Proposed new wilderness additions butting up against transmountain diversion projects

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The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is watching the proposed wilderness additions closely. Access to current facilities is their worry. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s not easy to get equipment for repairs into the mountain areas right now, even without a wilderness area,” Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is endorsed by more than 40 Western Slope environmental or recreational groups. It seeks to create new wilderness with 14 new areas and 26 areas adjacent to current recreation areas in the White River and Gunnison National Forests and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands. The wilderness areas are in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties. If maps by the campaign were adopted, three of the areas adjacent to The Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross wilderness areas could restrict repairs to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project collection system, Hamilton said. “It interferes with existing or deferred parts of the north side collection system,” Hamilton said. “It’s a threat” Creating the wilderness areas could also hinder collection efforts for other importers of water like Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo Board of Water Works, including the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

In a wilderness area, activities like mining or constructing roads are curtailed. The language of the federal Wilderness Act also forbids “establishing or maintaining water facilities.” When legislation created the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area east of Aspen in 1978, corridors along streams were carved out for maintenance of the Fry-Ark Project. In the Hidden Gems proposal, the Wildcat Mountain area would be added to that wilderness area and would have to include the same provisions to be acceptable to the Southeastern district. The Mormon Lake and Woods Creek areas would be added to Holy Cross, which does not have the same sort of carve-outs however, attorney Steve Leonhardt told the Southeastern board.

Here’s an update on Hidden Gems from John Gardner writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

[Steve Smith, regional director for the Wilderness Society] says that since they first revised the proposal two years ago, the four organizations including the Wilderness Society, The Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Wilderness Workshop have sought input from as many people and user groups knowledgeable about the lands in the proposal, for further refinement. Smith says that opponents are against wilderness areas in general, and that some are unwilling to compromise. “Not only are we not excluding the motorized folks, we have invited them to participate,” Smith said. “We also are not saying that we are going to toss you off the land. We simply want to know the areas they use, so that we can make adjustments.”

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here and here.

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