23 September 2009: A lot learned at Clear Creek Watershed Festival

A lot learned at the Clear Creek Watershed Festival

I wasn’t aware that Clear Creek County is part of a 400-square-mile EPA superfund hazardous material site. Considering the county’s area is only 396 square miles, it means a considerable chunk of our land mass is heavily polluted. It makes sense given our mining history; nevertheless, I usually associate superfund cleanups with places like Rocky Flats and the catastrophic Summitville disaster in the San Luis Valley.

It’s good to learn new stuff such as about the technology that purifies water before it is pumped into homes, and attending the Clear Creek Watershed festival, which Foundation President Ed Rapp calls “a new kind of celebration for the Clear Creek Valley,” was a real educational experience. There I got a close-up look at the fibers Idaho Springs uses to filter its water along with a refresher course about water-saving shower heads.

You might call it “school along the creek,” an outdoor educational experience most students would agree beats school enclosed in four walls, and no standardized CSAP test to assess your learning!

“The shocker was nothing was being vended and there were no fees,” states Rapp. “The only things disseminated were useful information and fun. You could learn about wildlife and habitat, water resources and coalitions, alternative energy and transportation, ecotourism, mining and minerals, and fishing all in the Clear Creek Watershed.”

Organizers counted more than 500 attendees who were learning more about “what’s in and makes their watershed so special,” says Diane Kielty of Kielty Diversified Projects.

The larger purpose of the festival, according to Kielty, was to help educate people about making difficult decisions in the pursuit of sustainability.

“There are necessary tradeoffs, so the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation’s guiding principle is a community-based, triple bottom line—ecological, societal, and economical—of shared resources”

For many, watershed and sustainability are vague concepts, so the organizers faced the task of engaging participants—students/learners—right from the get-go.

“The trick,” says Outreach Project Manager Chris Crouse, “was to keep participants engaged. Upon arriving, each person received a nylon bag to hold goodies and informational handouts and a ‘passport’ that was stamped with a colorful rubber stamp to show the holder’s itinerary and participation in the activities.

“When finished, the passport became a pass for free lunch, ice cream social, fancy water bottle, and more. It was exciting to watch young and old scurrying around to fulfill their participatory obligation both to the event and their future.”

Rapp notes that it has been 150 years since Jackson first discovered gold here and started the rush into the valley. “It is time to contemplate the next 150 years to maintain our valley, our communities, and our economy so that our future generations can meet their needs over the next 150 years or seven generations.”

Crouse insists that we cannot go back to 1859. “Just doing preservation and conservation does not work.” But doing more will take the commitment of everyone who enjoys the benefits of a healthy environment, like pollutant- and toxin-free air and water.

For the event, the Division of Wildlife stocked 100 cut-bow trout in the stream and Trout Unlimited helped people tie their own flies and catch trout.

“What better way to introduce a youngster to the thrills of nature and make care for habitat a part of their being,” says Crouse.

Watching the movie A River Runs through It and a friend, to whom fishing is as skiing is to me, enter another realm when he casts his line, I’ve come to appreciate fishing being a therapeutic and even spiritual experience.

But a piece of more sobering fish tale was recently reported by the Denver Post. It says that according to a U.S. Geological Survey, “Male bass in Colorado rivers and other basins around the nation widely exhibit feminine sex traits, with 70 percent of male bass in the Yampa River having eggs developing alongside their testicular organs.”

That bizarre anomaly made terrific fodder for me when I poked fun in my April Fool’s column, but being man-made, its reality is unsettling in a Frankenstein fashion.

We do need to find cost effective projects and economic opportunities with no net-loss of ecological services. And there are big markets for cleaner water and renewable energy that we can provide and still sustain our sense of history and place.

But the larger question in front us deals with a clearer definition of sustainability. On the Worldwatch Institute site, Thomas Prugh and Erik Assadourian explore it in a piece titled “What Is Sustainability, Anyway?”

Prugh and Assadourian note that “sustainability, despite being a relatively new term, has already been overused and corrupted.” So they suggest that “it may be convenient to think about sustainability in terms of four dimensions: human survival, biodiversity, equity, and life quality.”

We’ll explore that and other related ideas more fully in a future piece.

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