Residents want wild, scenic designation for Crystal River — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

September 16, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some local residents think protection of the Crystal River south of Carbondale under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is the next logical step for sparing it from dams and diversions.

The effort will likely face political challenges, as was evidenced Monday by the reservations expressed about it by Dave Merritt, a board member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. That district and the West Divide Water Conservancy District previously abandoned most water rights, including ones for large reservoirs, in the face of opposition including a legal challenge by Pitkin County.

Nevertheless, “We see the Crystal River still as an important water supply for western Colorado,” Merritt said during a Garfield County commissioners meeting.

He worries that a wild and scenic designation by Congress would permanently prevent not just further water development of the river but also other activities such as more home construction in the valley.

But Crystal Valley resident Bill Jochems said a dam would be a far more permanent action than wild and scenic designation, which occurs through an act of Congress and Congress could later undo.

“This act has great flexibility,” he said, adding that advocates have a “barebones” goal of preventing dam-building above where irrigation diversions already occur several miles south of Carbondale.

Advocates say the designation wouldn’t affect state or local land-use regulations.

In 2012, the Crystal made American Rivers’ annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers list. That was after the river district and the West Divide district had agreed to concessions that included giving up some conditional rights for two large reservoirs on the river while still envisioning smaller ones in the valley. The rights for the big reservoirs dated to 1958, and one would have required flooding the village of Redstone.

The U.S. Forest Service has found the river eligible for wild and scenic designation, based on the river’s free-flowing status, valley historical attractions such as the Redstone Castle and the former coke ovens in Redstone, the stunning beauty of the valley especially during fall-color season, and other historical, recreational and aesthetic attributes. The Forest Service now is in what Kay Hopkins of the White River National Forest said is the long process of determining whether the river is suitable for such a designation.

“It’s where all the hard questions are asked” about whether designation is best or there are some other ways to protect it, she said.

“It really is an outstanding river and what we’re doing is try to preserve it as it is today for future generations, and that’s what the act is all about,” she said.

More Crystal River coverage here and here.


@rfconservancy: Join us next Thursday Sept 4th for our annual Carbondale Bicycle Ditch Tour

August 27, 2014

The Colorado River District comes out swinging to oppose Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal River

July 31, 2014

From Aspen Journalism via the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado River District is the first governmental entity to throw cold water on the idea of designating 39 miles of the Crystal River as “wild and scenic.” At its July 15 meeting, three members of the river district board voiced opposition to the proposal to make the Crystal the second river in Colorado, after the Poudre River, to be designated under the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968.

“Their main concern is that it would be an overlay of federal authority in this area that would preclude the ability to provide for water resource needs,” said Dave Merritt, who represents Garfield County on the board of the river district, a regional entity that levies taxes in 15 Western Slope counties to build water projects and influence water policy.

Chris Treese, the river district’s external affairs manager, had urged board members in a July 1 memo to “respectfully decline to support” Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal.

“Staff believes Wild and Scenic designation would have adverse consequences for local residents,” Treese wrote. “We view proponents’ Wild and Scenic designation is (sic) a means to an end in an effort to forever foreclose water development opportunities in the Crystal River basin.”

In 2013, the river district gave up conditional water rights it held for two large dams on the Crystal after being sued in water court by Pitkin County and other groups.

Merritt made his remarks on Monday during the monthly meeting of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, where two proponents of Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal — Bill Jochems and Dorothea Farris — had a presentation.

Over the last year-and-a-half of making such presentations, they said they had received positive feedback and direction to continue exploring Wild and Scenic designation from the towns of Carbondale and Marble, the Redstone Community Association, Gunnison County, Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board and Pitkin County’s Crystal River Caucus.

But the Colorado River District will not be added to the list of supporters.

“That was the one audience where we had definite opposition,” Farris said on Monday.

Jochems said the three river district board members who spoke against Wild and Scenic on July 15 “expressed opposition, apparently, at the very idea of Wild and Scenic designation, without really talking about the Crystal.”

On Monday, roundtable members asked some questions concerning the potential impact on irrigators in the Crystal River, but did not take a position as a group on the proposal.

Jochems and Farris represent an informal citizen’s coalition that has come together to explore, and now actively pursue, Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal, which would prevent a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on the river.

In late 2012, four organizations brought people together to discuss the idea: Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and the nonprofit, American Rivers. The result was the naming of a three-person committee to test the regional waters and see if there was support for the idea.

Jochems serves on Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board and is a member of CVEPA, while Farris is a former Pitkin County commissioner and a resident of the Crystal River valley. The third member on the committee is Chuck Oligby, who owns Avalanche Ranch along the Crystal and sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

“We want to move forward,” Farris told the roundtable on Monday.

Three reaches

The current proposal is to designate 39 miles of the Crystal River as Wild and Scenic, while more specifically designating three sections as either “wild,” “scenic” or “recreational.” The three designations are not literal, as all of the Crystal could be considered “scenic” by anyone who sees it, but are classifications that reflect the level of human incursion along a river.

