The newly formed Water Protection Work Group was created in response to a proposed National Conservation Area for the lower Dolores River.
The WPWG seeks to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies in Montezuma and Dolores counties from any consequence arising from NCA legislation.
Participants include Phyllis Snyder, Larry Don Suckla, Zane Odell, Doug Stowe, Greg Black, Don Schwindt, Drew Gordanier, Bernard Karwick, Bob Bragg, Keenan Ertel and Gerald Koppenhafer.
The recently released their minimum requirements and recommendations to David Robbins, a Colorado water attorney who has reviewed the NCA proposal.
“Prior public promises that the NCA ‘is not about taking water’ are appreciated and allow us to move forward with some assurance,” the group states in a memo. “Ambiguity and conflicting provisions must be left out of the NCA draft legislation.”
Some of the recommendations include:
The group wants the preamble of the NCA to be more specific about the Dolores River’s importance as the region’s sole water supply.
A proposed advisory committee in the draft NCA legislation requires more thorough definition.
The draft NCA bill must be written to explicitly prohibit any federal express or implied water rights on the Dolores River.
The draft NCA bill must release the Dolores River, upstream from the confluence with the San Miguel River, from consideration under the Wild and Scenic River’s Act. The recommendation also stipulates that no wild and scenic river portions below the San Miguel confluence can reach upstream water rights.
The NCA shall not affect the Dolores Project or the operation of McPhee Reservoir in any way.
The draft NCA bill has language prohibiting the building of large scale water projects. The WPWG recommends that large scale water projects be defined to exclude all existing projects, diversion, structures and water rights. Also, they recommend that the proposed NCA must not impact future projects under Colorado state water law that do not exceed 50,000 acre feet of annual use.
The group also wants written into any NCA legislation that management plans will not impact or influence releases or spills from McPhee dam, the water upstream from McPhee Dam, or the Dolores Project.
In April 2015, a legislative subcommittee of the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group released a draft bill that would designated a portion of the river an NCA and another portion a wilderness area.
In exchange, the river’s suitability status for a wild and scenic river below McPhee dam would be dropped.
The proposed Dolores River National Conservation Area would stretch from below the dam at Bradfield Bridge to Bedrock, Colo., and include the river and public land on both sides.
The draft bill also proposes to designate the Dolores Canyon Wilderness Area, a 30,119-acre swath of remote canyonlands that has been managed as a BLM wilderness study area for decades.
According to the draft, the Wilderness Area boundary would be located at the edge of the river, and no portion of the Dolores River will be included in it.
However, the draft bill shows the Dolores river would be part of the NCA, including where it runs through the wilderness area.
Colorado River District officials worry that possible Wild and Scenic designation for part of the Crystal River could sell western Colorado water interests short when it comes to the need for future storage projects, at least one River District board member advised Garfield County commissioners this week.
“We continue to see the Crystal River as an important water supply for western Colorado,” Dave Merritt, Garfield County’s representative on the 15-member River District board, said during a meeting earlier this week to discuss the proposal.
The push to give Wild and Scenic status to a 39-mile stretch of the Crystal south of Carbondale, from it headwaters in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to the Sweet-Jessup Ditch headgate just below Avalanche Creek, “attempts to make a determination that the way the river is now is the way should be forever, and that’s a long time,” Merritt said.
“We believe that we need to be able to provide for those who come behind us the same opportunities that we’ve had, and the Crystal River is place where we can meet the needs of the future,” he said, adding there is also concern that the designation could remove local control in favor of federal protections.
County commissioners requested the meeting with River District and White River National Forest officials to get a better understanding of what Wild and Scenic designation would mean, and to offer their thoughts…
Any questions and concerns from the county, the River District or any other entity can be addressed in the eventual federal legislation that would have to go to Congress for consideration, said Redstone resident Bill Jochems.
“The Wild and Scenic Act has great flexibility to address those concerns,” Jochems said, noting that the full River District board has not voted on the proposal, nor will it or the county be asked to do so until the draft legislation is written.
“All we’re asking for is that there be no dams on the main stem of the Crystal above (Sweet-Jessup),” Jochems said. “And it’s not like we’re trying to prevent it forever.”
Small water storage projects could still be pursued downstream of the designation, or on any of the tributaries, he said…
White River National Forest staffers Rich Doak and Kay Hopkins explained that the Crystal River has been listed as eligible for Wild and Scenic status dating back to 1982, and reaffirmed in 2002.
The section of river being studied for formal designation does exhibit many of the “outstanding and remarkable” natural, cultural, historic and recreational values (ORVs) spelled out in the Wild and Scenic Act of 1968.
