Watershed Council and Network lead riverway tour

RBC | An amalgamation of interests and concerns over recent years along the Colorado River from the head of Glenwood Canyon, through the canyon, through the riverside municipalities in Garfield County and on to Debeque in Mesa County has fueled the establishment of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Formally since 2013, the group has been such a positive force, bringing together so many stakeholders touched by the river, that the Rifle Chamber of Commerce is now providing the group, for a most minimal fee, the use of the visitor center in the Lions Park Circle at the Rifle-Interstate 70 rest stop as their headquarters.

Examples of those interests and concerns include the need to undertake comprehensive riverside restoration work in the watershed and the heavy presence of woody invasive species. In July 2008, a Revised Consolidated Woody Invasive Species Management Plan for the primary western slope watersheds was released by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, and the Tamarisk Coalition. This plan included the White River.

Also of interest is the economic value of outdoor recreation in the watershed tied largely to river-based activity. According to Earth Economics, a non-profit headquartered in Tacoma, Wash., which uses natural capital valuation to help decision-makers and local residents understand the value of natural assets, the Middle Colorado River watershed is responsible for at least $32 million annual spending on recreation, 321 jobs supported annually in Garfield County, and $2.5 million generated for state and local taxes.

The council’s rest stop office space includes an area that was once occupied by brochures and other informational material about the area, perhaps supplanted now by people’s access to such information by Internet. The council is currently raising funds to develop the space into a modern interpretive center intended to bring the community, residents and visitors alike, into the world of water and riverside education.

Overall, the mission of the council is to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the Middle Colorado River watershed through the cooperative effort of stakeholders (interested parties) throughout the watershed. Last week, the council, in conjunction with an organization now called RiversEdge West and a group called Cross-Watershed Network, organized and hosted a day-long tour from Silt to Debeque looking at efforts the towns of Silt, Parachute and Debeque are making to improve their river connections from both public and community recreational and economic amenity points of view.

RiversEdge West used to be known as the Tamarisk Coalition, founded in 1999 as a grassroots Colorado effort focused on actively managing woody invasives—namely tamarisk—along riverways in western Colorado. The Coalition is dedicated to continually improving and maintaining the restoration of riparian (riverside) habitat.

After much review and brainstorming, the Coalition realized their work went well beyond tamarisk invasion to other riverside plants, climate change, habitat fragmentation and other stressors that tend to diminish biodiversity, as well as to fostering well-equipped community stewardship of riparian areas. The organization announced in February they were changing their name to RiversEdge West.

The Cross-Watershed Network, abbreviated XWN, states that it is a participant-driven, peer-to-peer network of folks working on improving watersheds by sharing restoration strategies and experience across the arid west thus increasing everyone’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Both RiversEdge West and XWN are headquartered in Grand Junction.