The headwaters of both the North Fork and the South Fork of the Crystal would be designated as “wild” under the law, as they flow through primitive backcountry areas with few, if any, roads. The North Fork, for example, first rises behind the Maroon Bells in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness. Together, about nine miles of the two upper forks would be managed as “wild” down to their confluence in Crystal City, above Marble.

The next 10 miles of the Crystal, down to Beaver Lake in Marble, would be considered “scenic,” as there is a dirt road along the river in that reach.

And the next 20 miles, between Marble and the Sweet Jessup Canal diversion structure, 10 miles above the river’s confluence with the Roaring Fork River, would be considered “recreational,” due in large part to the paved road along the river.

“What we’re seeking here is a very stripped down version of a Wild and Scenic designation,” Jochems told the roundtable on Monday. “We propose to leave land-use control entirely with Gunnison and Pitkin counties, as it is now. We don’t propose any further federal control over land use. We don’t want features that would allow any condemnation of property. All we’re concerned about is the main stem of the Crystal River and keeping it free of dams.”

Merritt of the river district, however, pointed out that national environmental groups have opposed “stripped-down” versions of Wild and Scenic in the past, as they are concerned about weakening the federal law.

Screen shot from Peter McBride's video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

Screen shot from Peter McBride’s video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

The U.S. Forest Service first found the Crystal River as “eligible” for Wild and Scenic status in the 1980s and re-affirmed that finding in 2002. Much of the land along the Crystal, from the headwaters to the Sweet Jessup head gate, is owned by the Forest Service.

The next step in the Wild and Scenic process is for a river to be determined “suitable” by the Forest Service, which requires an extensive study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and then congressional action.

Another option is for legislation to be submitted directly to Congress, which could then potentially approve Wild and Scenic designation after a less formal study.

Jochems said Wednesday, in an interview, that the three-member committee seeking designation has been meeting with Kay Hopkins, an outdoor recreation planner with the Forest Service, to seek guidance on draft legislation.

The draft bill, Jochems said, is then to be circulated among the towns, counties and other entities that have expressed an opinion so far, and see what details need to be worked out. If legislation can be agreed upon by local entities, a congressional sponsor would then be sought, Jochems said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of land and water issues in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen
journalism.org.

Click here to view Peter McBride’s short video “Crystal Voice.” More Crystal River coverage here.


Pitkin County commissioners approve purchase of properties near Redstone for open space

November 8, 2013
Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

From The Aspen Times (Michael McLaughlin):

On Wednesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of two Redstone River parcels that comprise approximately 21.3 acres and are contiguous to Elk Park and Redstone Park on the south as well as the Redstone Boulders Open Space on the northeast.

The two parcels up for purchase would tie all of these properties together into a seamless river corridor containing more than a mile of riverfront between Coal Creek and a well-used beach area upstream from the north Redstone Bridge…

One of the properties includes the confluence of Coal Creek with the Crystal River. The current confluence isn’t the natural area where the two waters meet but one that was put in when the state was working on Highway 133 in that area. In its natural state, Coal Creek used to run through wetlands before it met with the Crystal River downstream from the present confluence area. Coal Creek experiences frequent debris flows that feed coarse rock and wood into the creek, which in turn collect at the confluence of Coal Creek and the Crystal River. This causes pooling of water and erosion by both streams. It also causes a sediment buildup that raises the riverbed of the Crystal near Redstone, elevating flood danger…

A public hearing concerning the purchase will be held at the commissioners meeting on Nov. 20. Will said the public can rest assured that questions of access will be driven by habitat management.

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


Crystal River: River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting human and environmental water needs

June 28, 2013

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Here’s a release from the Colorado River District:

The Colorado River District yesterday joined the West Divide Water Conservancy District in approving a settlement ending litigation regarding water rights in the Crystal River. Both the River District and West Divide are pleased to avoid the costs of litigation as well as the inevitable animosity with their mutual constituents over protecting water rights for present and future use in the Crystal River valley. The water rights in question were storage and direct flow rights associated with the planned West Divide Project, which is decreed for uses in Garfield, Mesa, Gunnison, and Pitkin Counties.

Under the settlement, the West Divide Project water rights will be preserved, except for the majority of project water rights within the Crystal River basin that will be abandoned. The decision to settle and abandon the conditional Crystal River rights was largely driven by cost concerns and a desire for efficient allocation of resources, as well as localized opposition to the Crystal River basin components of the project.

The need for water remains in the Crystal River valley, both for human and environmental purposes, and the River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting that demand. The River District and West Divide still believe small, strategically located water storage is the best and most effective means of addressing needs in the critically water-short Crystal River basin. Current demands in the Crystal River basin, while relatively small, have been identified by all parties. Administration of the Crystal River (i.e., curtailment of junior rights during times of shortage) likely will occur in the foreseeable future, which may leave numerous current and future Crystal River basin residents and businesses without a legal water supply.

