Your Watershed: Ways to help protect our rivers | PostIndependent.com

Your Watershed: Ways to help protect our rivers

Annie Whetzel

Annie Whetzel

At the end of March, I was driving from Parachute to Rifle and noticed people in orange vests picking up trash along the side of the road. I looked for a logo on the van but wasn’t able to spot one; I looked for the “Adopt a Highway” sign and didn’t see one.

Without more information, this is an open thank-you to the crew out cleaning up the highway in March. They were protecting our river.

How does cleaning a highway protect the river? Hopefully if you have driven this stretch you have seen the mighty Colorado River from the car. The highway and river parallel one another. Collecting litter and trash from the roadway and surrounding banks might seem like something to merely make the drive more aesthetically pleasing, but it is a huge step in protecting river health.

The Greenway Foundation, a water protection group based out of Denver, completed a survey to assess water knowledge and river health in the area. They surveyed residents, asking them about their relationship with the closest river. The report found that 20 percent of the respondents could not identify where the closest river to them was, and 30 percent of the respondents couldn’t name that river, even if they did know where it was.

The implication of this is that if the respondents don’t know where the river was, the residents would never guess trash could make it to a river.

I’m here to tell all of you in Garfield County, the Colorado River goes right through it. Because the river and highway are so close, trash from the highway will most likely make it to the Colorado River. Highway clean-ups are especially important to our region.

Litter and trash follow the path of least resistance. Often caught in wind or water runoff after a big storm, it will follow the flow straight to the river.

The Greenway Foundation also completed a trash inventory for Cherry Creek in Denver. The inventory found that over 30 percent of the trash gathered was plastic-based or Styrofoam. This finding is not surprising, but it is disheartening. As plastic breaks down, it adds toxins to water and can be dangerous for aquatic life and riparian birds and can chemically alter the water quality.

For a river close to a roadway, there is likely to be more rubber, plastic, paint and oil that can leach into the soils or get caught in runoff flows and enter the water. Thanks to the most recent highway clean-up, I am not as worried about that.

With Earth Day in April, you might be searching for ways to give back to the environment. While highway clean-ups are wonderful, river clean-ups are perfect for directly affecting the health of the river.

American Rivers launched the National River Cleanup program in 1991. Since then, more than 1 million volunteers nationwide have gathered more than 25 million pounds of trash from rivers.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council with Alpine Bank hosts its own river clean-up in October, and we made a huge difference to the 7 miles we covered. We had volunteers from Parachute to Carbondale, with all ages represented. Similar to the statistics from the Cherry Creek trash inventory, we found a large amount of plastic at the clean-up, but also many automobile parts and tires.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy hosts its Annual Roaring Fork River Clean Up from 8 a.m. to noon April 22. You can find more information at http://www.roaringfork.org. If you miss that, Glenwood Springs hosts a clean-up on July 15. Save the date.

Protecting our river takes all types of actions, and picking up litter is one way we can easily protect the health of our waterway. Thanks for your help.

Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. The council works to evaluate, protect and enhance the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.