American Rivers names the Crystal River to its 10 most endangered rivers list


From the Aspen Business Journal (Bob Berwyn):

At issue is a proposed dam that would impound 4,000 acre feet of water between Redstone and Marble, diversions from Avalanche Creek, the largest tributary to the Crystal and potential hydropower development on Yank Creek.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District holds the conditional water rights for the potential Crystal River dam and is pursuing the state-mandated diligence process for maintaining those water rights.

Spokesman Jim Pokrandt said the water in the reservoir could be used to enhance late-season flows to help sustain aquatic habitat.

“The whole purpose of that reservoir is for augmentation and environmental flows. It’s already endangered as it exists today … in leaner years because of all the irrigation that goes on in the valleys … it does create a stretch in the river that’s almost dry,” Pokrandt said, likening the proposed reservoir to others in the state that have water reserved for instream environmental purposes, including Elkhead and Wolford Mountain reservoirs.

There’s also a school of thought that says it’s important for headwaters counties to capture and store water high in the drainages as a hedge against climate change and increased demand far downstream, from the Lower Colorado River Basin states.

But local and national conservation groups say the projects would degrade the river and the surrounding area by destroying valuable riparian habitat and associated recreation and economic values.

We’re in an era when more dams are being dismantled than being built,” said John Emerick, a retired Colorado School of Mines ecologist who helped conduct an in-depth survey of Crystal Creek’s aquatic and riparian resources. “it’s important for us here in the arid West to think about better ways and more efficient ways to use our water,” Emerick said, explaining that the proposed reservoir could end up standing as an empty mud flat much of the year.

More coverage of the 10 most endangered rivers for 2012 from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

The report, compiled by the nonprofit advocacy group American Rivers, cites Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million’s proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline, as well as a competing diversion proposal by Parker Water & Sanitation District manager Frank Jaeger, as major threats to the world-class recreation, rural economies, critical fish habitats, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin.

“Aaron Million and Frank Jaeger remain committed to build that pipeline,” Matt Rice, Colorado conservation director for American Rivers, said Monday. “There are a hundred reasons why it doesn’t make sense, why it’s a bad idea and why it’s not a responsible use of taxpayer money. We’re calling on Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to publicly oppose it.”[…]

The threats facing the Crystal River include a dam and a 4,000-acre reservoir between Redstone and Marble; a water diversion from its largest tributary, Avalanche Creek; and a hydropower dam and 5,000 acre-foot reservoir on another tributary, Yank Creek.

“Our rivers and streams continue to be under assault from competing interests that too often do not consider the value intrinsic in the ecosystems that rivers and streams create, nurture, and sustain,” said Pitkin County attorney John Ely. “If we are to preserve our rivers, public awareness of the threats and impending changes facing these ecosystems is essential.”

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.

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