Garfield County’s representative to the Colorado River District, Dave Merritt, commented, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area. Simply put, this will result in residents being left without water.” West Divide’s President, Sam Potter, commented “This is an unfortunate conclusion in trying to accomplish an even handed settlement. It’s very shortsighted of the objectors and some of their constituents to ignore the water needs of others in the Crystal River Valley now and in the future.”

While both Districts are satisfied with the resolution, they regret that the proposed settlement forecloses an opportunity for a win-win solution to water storage needs and late-summer environmental and recreational shortages in the Crystal basin. However, the settlement preserves the opportunity for the Districts to file new, junior water rights (both storage and direct flow rights) in the future to meet the needs of their constituents.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday signed off on a legal settlement bringing to an end conceptual plans for two reservoirs in the Crystal River Valley.

The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District also have consented to the settlement of a state water court case. At issue has been a downsized version of the West Divide Project, which was intended for possible agricultural, oil-shale-related and other uses in Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

Two years ago, the river district agreed to abandon conditional water rights for a 129,000-acre-foot reservoir, which would have drowned the former coal-mining village of Redstone. Under the action, it also backed off further pursuit of a 62,000-acre-foot reservoir higher upstream on the Crystal in the area of the former Placita mining settlement, and a 14,000-acre-foot reservoir up Yank Creek in the Crystal watershed.

The river district acquired conditional water rights for those projects in 1958 during the era of big-dam-building, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation withdrew its support for the proposals in 1982, citing the cost and lack of adequate benefit.

After the river district’s 2011 decision, it continued to seek to hold on to conditional water rights for reservoirs of 4,000 and 5,000 acre-feet, respectively, at Placita and up Yank Creek. And it continued to face opposition from Pitkin County, residents up the Crystal River Valley, and conservation groups. The county objected to the proposed reservoirs’ locations and potential environmental impacts.

Under the new deal, the river district will abandon the Placita and Yank Creek projects. In return, Pitkin County will not oppose aspects of the West Divide Project involving potential 45,000-, 15,450- and 6,500-acre-foot reservoirs in the Divide and Mamm creek drainages of Garfield County.

Those projects are still in the conceptual stages.

Pitkin County attorney John Ely said the river district and West Divide proposed the settlement.

“It was pretty straightforward and exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

“… We didn’t have any interest in what was going on in Garfield County but what we did care about was what they were doing in our county.”

In a news release, the river district and West Divide said the settlement decision was driven partly by a desire to avoid litigation costs.

The river district long has said reservoirs up the Crystal could help maintain flows later in the year when it now can almost go dry. It predicts that curtailment of junior rights will leave many Crystal Basin residents and businesses without water in times of shortages.

“The Crystal still needs to be solved. … The problems did not go away,” river district spokesman Jim Pokrandt said Wednesday.

Garfield County’s representative to the river district, Dave Merritt, said in its release, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area.”

More Crystal River coverage here and here.


Crystal River: Pitkin County settles in water court case over proposed dams in the watershed

June 21, 2013

crystalriverrivervalleybrentgardnersmith2011

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The agreement removes the prospect of a dam being built across the Crystal River at Placita — below McClure Pass and before the road to Marble — as well as a dam on Yank Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek, which flows into the Crystal near Carbondale.

The agreement also removes Pitkin County’s opposition to potential new dams and reservoirs on Mamm and Divide creeks in Garfield County on land south of I-70 between New Castle and Parachute.

“The agreement basically says to the West Divide District, ‘You get out of our county and we’ll get out of the rest of your jurisdiction,’” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely…

The West Divide board is set to meet today in Rifle to discuss the agreement, according to Samuel Potter, the chairman of the West Divide Conservancy District.

Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District, said the district’s litigation committee is set to meet on June 25 and has the authority to approve the settlement without a vote by its full board.

The Pitkin County commissioners have been discussing the case with Ely in executive session and he is confident the board will approve the settlement.

Bill Jochems, the chair of the healthy rivers and streams board, said he expects his board to approve the settlement at a meeting today…

The lawsuit, in water court, stemmed from a diligence filing by West Divide and the Colorado River District in May 2011. Opposition filings came from Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, CVEPA, the nonprofit organization, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and Paul Durrett of Redstone.

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


Pitkin County is opposing the diligence claim for two dams in the Crystal River watershed as speculative

March 10, 2013

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Here’s an in-depth report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Pitkin County wants a water court judge to rule that the planning period for a project that includes a dam on the upper Crystal River, and one on North Thompson Creek in the Thompson-Divide area, has lapsed since planning began in the late 1950s. The West Divide “conditional water rights continue to be water rights in search of a project,” the county told the court in its Feb. 22 motion. “The project is no closer to being funded and built in 2013 than it was in 1957” and the project remains “speculative,” according to the motion.

The county’s motion was filed in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs. Judge James Boyd is overseeing the case, which is set for trial in August. The county and other groups are opposing a diligence filing on the conditional water rights for the West Divide project held by the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District. The rights date to 1958.

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


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