Skip to main content

New Bill Clarifies Water Uses for Eagle County

Beginner fly-fisherman Steven Kempf casts his line across a slow-moving section of the Eagle River. The Colorado Legislature this session passed a bill that better protects private water rights for recreational uses. Dominique Taylor | Daily file photo

Beginner fly-fisherman Steven Kempf casts his line across a slow-moving section of the Eagle River. The Colorado Legislature this session passed a bill that better protects private water rights for recreational uses. Dominique Taylor | Daily file photo

EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado water law received some needed clarification in the 2017 session of the Colorado Legislature.

The legislature, this session, passed a bill in response to the 2015 Colorado Supreme Court decision in the case of St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club LLC. That decision held that direct diversions of water from a river to a private ditch for “aesthetic, recreational and piscatorial” purposes are not “beneficial uses” under state water law.

“Beneficial use” is a much-used term in state water law and originally encompassed primarily to agricultural and municipal uses. That definition has been evolving throughout the years — through both court decisions and legislation — to protect recreational uses, too, and the new legislation makes that clearer.

 

THE DEBATE CONTINUES

According to a summary on the legislature’s website, “The bill provides that the decision in the St. Jude’s Co. case interpreting section 37-92-103 (4) does not apply to previously decreed absolute and conditional water rights or claims pending as of July 15, 2015.”

What this means is that those who hold water rights from a stream can legally divert that water for purposes other than agriculture or municipal use.

The bill was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Democrat K.C. Becker and co-sponsored in the Senate by Republican Jerry Sonnenberg. In a statement after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill, Becker said the law “provides the needed certainty for water rights holders in Colorado.”

Eagle River Watershed Council Executive Director Holly Loff agreed. In an email, Loff wrote that the group is celebrating the bill’s passage.

“It protects the tools that local governments have at their disposal to protect flows — both recreational and environmental — which were threatened by the broad language in the (Supreme Court) case. Recreational and piscatorial uses are most definitely beneficial and we are happy to see those protected.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on June 2, 2017.

 

Healthy Rivers Start in Your Backyard

Lizzie Schoder

Colorado is an arid state, averaging around 16 inches of precipitation a year. Factor in our high elevation, and the Eagle Valley can be a tricky place for gardening and landscaping. Fortunately, embracing the practices that allow our gardens and landscapes to thrive usually falls in harmony with best practices to keep our rivers healthy.

Landscaping practices have a direct and significant effect on the Eagle River and its tributaries. The pollution-intolerant aquatic insects, or macroinvertebrates, that make up the food chain for our gold medal waters and the lifeblood of our valley have been dropping in recent years. Sections of the Eagle River and Gore Creek have consequently been listed on the state’s 303d list of impaired streams.

Two of the three known primary stressors in our watershed as identified by the Urban Runoff Group are untreated runoff from impervious and urban areas, and the loss of riparian and wetland vegetation.

Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pet waste, and organic matter can be carried by wind or picked up by rain and melting snow and carried directly into our rivers or through our storm drains. This overloads our waterways with sediment and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, which kill macroinvertebrates and increase algae blooms—harming our fish, as well as our community’s source of drinking water, recreation, and tourism.

Those who are lucky enough to live next to our river understandably may want to enjoy an unobstructed view. However, the loss of riparian corridors, stemming from homeowners mowing all the way to the river and cutting down the native plants that may block their view, destroys the critical ecological function of these plants, which is to act as nature’s filter for the river and as a buffer from inevitable pollutants. These riparian plants also prevent stream bank erosion and provide important shade and habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Fortunately, landscaping practices that are kind to our rivers go hand-in-hand with overall long-term success for your gardens and backyards. Simple actions to take include:

-Using native grasses and perennials in your gardening. They are better adapted to the microclimates in our valley and require less water, fertilizers and pesticides. The Eagle County CSU Extension office and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens have comprehensive lists of native plants, as well as beautiful drought-tolerant plants.

-Allow streamside plants to grow, by not mowing all the way to the river. Leave a natural setback between your manicured lawn/garden and the stream. This varies with topography, geography and other factors, but should be 25 feet at minimum.

-Consider using permeable materials such as gravel and flagstones over asphalt and concrete for garden walkways, patios, and driveways.

-Limit your use of pesticides and fertilizers, especially before it rains! Make sure to read all labels and use the right amount. Consider using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and compost to get desired results.

