Keeping a clean river

Yampa Valley water monitoring program in the works

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— Local officials are working to implement a comprehensive plan for monitoring water quality in the Yampa Valley.

More than 10 agencies currently conduct various levels of water monitoring in the region, and Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf said that large number of agencies is at the root of the problem.

"It's hard to access all of that information," Zopf said Thursday. "There's really a disconnect between the research and the results of that research getting out to the public. : The existing methodology is not adequate to really characterize what is happening in our watershed. It's going to be hard for us to track any changes to our water."

Routt County and city of Steamboat Springs officials met with more than 15 representatives of local water interests Wednesday night at the Routt County Courthouse Annex to begin a process that could result in a unified, publicly accessible approach to monitoring water in the Yampa River and its tributaries.

"We had the best water in Colorado two years ago, and we want to keep it that way," said Eric Berry, superintendent of the Yampa Public Works Depart-

ment, referring to the South Routt town's 2005 Best Tasting Water in Colorado Award.

A possible threat to water quality looms not far upstream from Yampa. Zopf identified construction sediment as a significant cause of water pollution. Development projects totaling more than 2 million square feet are slated to break ground in the Steamboat Springs area this summer.

"When you disturb soil, that releases nutrients that are naturally bound in the soil," Zopf said, listing nitrogen and phosphorous as examples. "When you add those nutrients to water, it provides nutrients for aquatic life such as algae. A certain amount of that is good, but the same algae takes up oxygen, and if you get too much of it : it can reduce oxygen levels to below what is needed for trout. It could lead to a fish kill."

Ben Northcutt, executive director of the International Erosion Control Association in Steamboat, said there is the threat of impacts, but that the construction industry is regulated by federal, state and local agencies.

"If (contractors) are following the regulations, there should be fairly minimal threat to water quality," Northcutt said.

Contractors working on local projects could not be reached Thursday.

Zopf said contractors control sediment by numerous techniques including silt fences, filtering barriers such as straw bales, re-establishing vegetation after grading and creating detention ponds that collect sediment-filled water and discharge clean water.

"None of these practices are 100 percent effective in eliminating erosion and sediment from construction sites," Zopf said.

The impacts of growth are a driving force behind the new water quality program. On Wednesday, hydrologists Paul Von Guerard and Kirby Wynn of the U.S. Geological Survey in Grand Junction displayed monitoring systems already established along the Upper Gunnison, Eagle, Blue and Roaring Fork rivers.

"We can take a whole mountain of data and make it readily available," Wynn said.

City, county and local water officials will meet again next month to continue developing a comprehensive water monitoring plan.

"I sensed a lot of enthusiasm, and I was amazed at the number of people there" Wednesday, Zopf said. "Obviously, people are very concerned about water quality and preserving our natural resources. With so much (growth) activity, we're going to have to be more vigilant than we have in the past."

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