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Big Thompson Watershed Forum receives EPA achievement award

Release Date: 02/16/2006
Contact Information: Richard Mylott, (303) 312-6654, mylott.richard@epa.gov

Group's commitment to collaboration and sound science cited as a model for community-based environmental protection


      (Denver, Colo. - Feb. 16, 2006) The Big Thompson Watershed Forum was awarded EPA's Environmental Achievement Award today for efforts to protect and improve water quality in the Big Thompson River. The award was presented by EPA's regional administrator, Robert E.Roberts, at the Forum’s annual meeting in Greeley, Colo.
"The Big Thompson Watershed Forum is truly a national model on how to bring diverse, local interests together to protect a resource," said Roberts. "By placing a premium on collaboration and sound science, the group is effectively addressing contentious issues and achieving tangible water quality improvements in a large, complex and highly valued watershed."

The Big Thompson River is a vital resource for humans and natural systems. Emerging from Rocky Mountain National Park, the river provides drinking water for over 700,000 people along the Front Range and delivers about 270,000 acre-feet of water each year to agricultural operations. The Big Thompson also supports outstanding wildlife habitat and a thriving trout fishery, and provides recreational value for millions of residents and visitors each year.

The Big Thompson Watershed Forum was formed in 1996 by northern Front Range municipalities, water providers and utilities in response to a study documenting declines in water quality. The fledgling group began developing scientific data, a communication network, and an education program to increase public awareness of the watershed’s value and its water quality. The Forum has since evolved into a driving force behind watershed protection activities.

One of the Forum's most significant achievements is the establishment of a comprehensive water quality monitoring network. The group's implementation of a rigorous plan for monitoring water quality has generated a wealth of data and information, including a 2004 study that characterized the health of the entire Big Thompson watershed. The study identified nutrients and sediment pollution as primary threats to the watershed's ability to support drinking water use and a cold-water fishery. The Forum, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, has since used this information to refine its monitoring program and, today, USGS scientists and Forum volunteers monitor about 20 sites monthly for nutrients and other pollutants. All data collected are made available to the public.

The Forum is now using monitoring information to set specific priorities and goals for pollution reduction. In 2005, the group began ranking nutrient and sediment problems in the watershed and establishing water quality goals. Collaborative strategies to manage and protect water quality will be produced beginning this year.

The Big Thompson Watershed Forum also educates residents and visitors, using a self-directed driving tour with nine information kiosks that runs the length of the watershed from the Loveland Visitor's Center to Rocky Mountain National Park. The group also revived the Loveland Children’s Water Festival, which each year teaches more than one thousand children about the importance of their watershed and how to protect it. In addition, the Forum-sponsored annual Big Thompson River Revival includes a river cleanup (five tons collected in 2005) and numerous educational booths. These activities, along with the Forum's Web site, newsletters, and annual meeting, foster transparency and provide an in-depth science education about the river.

EPA Region 8 presents awards in four categories to individuals and groups. This award recognizes significant achievements in the protection of public health or the environment and in advancing the Agency’s strategic goals. Among the criteria is an outstanding contribution to environmental protection through a single action, or by an ongoing action over an appreciable period of time.

More information about the Big Thompson Watershed Forum, including an agenda for the Forum's February 16 Annual Meeting, can be found at: http://www.btwatershed.org/