Other than using drought-tolerant and native plants, new “smart” irrigation technology is available at increasingly reasonable costs. One landscaper in the valley, Kreston Rohrig of Four Seasons Landscaping and Irrigation, explains how the evapotranspiration (ET) systems he uses have shown an average of 40% water savings annually:

“The ET water system basically operates like a cell phone, so it gets updates constantly throughout the day, and has algorithms that pull from local weather station data. It basically equates for how much the system needs based on what current conditions are, and records how much water has been used to the gallon. These systems will learn specific flow rates per zone.”

Rohrig gave the example of a customer with a broken pipe: this would immediately generate an email alert to flag that that zone has a high flow rate. He explained “that saves a lot of water to quickly fix that zone that’s just bleeding out, and that also saves the homeowner a lot of money on trouble shooting. At the end of the day, their water bill is much less and their plants are also healthy.”

Rohrig’s pilot project with eight properties in Mountain Star saved over 600,000 gallons of water annually with no change to plant health.

With our county’s population predicted to double by 2040, the challenges facing our rivers will only grow. These solutions can help reverse impairments to our waterways, save water, and save homeowners money in the long run.

Lizzie Schoder is the Education and 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 www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on May 25, 2017.

 

Plastic Rivers

Lizzie Schoder

Driving along I-70 in the springtime as the snow melts, various types of trash can be seen scattered along the grass median. This isn’t uncommon for a major highway running through a populated area, but unlike other communities, our roadways run parallel to our water source–the Eagle River and its tributaries.

Wind can obviously blow lightweight litter to the streams, but snow and rainfall also picks up plastic bags, motor oil, chemicals, fertilizers, cigarettes, and dog waste left on or near our roads and carries it directly into the river or into our storm drains, which aren’t filtered before emptying out into our streams. Our roadways have historically been built along the path of least resistance, following our valley floors, and as a result, everything flows downhill to the nearby rivers. Urbanization and an increase in impervious surfaces (parking lots, roads, rooftops, and other materials that aren’t absorbent) have been identified as the one of biggest threats to water quality in not just Gore Creek, but also the Eagle River and its tributaries.

In fact, this past year in Vail, dry cement mix, paint, window cleaner, cooking grease, and 120 hot dogs were dumped down storm drains, according to Pete Wadden, the Town of Vail’s Watershed Education Coordinator. Our storm drains are different than our sanitary sewers, and dumping anything down a storm drain is equivalent to dumping it directly into a creek. But this awareness isn’t fully present in our valley yet, and people that love our rivers are polluting them unintentionally from improper disposal.

The effects of trash in our rivers extends beyond the reaches of our community, too. The Ocean Conservancy found 2,117,931 cigarettes, and over one million plastic bags and plastic bottles each in our oceans in 2016. By now, plastic-covered beaches around the world have been covered widely in the news. The statistic from World Economic Forum that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish has hit home with many. It is commonly known that water bottles and to-go containers create problems, but the lesser known forms of pollution are microplastics—either microbeads from beauty products, microfibers from our clothing, or the breakdown of bigger pieces of plastic from the sun. When these microplastics break down, the chemicals they contain such as PCBs, PETs, DEHPs, antimicrobials, and bioretardants, are released and consumed by the food chain.

“Recently a huge fact came to light, that in U.S. and Indonesian fish markets, a quarter of the fish contain microplastics, and a third of shellfish contain microplastics.  And ultimately, where do those microplastics and contaminants end up? With the top predator,” explains Dr. Maria Campbell, a marine biologist with Plymouth University in the film, Plastico.

And since our rivers all flow to our oceans, it’s essential that we as a river-side community not contribute to the plastic pollution epidemic.

How can you help? Most importantly, reduce your use of disposable plastics such as to-go containers, plastic bags, straws, etc. before they make their way into our rivers, and recycle plastics whenever possible. Choose beauty products without microbeads such as natural face washes. Aside from these preventative measures, we also welcome you to join us in picking up the trash that has blown out of vehicles traveling our roadways. Each spring, following ski season and just as the trash emerges from underneath the layers of snow, the Watershed Council hosts the Community Pride Highway Cleanup with more than 950 volunteers.  You can come out and help to clear trash from more than 138 miles of Eagle County roadways (I-70, Highways 6, 24, and 131) on May 6th. In the Watershed Council’s 17-year history of coordinating the event, the amount of trash cleared has decreased significantly from 45 tons collected per year to 10 tons. With greater public awareness, more recycling, and greater care for where our trash goes, hopefully this number will continue to decrease. The Watershed Council is always looking for more volunteers for this great community event. To get registered for the event, please call the office at (970) 827-5406 or email ranney@erwc.org.

