The latest newsletter “The Current” is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

October 8, 2014
Eagle River Basin

Eagle River Basin

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

In 2014-15, the Watershed Council is working to put the finishing touches on the Edwards Eagle River Restoration Project.

We were thrilled to have a group of Vail Mountain School 7th & 8th graders help us out for their service learning day. Together we planted 34 narrowleaf cottonwood trees and installed cages around each to protect them from busy beavers. It was a gorgeous and productive day by the river. Many thanks to Ms. Littman, Ms. Zimmer, Mr. Felser and their wonderful students!

Thanks to the work of the VMS students and the Colorado Alpines professional planting crew, all that’s left to round out the $4 million, 6-year project is to continue with weed mitigation. To learn more about the project, click here.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.


At head gate atop pass, Western Slope, Front Range interests meet — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

October 7, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A water-measuring flume on a ditch sitting exactly astride this pass outside Leadville might be as good a place as any to bring Western and Eastern Slope interests together to talk about water.

Those interests met in the middle here last week, at this point where the Ewing Ditch crosses the Continental Divide, on a transbasin diversion tour presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. It was a chance to consider the past of water development in Colorado while also pondering its future. And where better to look back at the history of transbasin diversions than at Ewing Ditch, the oldest diversion of Western Slope water to the Eastern Slope?

This straightforward, unassuming dirt conduit seemingly defies gravity, diverting water from Eagle River tributary Piney Gulch just a short walk from Tennessee Pass, and just high enough up the gulch that the water can follow a contoured course crossing basins and head into the Arkansas River Valley.

“It’s simple, but I love simplicity. It fits my mind,” Alan Ward, water resources manager with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, joked about the ditch, which the utility bought in 1955.

Buried in snow

It was built in 1880 and also is called the Ewing Placer Ditch, which Ward believes suggests early use of the water in mining.

As transbasin diversions go, it’s a minuscule one, delivering up to 18.5 cubic feet per second, or an average of about 1,000 acre-feet in a year. It diverts about five square miles of melt-off from snowpack that can leave the ditch buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of snow in the winter. David Curtis is in charge of clearing that snow and maintaining and operating the ditch during the seven months out of each year that he works out of Leadville as a ditch rider for the utility.

The utility says Ewing Ditch is about three-quarters of a mile long.

“I think it’s a little longer,” Curtis said, adding that at least it seems that way when he and others are busy clearing spring snow.

A chartered bus delivered more than two dozen tour participants to view the ditch, including Boulder County resident Joe Stepanek. He found last week’s two-day tour to be highly informative. He’s interested in Colorado’s history of water development, and is retired from a U.S. Agency for International Development career that had him traveling abroad.

“I come back and join this water tour and learn a lot about Colorado,” he said.

Sonja Reiser, an engineer with CH2M HILL in Denver, likewise was finding the tour to be eye-opening.

“I’m learning so much about how complicated Colorado water law is,” she said as the tour bus moved on from this tiny diversion point to the outlet of the five-mile-long Homestake Tunnel, which goes under the Continental Divide from Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County and is capable of delivering a much more massive 800 cubic feet per second to help meet municipal needs in Colorado Springs and Aurora.

Before getting to those cities, that water also is put to use at another tour stop, the Mount Elbert Power Plant just above Twin Lakes. There, the water goes through hydropower turbines that can be reversed to pull water back up from the lakes to a reservoir above the plant, helping ensure the water is available to create on-demand power to meet grid shortages at times when renewable energy from wind and solar sources wane.

While traveling to the tunnel, the busload heard Pitkin County Attorney John Ely discuss legal means that county has to at least weigh in on transbasin diversion proposals, even if it can’t outright stop them.

He then opined that Pitkin County has more in common with some Front Range counties than it does with some counties on the Western Slope.

“I think that at the end of the day everybody appreciates that we’re in this together,” he said.

More water

Such thinking is helping drive an ongoing effort to develop a state water plan in Colorado. Ely said the priority is always going to be providing water for human consumption, but beyond that, decisions must be made about how to distribute it among competing uses such as agriculture, watering lawns, generating hydropower and maintaining streamflows.

“The only way you can get at that is to invite the public to participate,” he said.

Since 1880, many others have followed the lead taken with the Ewing Ditch and diverted Western Slope water for use on the populous Front Range. As a result, a big challenge facing the state water planning process is reconciling the Front Range’s desire to be able to access yet more of that water with the feeling of many on the Western Slope that they’ve given up enough of it. Although tours like last week’s can’t be expected to lead to breakthroughs on such difficult issues, they at least help to put faces behind the entities involved.

“We’re not three-headed monsters on the Eastern Slope,” Kevin Lusk, who works with Colorado Springs Utilities, said during a windy lunch break alongside Turquoise Lake, which stores water delivered by the Homestake Tunnel.

Front Range lawns

Fielding questions from a few Western Slope residents as they ate, Lusk and some other Front Range utility officials found themselves defending the amount of water conservation they’ve already undertaken, and questioning the Western Slope frustration about water being used to keep Front Range lawns green. Brett Gracely, also with Colorado Springs Utilities, said that watering accounts for just 3 percent of state water use.

“I don’t get it — why do people hate grass?” Lusk wondered.

But as Lusk later described Colorado Springs’ efforts to better shore up its diversion infrastructure to reduce leakage far up the Roaring Fork Valley in Pitkin County, it engendered a frustrated sigh from Lisa Tasker, a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy River Board. She has hiked around that infrastructure, and what has leaked from it has helped vegetation in the same pristine mountain basins from where that water originates, rather than irrigating Front Range lawns.

Still, Tasker bit her lip during Lusk’s presentation. She was on the tour to look and listen, and said earlier it was a chance to see diversion infrastructure firsthand and hear not just the perspectives but the passions of people from the Front Range.

