Middle CO River: Small part of a bigger picture | PostIndependent.com

Middle CO River: Small part of a bigger picture

Annie Whetzel

If the State of the River reminded me of one thing, it is that we, as Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District mentioned during his talk on the Colorado River, “are all in this together.”

While I like to think the Middle Colorado River is its own river system, and at times it feels like it is, the river we protect is actually just one piece of a much larger river system that spans most of the American southwest.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, MCWC, aims to protect the stretch of Colorado River from the mouth of Glenwood Canyon to De Beque at the western edge of Garfield County. We work with everyone who uses water from the agricultural community, to city water users (including tooth-brushers and lawn-waterers), to oil and gas developers and every governmental agency in between to encourage wise water use and ensure safe water quality for everyone involved.

Working with the Colorado River District for the State of the River was a great reminder that navigating these diverse interests and subsequent water uses is a common thread for the entire river, from the headwaters of the Colorado down to the river terminus. Through education, dialog and exchange of information we have a chance to better understand and manage the finite resource.

The MCWC has a few projects on the ground and on the horizon that aim to connect our stretch of river to the larger river system. These efforts involve riparian restoration, a nice term for fighting invasive species like tamarisk and ensuring native plants have a chance to grow back, and water quality management.

Tamarisk Coalition chose the MCWC as one of nine programs to join their Restore Our Rivers campaign. The campaign provides tools and funding for river restoration programs that combat tamarisk and Russian olive and more.

“Rivers throughout the West are in a state of crisis,” Stacy Beaugh, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition, said in a press release regarding the Restore Our Rivers campaign, “and we are relying on groups like The Middle Colorado Watershed Council to take care of some of the greatest stressors: invasive plants. Tamarisk, Russian olive, knapweed and tree of heaven rapidly displace native plants and degrade river systems by channelizing river banks, impairing natural river function, significantly reducing the quality of wildlife habitat value and forage for pollinators, decreasing biodiversity, increasing wildfire risk, and restricting access to scenic landscapes.”

The other partnering programs operate in the Colorado River system, from Arizona, to Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah, tying the entire River system together. This summer the MCWC will begin a few restoration projects and will continue to monitor existing projects. It is our way of working along our 75 mile stretch of river and understanding how we fit into the larger picture.

As for water quality monitoring, we are undertaking a citizen science program to establish a baseline for what is in our water in the middle Colorado River and its tributaries. Upstream and downstream of us, many groups already test water quality, and therefore again, we are tasked with understanding how our section of river fits into the larger system. Our citizen science program is designed to find out what water quality looks like today, see how that compares to the past, and allows for the opportunity to evaluate trends into the future. How are we affecting water quality and are there opportunities to improve? The data we and our stakeholders collect will help us understand our basin better, but will also provide service to everyone downstream of us.

Our little, but significant, stretch of river is ours to take care of. Managing the entire Colorado River might seem like a daunting task, but we can be stewards for our stretch, from Glenwood Canyon to De Beque. The steps we take to protect our water helps our little basin, but also, we are working a much larger system throughout the west, because we are all in this together.

Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the council, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the council on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.


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