River advocates want GarCo to keep waterway protections
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A nonprofit river advocacy group is asking Garfield County to reconsider land-use code revisions it says would weaken protections of waterways and threaten the aquatic life and communities that rely on them.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy raised the issues this week in a letter to county commissioners, and participated Thursday as commissioners discussed the provisions in question.
The county is considering eliminating a requirement for a 35-foot setback for most building activities near rivers and other bodies of water. Other proposed changes do away with certain provisions to protect against pollutants, including a restriction against storing hazardous materials within 100 feet of water bodies.
The conservancy says the measures targeted for elimination “protect water resources from unintended, yet potentially harmful, development impacts.”
The county has been working on revising its land-use code to streamline it and reduce obstacles to development. In many cases, county officials say state and federal measures already exist to provide protection.
But the conservancy still worries that reduced protections will result, causing problems such as increased sedimentation and a possible decline in fish populations.
The group added, “In addition, the Garfield County communities of Rifle, Battlement Mesa, and Silt, along with many others, rely on the Colorado River for drinking water.”
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said when it comes to water protection, he thinks the new code at least needs wording tying it back to state and federal requirements to give it more teeth, such as in the case of projects requiring wetlands mapping.
“Otherwise wetlands is missing completely,” he said.
He said water quality and the area’s gold-medal fishing waters are “extremely important to the county,” but also pointed out that a lot of residential and even industrial development already has occurred right along the edges of rivers in the county.
“I think there’s a certain amount of damage done,” conceded Heather Tattersall, the conservancy’s watershed action coordinator.
The group’s letter to the county cites a 2008 report finding that more than three-quarters of the riparian and instream habitat in the lower Roaring Fork River watershed “is directly impacted by developed land use activities,” with more than 78 percent of the bank severely degraded and the remaining area heavily modified.
Tattersall said she’d be happy to continue working with the county to ensure waters are adequately protected.
Connie Engeler, who lives in the Glenwood Springs area, spoke in favor of the county’s overall process for streamlining its land-use codes. She said the process has taken five years and contains enough stopgaps to protect the environment.
Engeler is considering subdividing her property, and said, “If it becomes too complicated and too expensive, it almost encourages people to chop things into smaller pieces because it isn’t streamlined.”