The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

Click here to read the newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council. Here’s an excerpt:

“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 http://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 http://www.erwc.org.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

Passages are narrowing as the snow piles up in Crested Butte. Photo/Town of Crested Butte Facebook page

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

River-Friendly Snow and Ice Removal

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 http://www.erwc.org.

Stormwater is a big problem for Gore Creek

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

A host of problems threaten Gore Creek in Vail, but one of the biggest is what runs through the town’s storm drains.

Some of the problem will take years and a lot of money to solve. For instance, much of the runoff in town is no longer filtered through the soil, which has been replaced by pavement, concrete and rooftops throughout the years. But a number of problems may be due to people simply not knowing what happens when something runs into a storm grate.

Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden recently updated the Vail Town Council about state of stormwater and its treatment in town.

IMPROVED FILTRATION

There are a number of ways to treat stormwater, including catch basins that can capture sand, oil and other material before it flows into the creek. There are 27 of those basins in town at the moment, and they’re cleaned out a couple of times every year, Wadden said. Upgrading those basins would be effective, but expensive, Wadden said.

Filtration has been improved at the town’s snow storage site, and improvements are planned for this year at the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange.

But the basins don’t catch everything.

There are also more than 2,000 storm drains, many of which flow directly into the creek. Slowing the runoff is a good start at cleaning up those areas. Creating zones where runoff could filter through rocks and soil before going into the creek could be effective.

Then there’s the problem of people dumping stuff into the storm grates.

During his presentation, Wadden went through a small list of stuff that people dropped into storm grates in 2016. That list includes cooking grease, paint and window cleaner.

A member of a construction crew in Vail Village dumped a bag of cement into a storm drain.

Town crews had to vacuum out the storm grate to catch as much of the powdered cement as possible. Wadden said the construction company wouldn’t name the employee who dumped the cement, so no ticket was issued.

In a separate incidence, no ticket was issued to a vendor at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games who dumped 120 hot dogs down a storm drain, which resulted in another good-sized cleanup.

“People just don’t know where the water goes,” Wadden said.

Council members said that needs to change.

An education campaign is already under way that includes advertising on town buses, and a proposal to create awareness-raising art on town storm drains. There’s also a town hotline, 970-476-4673 (GORE), to report dumping into storm drains. But that phone is only answered during normal business hours.

Council member Dick Cleveland asked if the phone could be routed into the town’s emergency dispatch center.

‘EASY TO UNDERSTAND’

Cleveland also asked Wadden if the education campaign could be expanded to include some sort of notice at virtually every storm grate in town. Cleveland said that’s the case in a California town near the beach.

US House passes Bolts Ditch bill to aid Colorado towns

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via  LessBeatenPaths.com.
Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
LessBeatenPaths.com.

From The Vail Daily:

The U.S. House of Representatives Monday passed the Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act, and the Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act, legislation sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. to help Colorado communities and protect public lands. Several Colorado members of Congress co-sponsored the bills.

Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act will allow the town of Minturn to use its existing water rights to fill Bolts Lake by giving the town special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. When Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness Area in 1980, Bolts Ditch was inadvertently left off the list of existing water facilities.

The Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act would expand the Arapaho National Forest to include 10 new parcels of land, informally known as the “Wedge,” which are currently undeveloped. The move enables the U.S. Forest Service to protect and preserve an area were millions of people travel annually.

Polis, who lives near Boulder, represents part of the mountains including Summit County and about one-third of Eagle County.

“Today was a great win for Coloradans,” Polis said. “At a time when it seems that partisanship and divisiveness is at historic levels, it’s heartening to see members of the Colorado delegation work together to protect our public lands and find practical solutions for our communities. We should all be proud of the passage of these bills that will protect our wonderful wilderness and help our local economies.”

TWO ADDITIONAL BILLS APPROVED

The House of Representatives also approved two additional bills that Polis co-sponsored. Both bills settled long-standing land disputes in Colorado. The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would resolve a costly title dispute between the federal government and private landowners. It would convey a small portion of land near Rifle to property owners who have used and paid property taxes on the acreage for years. The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act would convey 320 acres of land on the west side of Pikes Peak to the U.S. Forest Service. The Broadmoor Hotel currently owns the land, and in exchange, the government will transfer an 83-acre parcel located at Emerald Valley Ranch to the Broadmoor.

Both Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner introduced Senate companion legislation to these four bills this session.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (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 http://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.

Sens. Bennet (@mbennet) and Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) find common ground on a set of bills

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via  LessBeatenPaths.com.
Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
LessBeatenPaths.com.

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Joey Bunch):

Gardner’s office described the bills this way:

  • The Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act would authorize special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, allowing Minturn to use its existing water right to fill Bolts Lake. This would solve a problem created in 1980 when Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness area, but inadvertently left Bolts Ditch off of the list of existing water facilities.
  • The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument legislation will allow for enhanced wildfire protection as well as additional habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for visitors. Established as a national monument in 1969, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located west of Pikes Peak and less than 40 miles from Colorado Springs. The monument is home to diverse fossil deposits, maintaining a collection of over 12,000 specimens. It also provides recreational experiences and curriculum-based education programs for its visitors. A private landowner submitted a proposal to donate 280 acres of land adjacent to Florissant Fossil Beds Monument, but due to current law the land donation cannot take place. This commonsense legislation would permit a landowner to donate private land to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • The Wedge Act would aid the Forest Service in acquiring several parcels of land adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. This Act would help preserve critical wildlife habitat, Colorado River headwaters, and a highly visible view shed in the area commonly referred to as the Wedge.
  • The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act is a federal land exchange where the Forest Service would acquire pristine land in the Pike National Forest allowing for more outdoor recreation near Pikes Peak.
  • The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would correct the discrepancy that took place from conflicting land surveys and require the Forest Service to convey acreage to private ownership that is rightfully private property, according to the Forest Service’s own conclusion and recommendation. For nearly 100 years, 148 acres of land has been used as private land even though it is included in Forest Service survey maps, and this legislation allows for the resolution between the Forest Service and the private landowner.
  • “Colorado’s public lands are national treasures and I’m proud to work across the aisle to protect our state’s natural beauty,” Gardner said in an afternoon statement. “Each of these measures proposes a legislative fix that will have a lasting impact on Colorado and ensure future generations are able to enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance these bills through the legislative process.”

    Bennet added. “Our public lands define Colorado and help drive our outdoor recreation economy. These bipartisan, commonsense measures will help to preserve our pristine lands, protect wildlife habitats and expand outdoor access for years to come.”

    ERWC: The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses

    Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.
    Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    It’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 http://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 http://www.erwc.org.