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Rivers are pristine

Dear Editor:

I want to thank Ric Hauer and Harvey Locke for speaking at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies last week.

Ric is a world-renowned expert in stream ecology, and has redefined and transformed scientific thinking regarding streams. Ric demonstrated that old ways of considering streams merely as channels, and focusing on minimum stream flows as indicators of stream health, is literally out of context to the richly diverse relationships of the stream ecosystem.



Harvey is an innovative environmentalist, and together, Ric and Harvey brought a unique way of clearly articulating both the scientific complexity and the human urgency to evolve our understanding of “reality” in the cause and effect of our actions that impact the ecosystem relationships. Their message was poignant and compelling to people who actually live in a stream-based ecosystem, as we do in the Roaring Fork valley.

Ric presented visually rich, compelling photos and scientific diagrams of the reality of streams, beyond the stream channel, hundreds of feet to the sides and below the channel, in an ongoing dance with time of gravel bed movement between the hydrology and geomorphology that shattered the traditionally narrow view of steams. The richness of this view of authentic reality was both humbling and exhilarating.



Seeing what actually happens as a three-dimensional chess of life, in time and space, makes one appreciate nature’s awe-inspiring complexity and motivates one to protect the integrity of the “streams” in the Aspen area from a “minimum stream flow” old model of “reality.” Impacts involving de-watering streams becomes a sobering multi-dimensional cause and effect, to huge swaths of reality around the streams that past models have simply not known how to consider.

The channel that we see is just a small expression of the whole, just like the tip of an iceberg only indicates the power of the mass below the surface, where more is unseen than is seen. The whole river flows through the gravel feet below and hundreds of feet to the sides of the channel we are able to see, and yet the science we have used in Aspen only measures what we see.

For example, there are whole populations of insects, some of them quite large, that we didn’t know existed until this research of the last few years revealed, that feed upward into the living ecosystem of complex life forms in and around the streams, including fish, birds, riparian vegetation and trees.

Ric provided examples of places with beautiful old trees, but without young or middle-aged trees due to the effects of de-watering of streams. Maroon Creek has extensive wetlands within the city’s proposed de-watered zone, and wetlands are not only part of the stream ecosystem, but has its own ecosystem and relational complexity. Nature is used to a year or two of drought conditions, just like it is use to wetter than normal years; but these living, invisible habitats will shrivel with induced de-watered conditions, which will show up as a degraded visible reality as sure as cause and effect.

Tom Hirsch

Aspen


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