BLM: Proposed wild and scenic designation for western Colorado streams

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The BLM is moving ahead with studying 155 miles of stream reaches for possible Wild and Scenic designation. Many see it as an intrusion on state control over water resources. Here’s a report from Le Roy Standish writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

The designation could limit private property rights on lands adjoining streams designated wild and scenic. The designation also could curtail water rights and possibly touch off an exhaustive fight with the federal government, according to water stakeholders…

Mely Whiting, water counsel with Trout Unlimited, said part of the wild and scenic discussion needs to be about long-lasting effects to the river brought on by permanent activities, such as ranching, on land. “The reality is how long are they going to hold on to that (land) and what is going to come next?” Whiting said of private property owners adjacent to rivers. “The purpose here is to make a statement and preserve it for future generations so they can decide what to do with it.”[…]

The Grand Junction BLM Field Office recently studied 117 sections of streams and rivers on federal lands, not private lands, in the counties of Mesa, Garfield, Delta and Montrose. The resulting eligibility report found 20 segments on 15 waterways as candidates for the new designation. Affected rivers include the Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores rivers. “Including a 20-mile stretch of the Colorado River west of Grand Junction, 18 miles of Big Dominguez Creek, 15 miles of Little Dominguez Creek and stretches of the Dolores and Gunnison rivers,” according to a statement on the BLM’s Web site.

During a briefing to the Mesa County Commission, Catherine Robertson, director of the Grand Junction BLM Field Office, said even though the designation would apply only to federal lands, what happens on adjoining land, or upriver on private lands, may affect the BLM’s ability to manage wild and scenic river stretches. She expands on that statement, as quoted on the BLM’s Web site: “These segments would be determined not to be suitable for designation.”

On June 16 the Colorado River District gathered multiple stakeholders at BLM’s Grand Junction offices. The meeting was to begin the process of analyzing the BLM’s Wild and Scenic River Eligibility study to find a “collective alternative” that everyone can agree on and then submit it to the BLM, said Chris Treese, a spokesman for the Colorado River District…

With the designation could come a federal reserved water right, which could touch off a legal fight on par to what played out over years in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison case, he said. “We would like to avoid that,” Treese said. In an attempt to avoid a legal fight, he is spearheading the effort to bring together local concerns and submit a preferred local alternative to the BLM by mid-2010. “We (the River District) think that a local alternative is a preferred alternative to the unilateral federal designation,” Treese said. “Yet there are those that may favor federal control.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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