Eagle River stretch slated for rehab | AspenTimes.com
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Eagle River stretch slated for rehab

Matt Terrell
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Eagle River Watershed CouncilA conservation group has $1.5 million to make the Eagle River through Edwards, Colo. look more like it did 100 years ago.
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EDWARDS, Colo. ” Restoration work will begin in September on a warm, wide and shallow stretch of the Eagle River in Edwards, an area notoriously inhospitable to fish.

Back in the 1800s, trees used to line this flat section of river between the Edwards Spur Road Bridge and the Hillcrest Drive bridge in western Colorado. Years of agriculture, ranching and development weakened the river banks and slowly ruined the ecosystem.

Large amounts of silt fall into the water, the sediment piles up, smothers insects and provides a breeding ground for the trout-killing whirling disease.

The shallowness, along with the absence of trees on the river’s edge, leads to high water temperatures and low amounts of dissolved oxygen, which aren’t good for trout.

The Eagle River Watershed Council, a nonprofit river advocacy group, has raised enough money ” about $1.5 million ” to rehabilitate this area and make it look like it did more than 100 years ago. Work will begin shortly after Labor Day.

Most of the money came from a National Resource Damage Fund, which was created to restore stretches of the Eagle River affected directly or indirectly by pollution from the Eagle Mine.

“There are more demands on the river, we have to step in now and try to improve the situation before it gets worse,” said Arlene Quenon, president of the Watershed Council.

The big goals are to make the river deeper, cooler and faster running.

So called “bars” of gravel, cobbles and boulders will be installed on alternating sides of the river bank, which tightens the width and forces water to flow more heavily on the opposite side, creating deeper stretches of water and decreasing the temperature.

“That same amount of water is pushed to one side, back and fourth. This will create sort of a meandering effect,” said Julie Ash, a water resource engineer with Walsh Environmental and the project manager.

Sediment would then more easily wash downstream, especially during “low-flow” times of year when there isn’t much water. Insects won’t be smothered, whirling disease won’t be a problem, and trout will have a more vibrant and comfortable places to live and spawn.

“We’re hoping that by having cooler water and faster moving water that it will improve the fishery,” Quenon said.

This spring, the project will involve planting a lot of trees, such as willows and cottonwood.

Trees provide shade, which cools the water and helps the fish. Having trees nearby also helps jump-start the food chain.

“When you get leaves to fall in the water, the little fish eat that, and the bigger fish eat them, and so on,” Ash said. “You’ll also see a lot more decomposing logs in the river ” things that get snagged in the river ” which keeps the bugs happy, which keeps the fish happy.”

Visually, the difference will be striking, says Melissa Macdonald, project administrator for the Watershed Council. This degraded section of the river is easily visible from homes in Edwards and the highways and sort of sticks out. It looks especially bad when compared to the sections of river both upstream and downstream, which are actually quite healthy.

“This conjoins two other healthy stretches of the river which are of exceptional quality. It will make a 50-mile-long segment of high quality waters for fishing,” Macdonald said.

In the future, the Watershed Council hopes to put a nature trail, a birdwatching area and a better place to launch boats down there.

The restoration will, at times, make the water look murky or muddy downstream.

“The unavoidable truth about restoration is it has to look worse before it can get better,” Ash said.

Workers though will be taking an “above and beyond” approach to minimizing the amounts of mud and sediment heading downstream, Ash said.

Construction crews will be putting up small walls around their work area to divert the river around where dirt is being stirred up.

“These containment walls will push the water to one side of the river while they work on the other, so they won’t be working in the water directly,” Ash said.

So called “curtains” will be installed downstream, which act as sort of mesh filters to catch any of the sediment that escapes.


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