as identified in Colorado’s Wildlife regulations.

More information on current conditions, low-impact fishing methods and fish handling, and where to find fish friendly settings can be obtained at all area fly shops. For more information call (970) 827-5406 or email info@erwc.org.

Eagle River 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. To learn more, call (970) 827-5406 or visit www.erwc.org.

Watershed Council Announces New Staff

Eagle River Watershed Council is pleased to announce the selection of Michael Pleimling as their new projects and events coordinator.

Pleimling was hired as the Watershed Council’s habitat restoration intern in May and has been working directly under the current projects and events coordinator, Brooke Ranney, throughout the summer. The internship built upon his experience as a crew leader for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, where he led restoration efforts, and his eight years of event planning experience with his family’s wedding/event planning business in Madison, Wisconsin. Pleimling earned dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology and Environmental Science from Edgewood College in 2016, where he graduated summa cum laude while also playing on the Edgewood College baseball team.

“We are really happy that we can make Michael a permanent part of our team. He has relevant experience in both events and restoration projects as well as the educational experience necessary to succeed,” said Holly Loff, Eagle River Watershed Council’s executive director. “Most importantly, however, Michael has already proven to be a hard worker and naturally understands the complexities of event and project management. He is the perfect person to pick up the reins and continue the great progress in protecting and restoring Eagle County’s streams.”

Pleimling joins Loff as well as Lizzie Schoder who serves as the Watershed Council’s education and outreach coordinator. The projects and events coordinator position was previously held by Brooke Ranney, who is leaving the Watershed Council to start her own business, Western Rivers Outfitters (WRO) d.b.a. Centennial Canoe. WRO will run single-day and multi-day river trips on the Colorado, Dolores, Green, Gunnison, North Platte, White, and Yampa Rivers as well as trips in Washington’s San Juan Islands and Costa Rica, many of which have an educational element.

“Brooke brought our projects to the next level. The same tenacity, passion for rivers, attention to detail, and fun personality that made her amazing in her role here at the Watershed Council, will serve her very well in her new business as well,” said Loff. “I am really sad to see her go, but genuinely happy for her.”

Eagle River Watershed Council encourages the community to meet Pleimling during upcoming volunteer projects on Shrine Pass throughout the week of September 18th. Project tasks will include planting native plants, restoring disturbed areas and enhancing user experience through trail delineation. No experience is necessary- this is a great opportunity for families, friends and business groups!

Learn more about the Watershed Council at www.erwc.org. Pleimling can be reached at pleimling@erwc.org or 970-827-5406.

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 www.erwc.org.

 

Fracking and its Implications on Colorado’s Waterways

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” has become widely discussed by the press and is a central focus among conservationists for a myriad of reasons. Fracking is the process of injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals under high pressure deep into the earth’s crust. This process creates new fractures in bedrock, as well as increases the size and extent of existing fractures. These fissures in the bedrock allow for the collection of oil and natural gas that were inaccessible or uneconomical using previous collection methods.

This abundant supply of domestically-produced natural gas provides many Americans with energy and is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel. Natural gas produces about one-half as many carbon dioxide emissions as other fossil fuel power options. Although natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel, there are significant environmental implications associated with fracking.

Environmental Concerns

 Scientists have named air pollution, waste disposal, fracking-induced seismic activity, and contamination of surface and groundwater as the primary environmental concerns associated with fracking. Fracking poses a threat to surface and ground water through consumption and contamination. Each fracking well uses on average anywhere from about 1.5 million to about 16 million gallons of water, which places an increased demand for water on already stressed watersheds.

For example, the Windy Gap Firming Project plans to build a diversion dam on the Upper Colorado River and divert almost 10 billion gallons of water to Front Range municipalities. Several of these municipalities have already sold water to fracking operations.

In addition to influencing water quantity, fracking operations possess the potential to influence water quality. The exact contents of many fracking solutions in the United States remains unknown because fracking solution is protected from disclosure under a trade secret clause. A study conducted by Stanford University has documented the occurrence of chemicals used in fracking solution in underground sources of drinking water.

In compliance with standards set by the Safe Drinking Water Act, scientists from FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry have identified carcinogenic chemical compounds in fracking solutions used in the United States.  However, oil and natural gas development is considered to be part of the United States’ strategic energy policy, making the oil and natural gas industry exempt from some federal regulations outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act. With few regulations in place, groundwater protection remains largely absent, and underground aquifers remain extremely vulnerable to contamination.

Contaminated groundwater, resulting from the incomplete recovery of fracking fluid and a lack of structural integrity in fracking wells, poses a significant environmental health risk. In many cases, more than 90% of the injected fracking solution is not recovered and remains underground where it threatens to contaminate aquifers.

Water contamination is not limited to groundwater—surface water can be contaminated as well from spillage of wastewater and improperly maintained waste pits. The potential ecological consequences associated with fracking are numerous and pose a significant threat to aquatic systems throughout Colorado.

