Researchers and environmental experts recently participated in a learning exchange designed to generate ideas about protecting and restoring the Colorado River, its tributaries and streamside habitat.

The Colorado River supplies drinking water to more than 36 million people, irrigates more than 5.5 million acres of land and supports a $26 billion recreation and tourism industry. However, this lifeline of the West is facing serious challenges, including water quantity and quality.

On April 21, the Cross Watershed Network, Tamarisk Coalition and The Nature Conservancy hosted a workshop with more than 30 participants from along the Colorado River corridor. It was designed to share river management strategies, as well as inform future research ideas.

“We were able to stand side by side with researchers, pointing out the science needed to help us identify restoration activities that will have the best results,” The Nature Conservancy’s Canyonlands Regional Director Sue Bellagamba said. “It was a collaboration that will enable us to be more effective.”

One of the biggest problems facing the Colorado River is an abundance of non-native plants, including tamarisk and Russian olive. These plants can reduce water quality and quantity, narrowing the river channel.

“Invasives are a prolific problem, which is why it’s so important to work collaboratively across state boundaries to develop solutions, Tamarisk Coalition Restoration Coordinator Shannon Hatch said. “While our removal projects benefit wildlife, which depend on healthy riparian areas, they also help our communities and create jobs.”

Another key topic of the day focused on plant and soil changes after defoliation by the tamarisk beetle. Leaf litter is increasing nitrogen levels in the soil, which may favor secondary invasion non-native plants over native species.

Southeast Utah Riparian Partnership and Desert Rivers Collaborative were among the watershed partnership groups that participated in the workshop. Presenters included Dr. Sasha Reed of the U.S. Geological Survey; Grand County Weed Control Supervisor Tim Higgs; Dr. Dan Bean of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Palisade Insectary; Teresa Nees of Mesa County Noxious Weed and Pest Management; Kara Dohrenwend of Rim to Rim Restoration; and Dr. Jack Schmidt of Utah State University.

Workshop speakers discuss restoration efforts