Gauging the river user
Local residents asked to weigh in on watershed’s future

SideStory: Filling Lake Nighthorse – A-LP to fire up this spring

The Animas River and its environs are clearly still in hibernation mode. However, local river users are being asked for input that will be used by the state for future water resource management./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Missy Votel

River season may be a few months off, but local river users are being asked to float their ideas.

Next week, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Southwest Basin Roundtable will be holding scoping meetings throughout Southwest Colorado. The public meetings are an effort to gauge nonconsumptive water needs throughout the state, particularly those related to the environment and recreation.

“We are trying to find out the areas that are important for recreation and the environment,” said Chuck Wanner, a member of the Water Conservation Board’s Nonconsumptive Uses Subcommittee. “We are looking to local people to tell us where and at what time of year flows are important, and for what purpose.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board was created in 2003 by the state Legislature to implement the newly passed Statewide Water Supply Initiative. The initiative was an attempt to better understand the state’s current water needs and prepare for long-term needs as well. The project was broken into two phases, the first of which developed a number of findings and recommendations. The second, and current, phase is further exploring those recommendations in order to come up with a road map to guide future water management. The hope is to reconcile traditional, consumptive uses, such as agriculture and drinking water, with more recent, “in-stream” uses, like boating and fishing.

“The input will be used to create a list of what we see as important areas to be concerned about, particularly in regards to nonconsumptive uses,” said Wanner. “We’ll be able to see where needs overlap, complement or conflict with each other.”

Wanner said it is important for local river users to weigh in because the input gathered could be used in deciding the fate of area waterways down the road. “The roundtable recommends funding to the state for projects such as studies of in-stream flows, diversions and reservoirs,” he said. “This is the public’s opportunity to get the water they are concerned about on the list and taken into consideration when we decide to go forward or not go forward with a project.”

The Nonconsumptive Subcommittee for the Southwest Basin is made up of various individuals from recreational and environmental backgrounds representing

interests from the Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel river basins. Although in-stream flow protection tools, such as recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs, have only come into the public eye in the last several years, Wanner said the state has been showing in increased awareness for such uses over the last 30 years or so. In addition to providing much-needed habitat, in-stream flows are being seen as more and more crucial to the state’s economy and quality of life. Over the last few decades, the state’s rafting industry has become a huge segment of summer tourism and several towns and cities are building whitewater parks in an effort to draw visitors and residents, alike.

“The roundtable is just carrying out the charge of the Legislature, which recognized the need for flows to be protected not just for consumptive, but nonconsumptive uses as well,” said Wanner. •

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