Respect the Roaring Fork River
The Roaring Fork River is the lifeblood of this valley. Along with its tributaries, the river provides drinking water and irrigates our lawns, gardens and crops. It nourishes wildlife of all kinds and provides habitat for fish, bugs, birds and other creatures. We fish in our rivers and paddle in our rivers; sometimes we just cool our heels in the water and listen to it flowing past.
We rely heavily on the Roaring Fork, and, if asked, virtually every one of us would say we love the river. Unfortunately, we damage the river without meaning to. By using its water for all kinds of human purposes, we lessen the flow. By building homes, roads, bridges and trails near the river, we pollute the water and fill it with sediment. By removing riverside vegetation when we landscape our homes and subdivisions, we degrade the ecology and make riparian areas unlivable for native creatures.
A new report called the State of the Roaring Fork Watershed surveys the drainage from its headwaters near Independence Pass to the confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Two years in the making, the report is the first of its kind; its sponsors ” chiefly the Ruedi Water and Power Authority and the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt ” hope it will jump-start both a public discussion about river health and, down the road, local government policies to protect water quality and quantity.
Pitkin County voters’ recent approval of a new “Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund” makes us optimistic about the prospects for better, wiser watershed management in the future.
We support the Conservancy’s effort, and we hope, at the very least, that the report raises public awareness and fosters new sensitivity about the river and riparian ecology. We will publish information about upcoming watershed-planning meetings and encourage locals to attend, but, given the legal and political complexities, it may be years before real policy prescriptions emerge.
In the meantime, we urge readers to read the report and learn about the threats to the Roaring Fork, from eastern slope interests that are thirsty for Western Slope water to local homeowners and developers who remove willows and cottonwoods as they “beautify” riverside properties.
Everyone in the valley has a role to play in caring for the Roaring Fork and its tributaries, by conserving water at home and in the garden, participating in river cleanup efforts, preserving riparian trees and plants, or advocating for river-setback regulations. The Conservancy report is an important step in the right direction.
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In the six weeks since Independence Pass has been open this season, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office already has received 15 reports of semi-trucks trying to or actually driving over the pass.