Lizzie Schoder is the Education and 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 www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on April 25, 2017.

 

A Legacy of Wild & Scenic Rivers

Lizzie Schoder

“There is a religious experience in coming over top of a huge rapid and burying your bowman’s face down until you maybe can’t see him,” Claude Terry describes of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter—then Georgia Governor—completing the first tandem descent of the wild Chattooga River in 1974.

President Carter grew up near rivers under the guidance of his father, an avid fisherman, which built the foundation of his admiration and respect for wild waters. Under the tutelage of Claude Terry, the co-founder of American Rivers, he learned all he could about kayaking and canoeing, and the pair became the first to run the Class IV+ rated Bull Sluice rapid in an open canoe. The experience through the beautiful, rugged, and wild rapids on the Georgia-South Carolina border led him to advocate for the listing of the Chattooga River through the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is one of the earliest pieces of environmental regulations surrounding water. The Act’s aim is to protect the natural and healthy flow of certain rivers that exhibit “outstandingly remarkable” scenic, cultural, historical, recreational, geologic, and other similar values worthy of preservation for future generations. Essentially, it ensures the river will remain in its current free-flowing form and defends against future damming or development that would harm the river and its surrounding ecosystem.

Typically, a quarter-mile buffer surrounds designated Wild & Scenic Rivers.  Included with the designation of each river is a management plan specific to that stream to ensure the conservation of the “Outstanding Remarkable Values” (ORVs) for which the wild river was identified. The management plan is developed through a process that promotes participation across political boundaries and from the public. Existing water rights, private property rights, and interstate compacts are not affected by a listing or designation.

While there are about 3.6 million miles of rivers and streams in the U.S., only about 12,709 miles are protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act—about 0.35%. And while there is only one river in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre, currently protected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, Deep Creek in our own Eagle County was found “suitable” for Wild & Scenic designation in 2014. American Rivers and Eagle River Watershed Council are currently working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to designate this pristine river as such.

Flowing from the Flat Tops and Deep Lake to its confluence with the Colorado River just before Dotsero, the river passes through a deep and narrow canyon of limestone rock that hosts one of the biggest and most complex cave systems in Colorado. Deep Creek is also home to rare species from riparian plants to bats, all of which will fall under the umbrella of protection with a Wild & Scenic designation. Sheep and cattle ranchers graze their livestock in the area as well. The Watershed Council and American Rivers have been working with these ranchers to ensure that their grazing rights are protected as they have used this land without impacts on the wild and scenic values of the creek for generations.

President Carter continued his legacy of environmentalism throughout his presidency, blocking numerous dam projects throughout the U.S. that would have negatively and permanently altered rivers and their ecosystems. A film by American Rivers, entitled “The Wild President” explores the groundbreaking first descent, and will be one of 10 inspiring and adventurous films shown at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on April 12th at the Riverwalk Theatre in Edwards. The film festival was created by Patagonia and is hosted locally by Eagle River Watershed Council in an effort to increase community awareness of our relationship with the planet, particularly our waterways, and to inspire action. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.erwc.org/events/calendar.

Lizzie Schoder is the Education and 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 www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on March 21, 2017.

River-Friendly Snow and Ice Removal

Holly

Are you a pusher or a scooper? Of snow, that is.

With all of the snow earlier this winter you likely have a distinct preference for one or the other. I’ll leave it to the medical professionals to advise on proper shoveling techniques. What I’d like to focus on is how to remove snow and ice without negatively impacting our streams. Looking out the window as I write this, it feels a bit out of touch to be writing about snow and ice, but looking at the calendar, I am hoping this information will be put to good use very soon!

Where you put your snow and how you get rid of ice can affect our streams in several ways. Here are some tricks:

First, remove the snow as it falls, before it gets tracked down. This is your first and best defense in preventing ice from forming.

Next, you want to take an extra second to think about where to pile the snow—this will help you down the road. Those that live along a stream may be tempted to push snow into it. After all, “snow is just water.” This is not a good practice, however!

