The Eagle River Watershed Council is a non-profit group located in Avon, Colorado dedicated to being an advocate for Eagle County rivers and streams. The ERWC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization who advocates for our rivers through educational programs, special events, fundraising, restoration projects, empirical monitoring, scientific research and community volunteer projects.
The group allows local fly fisherman to make a tangible difference in Eagle County by helping the ERWC to advocate for the health and conservation of our watershed.
The ERWC had its beginnings when catastrophe struck the Eagle River in 1984. The New Jersey Zinc Mine above Minturn had recently shut down and been purchased by a new owner Viacom and all but water treatment operations were being halted so the new owner could save some money on their new real estate investment. This led them to a consulting engineering firm named Dames and Moore located in Denver.
Ironically, I had come to Boulder, Colorado in 1980 and began as a sales engineer in the mining business. The New Jersey Zinc Mine had been mining the Gilman area for primarily Lead and Zinc since the early 1900’s. They were beginning to shut down the mine when I was just beginning my career but had the opportunity to call on the mine when it was running.
Calling on specifying engineers was part of my job and out of the blue I found myself at Dames and Moore in Denver one afternoon in the early 80’s. We were viewing blueprints of a new pump back system the mine planned to use at the old New Jersey Zinc Mine. The young engineer explained how the customer would save thousands on waste water laced with heavy metals by passing the wastewater treatment plant and pumping the tainted water directly into the mine to be stored for life. What seemed like a bad idea at the time would soon get worse.
In 1984 the new pump back system failed, the mine leaked like a sieve, sending pollutants into Cross Creek and the Eagle River. Now contaminated with water soluble heavy metals the 235 acre Gilman site was declared a Superfund site in 1986. This would provide the resources for an effective clean-up to begin.
When the accident first happened many people from the local business community sought ways to protect the river. The local citizens and business community banded together as a group called EREBA or the Eagle River Business Alliance and were part of the efforts to monitor the cleanup.
Everything had been going well since the mine tailings had been shored up and a new high tech waste water treatment plant put on line. One day in 1988 a human error caused a failure and the plant was bypassed for some time. The Eagle River turned cadmium orange from Minturn to Edwards and killed most of the trout in the river.
Ironically, I found myself working as a fly fishing guide in the Vail Valley when this went down in the summer of 88 and ended up at some of the old “save the Eagle River meetings”.
By 1995 after a three year facilitated public process Eagle County had adopted the Eagle River Watershed Plan. In the plan it was recommended that a citizen’s group be formed to implement and monitor the plan. This is how the ERWC came into existence.
As an original member of the watershed steering committee and eventual board member of the ERWC, I was happy to welcome our first paid administrator in 2000.
The mine has shown continual improvement in water quality and was officially declared cleaned up by the EPA in 2001. The ERWC was the primary beneficiary of a 3.2 million dollar fine levied on the mine owners by the EPA and has since used the funds to improve several portions of the Eagle River.
Work well done, but the work, according to ERWC’s Seth Mason’s most recent article in the Vail Daily will not stop. Gore Creek is polluted according to Colorado State water quality standards. No wonder the Green Drakes stopped flying years ago.
This group could use a local fly fisherman’s help. If you want to be part of a team come join us at Vail Valley Anglers, Edwards Colorado for volunteer opportunities as they arise. In the meantime, visit the new web site at erwc.org and check out some of the unique learning options ERWC has available.
Fishing Guide and Content Writer