Colorado sits atop four major shale formations, which serve as rich sources of natural gas that have become hot spots for fracking operations. Although fracking does not occur in Eagle County, the Piceance Basin is a major shale formation that extends into neighboring Garfield and Pitkin Counties and stretches into the counties of Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Moffat, and Rio Blanco.  Currently in Colorado, there are 60,516 active fracking wells and 40,000 inactive fracking wells. Exploration and drilling for natural gas in Colorado continues to increase as population and demand for natural gas continue to rise.

Fracking provides an environmental paradox—it’s a process that allows for the collection and consumption of a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions than its competition. However, the methodology used to extract this resource has the potential to harm aquatic systems throughout Colorado. In order to make an informed judgement, individuals can start by educating themselves on the issues associated with hydraulic fracturing, including the potential benefits and drawbacks. With many environmental issues at stake, the challenge lies in finding a balance between providing the resources that fuel our contemporary society and protecting resources and the natural world for future generations.

Michael Pleimling is the Habitat Restoration Intern 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 www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on July 12, 2017.

Gore Creek Revegetation Day

Over the past several decades urban development in Vail has increased exponentially which has had a significant impact on the habitat in and around Gore Creek, a major tributary of the Eagle River. Much of the habitat along Gore Creek has been degraded by undirected social use and building development. As a result, water quality, aesthetics, and flora and fauna are being negatively affected by pollutants and sediment entering Gore Creek. Numerous social trails present a hazard to recreationalists in the area, and have resulted in erosion issues near the creek and along the bike path. Gore Creek is listed on the State of Colorado’s 303d list of impaired waters and has been identified as a high-priority zone by the Eagle County Urban Runoff Group’s Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan.

The Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan Identified 42 proposed restoration sites along Gore Creek. The Lionshead Skiers Bridge area was identified as one of these sites because it has experienced significant degradation due to heavy traffic and undirected social use.

The Lionshead Project will encompass improvements to family-friendly recreational opportunities while fostering river and land stewardship through volunteer restoration efforts and educational opportunities. Focusing social use and creek access to more convenient areas will improve recreational opportunities, and at the same time protect the riparian zone from an excess of harmful social trails.  This project will consist of several phases, and will provide an excellent opportunity for volunteers to engage in habitat restoration. The Lionshead Project will be multifaceted and ultimately will improve user experience and riparian habitat.

The first phase of this project will be focused on the removal of undirected social trails and improvement of the overall trail network. Removal of undirected social trails and improvement of the trail network will greatly improve user experience and riparian habitat.

The second phase of this project will be open to volunteers, and will be focused on revegetation of undirected social trails. The Eagle River Watershed Council will be coordinating volunteer opportunities in which volunteers can help improve the riparian habitat by aiding in the planting of native riparian plant species. These volunteer days provide an excellent opportunity for volunteers to learn about riparian habitat and health, responsible recreation, and river stewardship.

The third phase of this project will be focused on the installation of stone steps in strategic locations to help negate degradation driven by erosion and heavy user traffic. The strategic locations will be determined by the Town of Vail’s Design Review Board in their Gore Creek Access Plan which is currently being developed.

The first volunteer day is scheduled for July 21st. For more information about volunteering at the Lionshead Project please contact Brooke at ranney@erwc.org or (970) 827-5406.

NEW! Eagle River Watershed Wall Maps

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NEW! The Watershed Council’s 30″ x 42″ map highlights the rivers, streams and high alpine lakes that make up the beautiful Eagle River watershed. This art-quality map makes a great gift for river enthusiasts of all stripes! If you order before November 13th, you’ll have the map in time for the holidays and you’ll get a 10% discount!

paper map: $37.80 (usually $42.00)
laminated map: $54.00 (usually $60.00)

laminated & mounted map: $90.00 (usually $100.00)
framed map: $225.00 (usually $250.00)

Call (970) 827-5406 to order your watershed wall map today!

Respect and protect riparian areas

Riverbanks don’t get much press. They’re pretty, so you see pictures of them all the time, but typically the river itself is the focus of the picture with the banks just there to frame the shot.

Whether you fish, raft, watch wildlife, like to look at “pretty stuff” or work in an industry that helps others to do those things, you likely recognize that the river is critical to the community and plays a prominent role in defining who we are.

I would argue that it is the riverbanks, or “riparian areas,” that are the work horse in the relationship. The fish depend upon the shade created by the riparian plants, as well as the habitat and food created by fallen trees and plants. Floating wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without lush streambanks to look at as you go by. The wildlife wouldn’t visit much anymore and the tourists would also find another place to direct their attention.

Perhaps it is time to talk about the important, but oft-forgotten, riparian areas. This is especially pertinent now that we can celebrate the recent and permanent protection of 7,300 linear feet of Eagle River between Wolcott and Eagle thanks to the county’s acquisition of more than 400 acres of the Horn Ranch.