Here is why: Snow from your driveway and sidewalks absorbs oil, antifreeze, overcast fertilizers (particularly with the first snowfall of the year), sand, road salts, or any chemicals that drip off of vehicles. Dumping snow straight into the river introduces all of these to the stream in high concentrations. This reduces water quality, impacting habitat.

Sure, as it melts this is mobilized and makes its way to the stream anyway. However, a large portion of it soaks through the soil first. The ground and our native riparian plants are nature’s water filter, separating the contaminants from the water before it eventually makes its way back to the river.

Therefore, piling the snow in your yard is your greatest option. Pile it in a place where when it melts it doesn’t run across a sidewalk, road or driveway. As we all know, what melts in the day refreezes at night and you could wake up to an ice rink the next morning. A blanket of snow can actually be beneficial to your lawn, as it provides an insulating layer that protects against extreme temperature fluctuations and harsh winds. Additionally, once water reaches an impervious surface (concrete, asphalt, etc.), it’s headed for the gutter and from there the storm sewer—which sees little to no treatment before running straight into a stream near you.

If you follow these tips and still end up with ice, you have a few options. Chipping away by hand provides a great arm and cardio workout right in the driveway. If you are rolling your eyes, you likely are thinking about deicers instead. Deicers, when used properly, are a great tool. When used improperly they can ruin your concrete, impact our streams, hurt your pet’s feet and even ruin your floors if you track them in on your shoes.

Available options range from rock salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate and even urea (fertilizer) or sand. Each has varying costs, benefits and problems—diving into these would take an entire article to cover. That said, sand doesn’t melt ice—it just provides traction. Urea is only effective in high quantities and will runoff into the streams adding excessive levels of nitrogen, which grows algae and causes many imbalances in the stream. It should be avoided out of respect for our rivers and in-lieu of truly better options.

Whatever you use, it’s important to read the label carefully and apply only the amount necessary. If after the ice is melted some of the product remains, you’ve applied too much and can use less in the future. Remember to sweep up the excess before it makes way for the gutter.

Keep in mind that if a product has the potential to damage your landscaping, shoes, concrete or pet’s feet, it will wreak havoc on the nearest stream, too.

Follow these tips and you can rest easy knowing that your snow removal is effective and isn’t impacting our high-quality fishing, rafting and drinking water.

Holly Loff is the Executive Director for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council advocates 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 February 19, 2017.

Climate Change is Water Change

Lizzie Schoder

This past year will likely break 2015’s mark of being the hottest year on record. Colorado has seen a similar trend, with a 2 degrees Fahrenheit bump statewide in the last 30 years. Colorado, like much of the Southwest, has also seen drought for the past decade, which has been felt most strongly in the western part of the state.

How does this affect our rivers? A warmer atmosphere has a drying effect overall — meaning more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow and peak runoff and snowmelt happen earlier in the year. Although there is no significant change detected (so far) in the amount of precipitation, the change in the form of precipitation is what’s significant. Our snowpack levels, measured in snow water equivalent, act as nature’s time release to recharge our rivers. Less snowpack, or more precipitation that falls instead as rain, means less natural recharge, since rain runs through the watershed at a quicker rate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports show trends of peak runoff and snowmelt occurring anywhere from one to four weeks earlier in the spring. Rain is an immediate surge to our rivers, but can give way to evaporation during hotter months of the summer. Snow, on the other hand, melts slowly, recharging the rivers at a steadier pace, especially during July and August when we need it most. Though predictions of how this will affect annual runoff vary, the 2011 Bureau of Reclamation report estimates that Colorado River flows will decrease by about 8.7 percent by 2060, or roughly the annual amount diverted by canal to Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. These trends along with increased evaporation due to warmer temperatures does not bode well for a region already dealing with prolonged drought.

Snowpack levels are a pivotal factor in ski communities. But it matters too for agriculture, irrigation, hydropower, river recreation and water quality. Lower water levels lead to shallower and therefore warmer rivers, affecting our plant and fish populations, as well as the aquatic bugs they need for food. Warming temperatures also mean that everything from crops to humans will need more water to compensate. The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people in seven different southwest states. The rising temperature trend will only put more pressure on an over-allocated system, pushing both the supply and demand of the Colorado River in the wrong direction.

