Thirty-nine miles of the Crystal River are already “eligible” for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Now four organizations are building local support to determine if much of the river is also “suitable” for protection under the act.
Passed in 1968, the act allows local and regional communities to develop a federally backed management plan designed to preserve and protect a free-flowing river such as the Crystal River, which runs from the back of the Maroon Bells to the lower Roaring Fork River through Crystal, Marble, Redstone and Carbondale.
Wild and Scenic status, which ultimately requires an act of Congress to obtain, prevents a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on a Wild and Scenic-designated river.
And that’s one big reason why Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and American Rivers are exploring Wild and Scenic status for the Crystal — because it would likely block a potential dam and reservoir from being built at Placita, an old coal town between Marble and Redstone.
The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District are fighting to retain conditional water rights that could allow for a dam across the Crystal and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir.
The river district says such a reservoir could put more water in the often parched lower Crystal River in the fall and could also provide hydropower…
Chuck Wanner, a former Fort Collins city council member, said at the meetings that it took 10 years to get sections of the Cache La Poudre River on the Eastern Slope designated under Wild and Scenic.
Today, that’s the only river in the state that carries the designation and no river in the vast Colorado River basin is officially Wild and Scenic.
When asked about that via email, Ely of Pitkin County said he thought Colorado had only one designated river because of the “lack of information as to the benefits and restrictions of the designation, and the time and dedication it takes to get it through Congress.”
Another reason may be that once a river is designated Wild and Scenic, the federal government becomes a stakeholder on the river and has a chance to review potential changes to it, such as any new water rights. Some may feel that Colorado water law is complicated enough already.
And then there is the fact that designation eliminates the possibility of federal funding for future water projects, which can dampen the enthusiasm of most cities, counties and water districts.
Whatever the reasons for scarcity in Colorado, Pitkin County is ready to lead a Wild and Scenic process for the Crystal River.
“I think the Crystal has the potential to be a nice clean straightforward effort because there are no out-of-basin uses yet,” Ely wrote. “If there is interest in going forward, we’re happy to be the laboring oar and do that work.”[...]
While today only the Cache la Poudre River has stretches that are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the BLM is preparing a suitability study on a number of area river stretches.
A final EIS is expected to be released in early 2013 by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office followed by a record of decision in 2014 for the following rivers and river sections:
• Abrams Creek
• Battlement Creek
• Colorado River — State Bridge to Dotsero
• Colorado River — Glenwood Canyon to approximately 1-mile east of No Name Creek
• Deep Creek — From the BLM/Forest Service land boundary to the Deep Creek ditch diversion
• Deep Creek — From the Deep Creek ditch diversion to the BLM/private land boundary
• Eagle River
• Egeria Creek
• Hack Creek
• Mitchell Creek
• No Name Creek
• Rock Creek
• Thompson Creek
• East Middle Fork Parachute Creek Complex
• East Fork Parachute Creek Complex
For more information on regarding Wild and Scenic suitability on these rivers, search for “Colorado River Valley Draft Resource Management Plan,” which will lead you to a BLM website that contains the draft EIS document.
The BLM is also reviewing a number of stretches on major rivers in Colorado, either for eligibility or suitability, including:
• Animas River
• Dolores River
• San Miguel River
• Gunnison River
• Colorado River
• Blue River
In all, according to Deanna Masteron, a public affairs specialist with the BLM in Lakewood, the BLM is currently analyzing more than 100 segments in Colorado through various land-use plans. The Forest Service also has the ability to analyze rivers for Wild and Scenic designation.