First, let’s define them: A riparian area is the land running along a stream or river which is influenced by the adjacent water. It is easiest to identify a riparian area by the plants — usually cottonwoods, willows, alders, dogwoods, chokecherry, and blue spruce. When driving in flat open country, like eastern Colorado, you can typically spot where a river is from miles away even if you can’t see water, because of the meandering line of cottonwoods — that is a clear example of a riparian area.

Important Ecosystem
According to the Colorado Chapter of the Wildlife Society, riparian areas comprise a mere 3 percent of all land in our dry state. Such scarcity makes this ecosystem all the more important. With that statistic in mind, it is fascinating to hear from Colorado Parks and Wildlife that of the approximately 1,000 known species of wildlife in the state, more than 500 of them use or live in the riparian areas for at least a portion of the year. And in Eagle County, at least 250 species use our riparian areas. “Uses” can include migrating, foraging, breeding, birthing and rearing of young. For example, deer and elk usually have their young within 400 feet of flowing water.

With every impact to riparian areas, we can expect to see an impact on our wildlife populations. This can also define our community and are a huge boon to the economy.

The importance of the riparian area extends far beyond wildlife, recreation and beauty though. Like I said earlier, riparian areas work really hard — playing a huge role in increasing water quality.

All of that dense vegetation slows the flow of runoff (whether from snowmelt or rain events), allowing the ground to absorb and filter sediment and pollutants, thus resulting in cleaner water entering our rivers and streams. It also helps to reduce flooding and maintain stream flow during drier times in the year by slowing runoff and allowing it to infiltrate soils and recharge the groundwater supply.

Additionally, the strong, deep root systems of riparian plants help to stabilize banks, lessening erosion and sedimentation caused by the constant shearing forces of water and ice.

Riparian areas, although hard-working and resilient, can also be easily damaged by heavy human use. There are things we can do to protect them so that they can continue to provide us with beautiful views, healthy wildlife and great water quality. First, when accessing rivers do so at designated areas rather than bushwhacking. Next, support efforts to protect these lands and come out and help the Eagle River Watershed Council on one of our restoration projects. And finally, those lucky enough to live along the banks of our rivers and streams need to recognize the special job the plants along the bank are doing and help in keeping them intact.

Looking at water by the numbers

Did you know that Colorado is home to more than 700,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks? Think about that: 700,000 miles. Considering that the Earth’s circumference is approximately 25,000 miles, end to end; Colorado’s waterways could circle the globe 28 times. And if we want to take this comparison to outer space, then one could travel to the moon and back and still have more than 200,000 miles to spare! Ready for more staggering numbers? Colorado’s population recently surpassed the 5 million mark, 5.18 million actually, which equates to 7.4 people per river mile.

Here in Eagle County, we love the waterways that meander through our towns and lives. Eagle County houses the entire 77 miles of the Eagle River from the headwaters on Tennessee Pass to its confluence with the Upper Colorado in Dotsero. We also play host to 55 miles of the Colorado River as it skirts through the northwestern part of the county. Fifty-five miles amounts to a mere 3.8 percent of the total length of the river, but we are nevertheless glad to have that access and proximity to the mighty Colorado.

As the population of Colorado grows, so will the tension on water supplies and water quality due to potential for increased pollution. But there’s passion among our population. People are moving to Colorado in droves to gain access to our skiing, rafting, hiking, fly-fishing and clean-air-breathing! And most of us care deeply about our watersheds and show that dedication if given the chance. So, why not put that passion to work monitoring water quality on our rivers?

Colorado River Watch

Since 1989, Colorado River Watch has provided such an opportunity by “work(ing) with voluntary stewards to monitor water quality and other indicators of watershed health and utiliz(ing) this high-quality data to educate citizens and inform decision makers about the condition of Colorado’s waters.” It coordinates water sampling by volunteer groups from around the state: middle and high school classes, local governments, environmental organizations and concerned individuals.

During the years, River Watch has collected data from more than 3,000 sites around Colorado on more than 300 of our local waterways. Each month, volunteers collect water samples from their stations to test for six main parameters: heavy metals, dissolved oxygen, pH, alkalinity, nutrient levels and hardness. Twice a year, volunteers add the collection of macroinvertebrate samples to understand the health and composition of the bug population.

Every sample is processed and carefully chronicled by River Watch in its Fort Collins lab. This information is then used by the Water Quality Control Commission (the administrative agency responsible for developing state water quality policies) to set statewide standards for allowable levels of constituents in the water, particularly metals. That’s right, River Watch training and quality control standards are so stringent that information collected by average residents is utilized to set state standards!

Here in the Eagle Valley, we have more than 12 stations in the hands of numerous River Watch partners: The Eagle River Watershed Council, the town of Vail, individuals and local classrooms. We want to get even more people out on the water taking part in this exciting program whether it is a class, a community group, an after school activity program or a family. It’s a great learning tool and a wonderful way for everyday people to have a hand in state water quality issues.