A key element is also that the proposed waterway be free-flowing. However, it’s possible that streams below an existing dam can be designated as Wild and Scenic, as long as the water releases are adequate to support the identified ORVs, Hopkins said.
“This is the stage of the process where all the hard questions are asked, and is the big planning part of the study,” she said.
The Garfield commissioners sought assurances that existing water rights would be maintained. Commissioner John Martin also asked that stormwater detention projects be addressed in the proposal, pointing to legal struggles in El Paso County related to the ability to build detention ponds.
“The nice thing about this process is that we can take those kinds of things into consideration,” Doak said.
The Crystal River is one of just five waterways out of 72 within the White River National Forest that meet the national Wild and Scenic standard, Hopkins added.
Others include Cross Creek on the east side of the Holy Cross Wilderness, the South Fork of the White River, and two streams nearing a formal suitability decision by Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials later this fall, Deep Creek and the portion of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
Once a record of decision is made on those two waterways, a legislative “advocate” would need to be identified to carry the bill in Congress, Hopkins said.
Since the Wild and Scenic Act was adopted, only one river in Colorado, the Cache le Poudre River west of Fort Collins, has such designation.
Screen shot from Peter McBride’s video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is
Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons
Crystal River via Aspen Journalism
FromThe 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.
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.
FromAspen 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.
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.
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.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Federal agencies have found Deep Creek east of Glenwood Canyon to be suitable for wild and scenic protective status.
But the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have decided to defer such a determination for parts of the Colorado River in and east of the canyon and instead give a coalition the chance to provide similar protections while keeping the federal government out of it.
The decisions were announced as part of final resource management plans released by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley and Kremmling field offices, and a related action by the White River National Forest. They are subject to protest periods before they can be finalized.
The agency determinations regarding Deep Creek wouldn’t confer the protective status on Deep Creek. That would require an act of Congress, or by the Interior secretary under certain conditions when a state governor petitions for it. Only one waterway in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County, is now a wild and scenic river.
The Deep Creek suitability finding applies to Forest Service and BLM segments covering about 15 miles of the Colorado River tributary, which as its name suggests is rugged and largely inaccessible. According to a suitability report from both agencies, they determined the segments can be managed under the wild and scenic designation “with very little conflict with other uses because most of the land is federal, and the likelihood of development is small.”
Circumstances are different on the Colorado River, leading the agencies to hold off, at least for now, on determining wild and scenic suitability for nearly 100 miles of water on several stretches from Gore Canyon outside Kremmling through No Name just east of Glenwood Springs. Instead, they’ve decided to see if a stakeholder group’s alternative management plan will suffice. That group is made up of counties, conservation groups, western Colorado and Front Range water utilities, and other entities worried about the implications should wild and scenic status be conferred on the river.
“It will have all the protections of that but doesn’t come with the federal designation, which is going to be key for the local management of the river in Colorado,” said Mike Eytel, a water resource specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is part of the group.
The concern of a wild and scenic designation is its potential to limit water development within river stretches receiving that protection.
“It could have a significant impact on our ability to develop Colorado River water, in my opinion,” Eytel said.
The Forest Service’s draft decision states that the decision to give the stakeholders’ proposal a chance will provide certainty for their “water yield and flexibility for future management on such a complex river system as the Colorado River.”
Eytel said assuming the decisions go forward, the real work begins for the group as it seeks to monitor and manage the river as outlined in its plan. Under the Forest Service and BLM decisions, they reserve the right to revisit the suitability question later if protections aren’t adequate.
The BLM also has found dozens of other river and creek stretches to not be suitable for wild and scenic status, including stretches farther upstream on the Colorado River.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):
The Cache la Poudre River is life-blood for Northern Colorado. In recognition of its importance to the area, the community is invited to the first Poudre River Forum, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The forum, “The Poudre: Working River/Healthy River,” will focus on all of the river’s stakeholders, representing perspectives from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds. Topics to be discussed include:
• The water rights of agricultural and municipal diverters;
• Where the water in the Poudre comes from and what it does for us;
• Ecological factors such as flow, temperature, fish and sedimentation.
The forum will feature presentations and dialogue, including remarks by State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs about how the Poudre itself was the site of early conflict and cooperation leading to the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation in the West, and how water law has evolved in recent years.
Following the event, a celebration of the river will be held until 6 p.m. with refreshments and jazz by the Poudre River Irregulars.
New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.
Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.
“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”
The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”
ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.
In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.
The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.
Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.
“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”
Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…
The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.
Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.
Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…
Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…
A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.
“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”
More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.