“I’m strictly in learning mode,” she said.

Chris Treese, external affairs manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, sits on the board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, which uses tours and other means to provide unbiased information on water resources and issues. Treese, who also was a presenter during last week’s tour, said he believes such events help foster dialogue about water in the state and get new voices involved in the state’s water future.

“If it’s going to be a state water plan, it can’t just be water buffaloes’ state water plan,” Treese said, referring to the more traditional participants in water issues on both sides of the divide.

“It’s good for us to get outside of our box and look at the bigger picture,” said tour participant Joe Burtard, who works in external affairs for the Ute Water Conservancy District utility in Mesa County. “… It’s good for us to be exposed to the Front Range and Eastern Slope perspectives as well.”

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


The latest Eagle River Watershed Council newsletter “The Current” is hot off The presses

September 5, 2014
Eagle River Basin

Eagle River Basin

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

In 2014, the Watershed Council has had the opportunity to work with various summer camps throughout the valley. We joined the Sonnenalp, Vail Mountain Club and Vail Mountain School’s Summer Quest program for watershed-themed days. We learned about watershed health & pollutants to our waterways; we removed invasive weeds like Canada thistle from our river banks; we found hundreds of bugs in Gore Creek; and we spent hours outside enjoying all that is summertime in Colorado![...]

The Eagle River Cleanup is Saturday the 13th!

We all love to play on our rivers and streams during the warm months but all that love can take its toll. That’s why each September, we get down and dirty for a day of cleaning along the waterways that we all cherish.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.


There are 44 transbasin diversions in Colorado that move water between river basins. Tour some with CFWE! #ColoradoRiver

August 26, 2014

Eagle River Valley: Streamflow above average — thanks North American Monsoon #COdrought

August 26, 2014
Eagle River Basin

Eagle River Basin

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

For the first time in more than 110 weeks, according to the Colorado Climate Center, none of the state is in “exceptional drought,” the direst level of drought, which has only been seen once or twice every 100 years.

“They are not out of the woods in southeast Colorado yet,” said Wendy Ryan, assistant state climatologist. “They have a long road to recovery after four years of drought. These are the first real rains they have seen in some time.”[...]

It’s been a good summer for the area’s waterways, as far as river levels go. So good, in fact, that the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District hasn’t had to make changes to its water operations in order to keep stream levels up.

The water district’s Diane Johnson said that in previous years, a combination of dry skies and hot temperatures have forced the district to pull the area’s drinking water from different parts of the river in order to maintain the minimum stream-flow levers.

“A benchmark for us is that both the Eagle River and Gore Creek have been above the median for the whole season, which is great,” Johnson said. “Once it peaked, it’s stayed above the norm, which is good for fishing and boating.”[...]

Experts are calling the current wet cycle “monsoon” conditions, which they say is helping to alleviate the dry conditions that racked the state last year. In fact, statewide, precipitation was at 112 percent of average, and so far in August totals are 90 percent of the average.


Eagle River Watershed Council event (Tuesday, August 26): 30 Years Later – an Eagle Mine Update

August 21, 2014

Eagle Mine

Eagle Mine


From the Eagle River Watershed Council:

For years, the abandoned Eagle Mine dominated all conversation surrounding water in Eagle County. Much progress has been made to clean up the mine – and the Eagle River flowing through the area – since its closure in 1984 and subsequent listing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Superfund site.

The legacy of pollution from the mine, however, is an indefinite one. What is the status of the mine today, three decades later? And what plans are in place for the future of the mine cleanup?

Mr. Russell Cepko, Vice President of Environmental Projects for CBS, will provide answers to these questions and more. As the owner of the mine site, CBS is responsible for administering the cleanup effort. We will also hear from Seth Mason, ERWC’s Water Quality Programs Director about the history of water quality impacts, regulatory action and ongoing concerns among local stakeholders.


Eagle River Cleanup returns Sept. 13 — the Vail Daily

August 19, 2014
Eagle River Basin

Eagle River Basin

From the Vail Daily:

The Eagle River Watershed Council is celebrating the 20th year of the Eagle River Cleanup. In 1994, before the formation of the Watershed Council, the local Trout Unlimited chapter organized the inaugural Eagle River Cleanup. There were two tents and 24 volunteers, half of which were Vail Resorts ski patrollers equipped with radios and trucks. There was a silent auction, which included a Vail season pass and raised a total of $400.

In the past 20 years, the Eagle River Cleanup has grown tremendously and become a fall tradition for many environmentally and community-minded families, groups and companies. This year, nearly 350 volunteers are expected to help care for our local waterways in the 20th annual Eagle River Cleanup on Sept. 13. This popular, countywide event is organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council, presented by Vail Resorts Echo, sponsored by many businesses and supported by volunteers from Red Cliff to Dotsero to East Vail.

Massive Community Effort

From 9 a.m. to noon, teams of volunteers will be cleaning up the banks of Gore Creek and the Eagle and Upper Colorado rivers. All told, this massive community effort will clean nearly 70 miles of river throughout Eagle County.

Following the cleanup, volunteers and their families are invited to the Broken Arrow at Arrowhead from noon to 2 p.m. for a free thank you barbecue provided by the Arrowhead Alpine Club. The party features music from local Minturn favorites, the Turntable Revue, beer from Crazy Mountain Brewing and a raffle for the entire family.

Volunteers Needed

More volunteers are always needed. Call the ERWC office at 970-827-5406 or email us at serrill@erwc.org to confirm your usual segment, sign up for a new one or join an existing team. Volunteers meet on the river at assigned locations on the day of the event, so you must pre-register in order to know where you’re needed most.

The 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.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.


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