While communities that depend on the Colorado River have gone to extraordinary lengths to buffer the impacts of climate change, we are heading for times where water shortages will be felt more than ever. According to the New York Times, Lake Powell provides water to one in eight Americans and waters one-seventh of the nation’s crops. Like the other dams and reservoirs in the Colorado River system, it’s completely over allocated — the water levels continue to dwindle and more water is being taken out than what flows into it. If Lake Powell isn’t able to supply the 7.5 million acre feet annually to the Lower Colorado Basin as required by the 1922 interstate compact, then a river call requiring Upper Basin communities, such as Eagle County, to use less water could come into effect in coming years.

The national political debate over the legitimacy of climate change will inevitably continue. But with our county’s population projected to nearly double by 2050, we must recognize that water is a nonpartisan issue. It is important that we voice our opinions and demand action at the national level, while also encouraging action at state and local levels where it can likely happen more quickly. From the standpoint of water and river protection however, we do not need to stand around waiting for our leaders to reach consensus on the existence of climate change.

There is no arguing that the level of water in Lake Powell — and its sister, Lake Mead — continue to drop, making it clear that water conservation and efficiency is of critical importance. That can happen through legislative actions, regulatory measures, but also where you can make an impact — in your home and garden. For more information, visit erwc.org.

 

Lizzie Schoder is the education and 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 http://www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on January 19, 2017.

Eagle River Watershed Council Year in Review

Gary BrooksIt’s been a busy year for the 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 in 2016—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, CDOT, Eagle River Water and 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.

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 just completed an action plan for a segment of the Eagle River from its confluence with Gore Creek downstream to the EagleVail 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.

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 over the last 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. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on December 23, 2016.

Remember to Pick Up After Your Dog

colcurrent-vdn-012816-325x325

In the 2013 U.S. Census, it was estimated that 70 million to 78 million dogs live, play and poop in the United States. As most of us know, Coloradans are among the top dog lovers in the country. According to Forbes, Colorado claims two of the top 10 most pet-friendly cities in America — Colorado Springs and Denver. Residents of this valley are no exception. Around 20,000 of our furry and beloved doggy friends live right here in Eagle County.

We love them, but don’t always enjoy cleaning up after them. Picking up after our dogs is crucial for our health, the health of our pets, and Eagle County’s environment as a whole. The simple act of picking up after our dogs can help prevent harmful nutrients and bacteria from entering our waterways, keep our citizens healthy and our yards and shoes clean.

DON’T SWEEP IT UNDER SNOW

During winter, when it’s frigidly cold and dog walks are cut to a minimum, it can sometimes be too easy to just brush the snow over our dog’s waste and forget about it. The unseen consequences are devastating, however, especially when looking at the big picture. Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of Americans don’t pick up after their dogs. In fact, dog waste accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria that pollutes our urban and suburban waterways. Though dog waste is not the largest or most toxic pollutant around, it is one of many smaller sources of pollution that can add up to a big problem.

So why is dog waste any worse than that from bears, deer, elk, and fox? Dog waste differs from wild animal waste because of the preservatives and added chemicals in their food. There is also a much higher concentration of dogs in residential areas leading to a higher concentration of feces.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations conducted a study and found that decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia in rivers can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life.

 LIFE-THREATENING GERMS

Additionally, pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Some bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted from dog waste to humans include: Campylobacteriosis, a bacterial infection carried by dogs and cats that frequently causes diarrhea in humans; Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite with common symptoms including diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and dehydration; and Toxocariasis, roundworms usually transmitted from dogs to humans, often without noticeable symptoms, but may cause vision loss, a rash, fever or cough.

Stormwater and snowmelt almost always enters waterways untreated. Because of this, animal feces often ends up in rivers and streams, causing significant water pollution and in some cases restrictions on fishing and swimming.

KEEP IT CLEAN

The Keep It Clean Partnership on Stormwater Protection gives these suggestions: “Be prepared. Carry bags with you to pick up waste. It’s a good idea to carry a few extras with you in case you meet someone in need. Collect your pet’s poop in a bag and deposit it in a trash can, or dump the poop in the toilet without the bag. Do not leave bags on the side of trails — there isn’t anyone designated to pick them up. Routinely pick up your pet’s waste so you’re not contributing to decreased downstream water quality.”

So, next time you take Fido for a walk in this beautiful place we call home, remember to pick up the waste or contact a pet waste removal service available here in the valley (yes, they do exist).

Brooke Ranney is the projects and events coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Eagle Rive 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 for more information.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on October 29, 2016.

