Groups want river protection, local control
Coalition seeks alternative to federal designations for upper Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS —
Local control is the goal of a broad coalition that is seeking an alternative to federal wild and scenic river designation for portions of the Colorado River upstream of Glenwood Springs.
The question is whether groups in the coalition can agree on how to provide adequate water flow for protection of the river without the need for a federal designation.
The coalition involves water agencies, recreation and conservation groups, upstream counties and other entities.
Bureau of Land Management Kremmling and Glenwood Springs field offices and the White River National Forest. are conducting wild and scenic river suitability studies for portions of the Colorado River and other area waterways.
Those studies follow previous efforts to determine which waterways are eligible for wild and scenic designation, based on their free-flowing status and any “outstandingly remarkable values.”
The BLM has identified 27 stream and river segments as being eligible, including seven portions of the Colorado River between Granby and Glenwood Springs. The Forest Service identified two eligible segments of the Colorado River on forest land in Glenwood Canyon, as well as two segments of rugged Deep Creek on the canyon’s east end.
The agencies will make recommendations on any wild and scenic designations to Congress.
Only Congress or the secretary of the Interior Department can make such a designation, which would result in the federal government filing for a state water right to try to protect a waterway’s flows. That right would be junior to existing water rights.
Mike Eytel, a water resources specialist for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, said coalition participants instead want protections that are locally controlled, with the blessing of federal agencies.
The coalition’s alternative focuses on the Colorado River between Kremmling and Glenwood Springs. Eytel said a challenge is coming up with target flows that are sufficient to protect the river and yet still will be supported by Front Range water entities that divert Western Slope water.
Alan Berryman, assistant general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which serves communities north of Denver, said the question is whether target flows “would kind of tie up the river for any future growth, be it East Slope or West Slope.”
Berryman and Eytel said they remain hopeful that coalition participants will reach an agreement.
Federal officials have said they are willing to consider the coalition recommendation as one alternative to recommending wild and scenic designation.