From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
The U.S. Forest Service has put the final touches on a project that effectively restores an almost 20-acre wetland in Falls Creek, adding a rich biodiverse area to the lush green valley northwest of Durango.
In the 1990s, it was discovered that the land in Falls Creek, at the north end of County Road 205, was for sale. Rumors circulated that the owner at the time, Utah Power and Light, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp Utility Co., was in talks with developers that were interested in constructing several hundred homes in the tucked-away valley.
Fearing the archaeologically rich area would be developed, a grass-roots movement lobbied for almost two years to save the open meadow, surrounded by white sandstone cliffs and ponderosa forests.
In 1992, Congress allocated about $1.9 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, securing the 53-acre tract from development. On March 31 of that year, the area, also known as Hidden Valley, was officially turned over to the Forest Service. And as part of the deal, the Forest Service received long-held water rights from Falls Creek.
To retain water rights in the state of Colorado, an entity must prove the water is going to “beneficial use” every 10 years or they run the risk of losing the allocation.
Rob Genualdi, an engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, Division 7, said water courts officially recognize the creation of wetlands from water rights as a “beneficial use,” although it’s generally a rare occurrence an owner would chose to do so.
“I would say it’s a much, much smaller use (of water rights),” Genualdi said. “Probably just a few dozen, if that.”
Yet for the Forest Service’s Columbine District, the determination to use about 420 gallons a minute from Falls Creek was an easy, logical decision. Wetlands would not only enrich the ecosystem with minimal effort, it would preserve the popular hiking area, follow the wishes of adjacent neighbors and be flexible to other water users of the creek.
Using a ditch constructed in the late 1880s to divert water for irrigation, the Forest Service made some improvements, and releases water from Falls Creek into the meadow to the south. For the most part, nature takes care of the rest.
Already, the area is lush with plant life, a variety of birds, and swarms of small mammals. The final piece of work completed last week, which expanded an earthen dam, will allow Forest Service officials to sit back and watch wildlife take control.