Help Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers in Eagle County

Nick Rzyska-FilipekAs enjoyers of our aquatic playgrounds in the summertime, most of us that fish and boat are aware that human activity has impacts. We’re probably less conscious that our own recreation practices may be leaving a mark. Invasive pests known as aquatic nuisance species are a growing threat to our water systems. These aquatic hitchhikers include disease-spreading bacteria, animals, and plants — some can be seen, others can’t. As non-native species they have no natural competition or predator, which makes it easy for them to spread rapidly and decimate our native species.

 WORST OFFENDERS

Some of the worst offenders in Colorado include zebra and quagga mussels, the New Zealand mudsnail and Eurasian watermilfoil.

Their impacts are big enough for the state of Colorado to have a budget of over $5 million for the control of aquatic nuisance species.

Zebra and quagga mussels can wreak havoc on boat engines and water supply infrastructure by encrusting and clogging pipes and fans. The New Zealand mudsnail feasts on the same aquatic insects that form the foundation of our native species’ food supply, surviving up to 50 days on a damp surface and several days on a dry one. Eurasian watermilfoil forms dense mats of noxious weeds that choke out native plants, slow water flow, invite mosquitoes to breed and decrease the water’s oxygen content. All of this inhibits swimming, fishing and boating.

‘ROCK SNOT’

In Eagle County, didymo (“rock snot”), the rusty crayfish and whirling disease are rampant in our waterways. Didymo or “rock snot” produces thick brown or bright green algae blooms that line stream bottoms and rocks, limiting oxygen for bottom-feeder organisms. The rusty crayfish is an intrusive and aggressive crustacean that feasts on the small insects and plant life that feed native fish.

 WHIRLING DISEASE

Whirling disease causes skeletal and neurological problems and sometimes death, in young rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout. This is a particular issue at the confluence of the Eagle River and Lake Creek, where the substrate hosts the disease-causing tubifex worm. Colorado Department of Wildlife now stocks whirling disease-resistant rainbow trout to lessen the blow for the angling community, but mitigation efforts are costly and fail to completely solve the spread of disease, which makes prevention more important than ever.

AGGRESSIVE PREVENTION

Since 2008 the Aquatic Nuisance Species Act has required mandatory inspection for all out-of-state boats entering Colorado waters and all of the boats entering or leaving known aquatic nuisance species-positive and high-risk waters. While there are no Colorado Department of Wildlife inspection stations in our county, there are several in reservoirs frequented by Eagle County residents including Rifle Gap, Ruedi, Harvey Gap and Blue Mesa Reservoirs.

 BUDGET CUTS

While Colorado has been a leader in aggressive aquatic nuisance species containment compared to its neighboring states, the program budget is facing major cuts. Only two local government contracts from Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, in addition to contributions from the U.S. Forest Service, remain. If Colorado slashes its aquatic nuisance species programs, then an epidemic like that seen in other states will likely follow. In 2015, Colorado Department of Wildlife caught and decontaminated a record breaking number of out-of-state boats before they entered Colorado waters. Already in 2016 that record has almost been broken, providing clear evidence that this is not the time to cut the program.

 CHECK YOURSELF

You don’t need a boat to contribute to the spread, either. Even the most innocent behaviors can transfer these nuisance species to healthy streams. They can be spread by wading boots, fishing and construction equipment, bait, and standing water. Even our beloved pets can transport these pests from stream to stream so it’s important to check, brush and wash your dog’s coat and paws after every dip.

 FOUR WAYS TO DECONTAMINATE

What’s the good news? Despite all of these issues, some relatively simple measures can make a huge difference and help stop the further spread of aquatic nuisance species in the waters we enjoy. Here are four ways to decontaminate anything that comes in contact with a water source.

Pick one:

• Dry equipment for a minimum of 10 days.

• Freeze equipment overnight.

• Clean with hot water (140 degrees) for a minimum of 10 minutes.

• Remove any mud, algae or debris and soak equipment for 10 minutes in a decontamination solution of 6 ounces of ammonia-based, industrial-strength cleaner per gallon of water.

Though these species have made it to the heavily traveled lakes and rivers in our county, many high mountain lakes and streams are as pristine as they were thousands of years ago. While I encourage everyone to seek out, explore, fish and enjoy their favorite mountain stream this summer, I urge you to consider what you may be bringing with you.

 

Nick Rzyska-Filipek is the habitat and 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 18, 2016.