by Joyce Wizer and Lisa Bracken, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance
The River Watch program started in 1989 with six schools on the Yampa River in northwest Colorado. It has since grown to 350 schools, individuals and watershed groups whose goal is to monitor all the waterways in the state. Because there are watersheds in the gaspatch of western Garfield County that are not regularly tested, members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA) formed a citizen volunteer group to help expand River Watch’s testing program.
There are two primary goals of River Watch. The first is to provide a hands-on experience for individuals to understand the value and function of the river ecosystem. The second goal is to collect quality aquatic ecosystem data over space and time to be used for the Clean Water Act and other water quality decision-making processes.
These goals are congruent with the goals of GVCA to promote fair and balanced use of our natural resources, as well as to appreciate and safeguard the natural beauty and bounty that the Grand Valley enjoys.
A special River Watch training sponsored by GVCA took place July 11-12 in Rifle. Citizen volunteers learned to follow the exacting sampling procedures they will use to collect data from a newly established River Watch station on Divide Creek.
Additional training is planned October 14–17. Please contact Joyce Wizer at (970) 208-2048 if you are interested in the training and in establishing additional River Watch stations.
Lisa Bracken’s involvement with water monitoring began a decade ago when a natural gas fracking seep occurred in West Divide Creek, where it flows through her family’s property on the outskirts of Silt. The 2004 event was followed by a second seep in 2008. Bracken, a communications consultant and university instructor, recently renewed her membership with WCC based in part on the River Watch partnership,
“In the midst of on-going drilling,” Bracken notes, “monitoring has been recently and dramatically rolled back. The lack of regulatory framework, agency funding cutbacks and controversial politics surrounding oil and natural gas extraction in Colorado make objective science a challenge.”
“While some water sampling has occurred in the impacted area around my home,” Bracken continues, “coordinated and consistent efforts have always been elusive, which has left gaping holes in available data. WCC’s partnership with River Watch empowers committed and trained citizens with not only a first-look toward better assessing stream health, but a long-range record of observations and data that can be valuable in comparing trends and logging impacts to watersheds.”
Thump Cunningham, a retired US veteran who also attended the riverside pre-training in July, says he will appreciate the opportunity to visit streams and watercourses which exhibit signs of environmental distress, prepared with training and equipment in hand.
“I probably should have been an entomologist,”Cunningham says, referencing the effects of water pollution on insects and small invertebrates monitored within the program’s framework. “The chance to play with science in my favorite playground, nature, to help ensure the preservation of that playground is definitely my cup of tea.”