The folks at the Blue River Watershed Group know that sometimes it’s difficult to get people to talk or think about water issues. Even though water is an essential resource to the community, it’s easy for it to slip out of mind without drought or floods bringing the subject to the fore.
To inject a little extra fun into their educational mission, the Blue River Watershed Group is pairing with local craft brewers to present the Headwater Hops Fest this Thursday, Aug. 6, at the Tiki Bar at Dillon Marina. The event features beer from local breweries — all of which rely on fresh, clean water to make their products — and acts as a fundraiser for the Blue River Watershed Group.
Organized in late 2004, the Blue River Watershed Group became a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2005. Since then, it has had its hand in a number of restoration projects in Summit County, stretching from the Snake River in Keystone to the Tenmile Creek in Copper to the Swan River in Breckenridge.
“We started with all the gold mining up at Keystone,” said Joanna Hopkins, president of the Blue River Watershed Group. The focus was the Snake River, with its lack of fish and long-term mining damage. The group created a watershed plan which it continues to update, as well as monitoring the status of the river.
Over the past few years, the group has tackled the Tenmile Creek near Copper, which has suffered not only from old mining practices, but also road and railway construction as well. Two years ago, the group re-channeled about 1,600 feet of the creek, and, this year, they will add 1,200 more feet to the effort.
“That area has just suffered so much over the years,” said Blue River Watershed Group board treasurer Jim Shaw. “Over the years, it just really became a braided stream that didn’t behave the way it was designed to behave naturally.”
The most recent project the group has been involved with is restoration of the Swan River in Breckenridge. Because the first phase of the project involves county land, the watershed group acted as a consultant on the plan, which includes partnerships with the Summit County government, town of Breckenridge, the U.S. Forest Service, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, Trout Unlimited and a number of other state agencies and private landowners.
“We’re years from cleaning up after the miners,” said Shaw, who spent much of his career as an engineer helping mining companies complete projects that adhered to environmental laws. “Mother Nature is pretty resilient; a lot of things heal themselves, but some of the bigger projects, some of the bigger mines, don’t heal themselves and need some help.”
Fortunately, the Blue River Watershed Group is not alone. Its projects often involve collaboration between a variety of agencies and organizations at the local and state levels.
“It’s an incredible network we’ve been able to tap into,” Hopkins said.
CLEAR WATER, GOOD BEER
This is the fourth year for the Headwater Hops Fest, which brings thousands of dollars worth of funds for the Blue River Watershed Group. The funds aren’t earmarked for a particular project but go toward the group’s mission as a whole.
The beer on hand at the event will come from local Summit County breweries, including The Bakers’ Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, Broken Compass Brewing, Dillon Dam Brewery and Pub Ryan’s Brewing Co., as well as spirits from Breckenridge Distillery.
Additionally, a silent auction will offer such items as tickets to the Broncos or the Rockies and season passes to Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, among others.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our local brewers and distillers to showcase their product, made with this wonderfully pure and clean water,” Hopkins said.
Cory Forster, co-owner and head brewmaster of The Bakers’ Brewery in Silverthorne, said the link between good water and good beer is obvious to brewers.
“I think it definitely helps that we have such good water up here,” he said. “It makes it easier to run a brewery, to have good water to start with.”
Not only is water a main ingredient in the beer itself, but it’s also used in the cleaning process. Forster roughly estimated that it takes about five gallons of water to make one gallon of beer.
Though most brewers are careful to filter their water — adding in or taking out minerals as necessary — he’s occasionally run into brews that suffered from lack of good water. One was a beer he had in Minnesota.
“It kinda felt like you could taste the chlorine in the water,” he recalled.
Spreading knowledge about water and water issues has always been a main goal of the Blue River Watershed Group. At the festival event this week, Shaw will give a brief presentation about the group’s past, current and future projects.
“It’s not just a fundraiser, it’s our chance to interact with the public,” he said. Often the main problem he sees is “if we have enough — we’re not short and we have enough — water doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”
Water has always been a fascinating subject to Shaw, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in its early years, as well as mining companies.
“Being an old miner, it does hurt me a little to see what the mining industry did up here,” he said. He joined the watershed group because “that is an area where you can make a difference. I feel good. I think the watershed group has helped make a difference, and I feel good to be a part of that.”
Additionally, Shaw wants attendees at the festival to learn something, and also have a good time.
“We want everybody to leave with a smile,” he said.