Coalition aims to protect our rivers |

Coalition aims to protect our rivers

Jeremy Heiman

The public is invited to a meeting Friday to find out more about the Roaring Fork Watershed Coalition, at 5 p.m. at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Since the coalition was formed in 1997, its members have been collecting information and have identified what they consider to be the critical issues affecting the Roaring Fork watershed. The coalition is now prepared to introduce itself to the public and ask for the help and involvement of interested valley residents.

Coalition board member Mark Fuller said one purpose of the meeting Friday is to locate others in the community who might be interested in the coalition’s projects. The group has no volunteer projects under way now, but almost certainly will by summer.

The Roaring Fork Watershed Coalition formed to learn more about the mechanics, ecology, and value of local waterways and to assure that they retain their present quality. The goal of the coalition is to develop, through research and field study, programs that will protect the health of the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries.

But threats to the river’s integrity are elusive.

“It’s hard to put your finger on anything,” Fuller said. “There’s no single source of pollution,” nor any single gigantic change in the river bed. Instead, incremental changes brought about by development in the river corridor allow the river fewer and fewer chances to recover and cleanse itself.

One example, Fuller said, is the construction of the Roaring Fork Club near Basalt. Hay fields once lined the banks, but now there’s a golf course, with its fertilizer-intensive grass culture. And the river banks were modified during construction.

Any encroachment into the riparian area that reduces the river’s ability to react in its natural way is cause for concern, Fuller said. And there’s been much encroachment up and down the river in recent years.

One major concern to the coalition is non-point pollution, often associated with large roadways and parking lots. Impervious surfaces collect runoff water containing pollutants such as petroleum products, pesticides and ice melting compounds and channel it into nearby bodies of water.

The coalition has sponsored wildlife population studies, weed control projects, wetland assessments and planting projects to restore riparian habitat. But its major focus to this point has been the development of a Roaring Fork Landscape and Watershed Model, a computer-based representation of the hydrology of the Roaring Fork.

The model is intended to demonstrate how water moves through the valley’s geologic structure and how it is affected by natural and man-made changes to local geology, vegetation, riverbed configuration and other variables. It is designed to assist in understanding the effects of changing land use. It will be fully interactive when completed so that it can be used to predict the impact of various activities on ecological systems.

“The information this model will generate will be a big step forward in the level of knowledge in the valley,” Fuller said.

The coalition hopes to serve as an educational asset to the valley, he said, especially to give people a basis for more informed decision making. Presently, he said, if a local government questions a developer on the impacts of a project on the river, the answer is most likely to be guesswork.

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