Wild and scenic designation for Colorado River and Deep Creek?

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Here’s an update on efforts to manage stretches of the Colorado River and Deep Creek as Wild and Scenic without seeking the formal designation and all the red tape that would entail, from David Frey writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

A diverse group, which includes Front Range municipalities that want water for their taps and environmental and recreation groups that want it for fish and kayaking, has been working together to try to hammer out their own agreement that could protect the Colorado River without a federal designation. “There are times when I think we’re making progress. There are times when everyone wants to throw up their hands,” said Steve Smith, of The Wilderness Society, who represents a coalition of environmental organizations on the working group. “I don’t know if we can pull this off or not.”[…]

Like wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers can be recommended by land agencies, but they must be dedicated by Congress to protect key waterways. The designation comes with land protections alongside the river in addition to protecting the flow. While Colorado has lots of wilderness areas, though, it has only one wild and scenic river, the Cache la Poudre, which runs through Fort Collins. Both Deep Creek and the Colorado River come with controversies, but the working group, which met Friday in Summit County, is focusing on the Colorado. It carries age-old rights by farmers and municipalities that tap into the waters. Among those most concerned is the Glenwood-based Colorado Water River Conservation District, which convened the group. “We feel that a locally run river is better than a federally run stretch of river,” said Mike Eytel, water resource specialist for the district…

Eytel said the district is mostly concerned about a federal water right that could stand in the way of water diversions and other projects along the Western Slope. Other water users, including Denver Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs and Aurora, also have concerns. Joining them at the table are groups like Trout Unlimited, American Whitewater and commercial rafters who want to keep water in the river…

In a two-step process, these rivers have been found to be eligible for the designation, but the agencies are in the midst of determining if they’re “suitable.” A draft suitability determination by a contractor working on the project was due out this week, but is being kept under wraps until the BLM releases an overall draft land-use plan revision this fall…

The Colorado river district has some concerns about Deep Creek’s designation. It has conditional water rights on the creek, Eytel said. But most of its concerns revolve around the Colorado, including what it might mean for future hydroelectric projects and the river district’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir in Grand County. Unlike Deep Creek, the Colorado is well on the beaten track. Interstate 70 curves above it. Kayakers, rafters and anglers play in it. Farmers, ranchers and municipalities take water from it…

Smith said The Wilderness Society would like to see protections in place for Glenwood Canyon, but it hasn’t taken a position on wild and scenic designation yet, and in the meantime, it’s giving the working group a chance to find a consensus that could bring together a variety of interests. “You know you’ll have fewer fights in the future if what is chosen has strong buy-in,” he said. The group plans to present its findings to the BLM and Forest Service as an alternative to federal designation. “We just think the Colorado River within Colorado should be managed by Colorado folks, not federally controlled,” Eytel said.

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