Community summit kicks off talks on how best to protect #CrystalRiver: Some say Wild & Scenic is not the only way — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Spring runoff is just beginning in the Crystal River Valley (April 2023). A group of nearly 140 people gathered in Marble Thursday to voice their values and concerns as part of a stakeholder process aimed at exploring protections for the river. Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Keeping the Crystal River free-flowing with no dams and preserving its scenic qualities, ecosystems and water rights for agriculture were values that nearly all the attendees of a Thursday community summit at the Marble Firehouse agreed on. How best to achieve those goals is another matter.

The summit was organized by the Wild & Scenic Feasibility Collaborative, which is made up of representatives from the town of Marble, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and American Whitewater, and was facilitated by staffers from Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions. The meeting drew nearly 140 people — more than double the number expected — and sent organizers scrambling for more chairs.

The summit kicked off a much-anticipated public stakeholder process aimed at evaluating community interest in pursuing protections for the Crystal River, which flows through the towns of Marble and Redstone, as well as Gunnison and Pitkin counties. In small groups, attendees outlined their most important values, long-term aspirations, biggest concerns and criteria for evaluating management options.

A faction of residents and conservationists, including Pitkin County, is pushing for a federal Wild & Scenic designation, which it says would carry the strongest protections for preserving the river in its current state. Pitkin County, through its Healthy Rivers program, has funded a grassroots campaign by Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop to drum up support for Wild & Scenic, and has secured a resolution of support for Wild & Scenic from Carbondale Town Council.

But some say that approach is jumping the gun and that the stakeholder process should include other options for protection without the federal government’s oversight.

Representatives from Pitkin County spoke about threats to the Crystal and the need for Wild & Scenic at a Gunnison Board of County Commissioners work session Tuesday.

“One of the concerns we are having is that the only foregone conclusion is that Wild & Scenic is the only tool,” Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck told them. “It’s going to be tough if people feel like the foregone conclusion is Wild & Scenic.”

Although there may not be imminent, specific threats of dams or diversions on the Crystal, Wild & Scenic proponents say that doesn’t mean there won’t be threats at some point. A hotter, drier future under climate change could push Front Range cities or downstream water users to look to one of the last rivers without a dam or transmountain diversion — a rarity in western Colorado — as a means to quench their thirst.

“Today, there is nobody trying to take water out of the Crystal River basin,” Pitkin County Commissioner Francie Jacober told Gunnison County commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting. “But I don’t have faith the Crystal River or the Roaring Fork or the Gunnison won’t be targeted. I want to do everything we can to protect the Crystal River before the threat is at our doorstep.”

One of the biggest threats of a dam on the Crystal was removed a decade ago when, after a legal battle with Pitkin County, the River District and Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District relinquished water rights tied to a potential reservoir at Placita, just below McClure Pass. In 2012, the River District walked away from rights tied to a second reservoir, Osgood, that would have inundated the town of Redstone.

Pitkin County Healthy Rivers administrator Lisa Tasker, left, and Matt Annabel of Back 40 Stories, write down their most important values about the Crystal River at a community summit in Marble on Thursday. The summit was the kickoff event in a stakeholder process aimed at exploring protections for the river. Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Designation details

The U.S. Forest Service determined in the 1980s that 39 miles of the Crystal River was eligible for designation under the Wild & Scenic River Act, which seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, and cultural values in a free-flowing condition.

According to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System Guide for Riverfront Property Owners, one of most important provisions of the act protects rivers “from the harmful effects of project proposals within the river’s bed or banks” and projects that need a federal permit or loan are subject to review under the act.

Any designation would take place upstream of the big agricultural diversions on the lower portion of the river.

There are three categories under a designation: wild, which are sections that are inaccessible except by trail, with shorelines that are primitive; scenic, with shorelines that are largely undeveloped but are accessible by roads in some places; and recreational, which are readily accessible by road or railroad and have development along the shoreline.

The initial Forest Service proposal for the Crystal included all three designations: wild in the upper reaches of the river’s wilderness headwaters; scenic in the middle stretches; and recreational from the town of Marble to the Sweet Jessup canal headgate. Each river with a Wild & Scenic designation has unique legislation written for it that can be customized to address local stakeholders’ values and concerns.

A first attempt at a Wild & Scenic designation around 2012 couldn’t get buy-in from Marble residents or Gunnison County. Suspicions of the federal government still run high for some residents, even as they say they want to see the Crystal protected.

Larry Darien, who owns a ranch on County Road 3, which borders the river, has long been an opponent of Wild & Scenic. But he said he would be in favor of alternate protections. He does not want to see the river dammed or its waters transferred out of the basin and said the summit was a good start at working toward solutions.

“It seems to me like there’s a consensus on what we want and there’s more than one way to get there,” Darien said. “There are other options [besides Wild & Scenic]. I’m not in favor of the federal government helping me with my property.”

Facilitators will bring people together again in September to evaluate what those alternative management options might be. In the meantime, they plan to form a steering committee — on which Darien plans to serve as a representative of private-property owners — to collect input and lead the process.

In addition to county officials and residents, the summit drew people from a wide range of water interests, including influential Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak; managers from Crystal River Ranch, which has the largest agricultural diversion on the river; representatives of U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican; local business owners; a representative from Colorado Stone Quarries, which operates the Pride of America Mine above Marble; environmentalists; and anglers and kayakers.

Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury was pleased with the high turnout.

“[Wild & Scenic] is what we feel like our constituents have wanted for a long time, but we know that we don’t own the solution by ourselves,” she said. “That’s why we have been willing participants in this process to evaluate what’s going to work best for the community. … There feels like a shared love for the river in this room tonight, and I think that is the most important thing to inspire the good conversations ahead.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is supported in part by a grant from the Pitkin County Healthy Community Fund.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

#ElkRiver peak flow expected to be one of the highest in 53 years — Steamboat Pilot & Today #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig):

Hydrologists with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center are predicting the fourth-highest peak runoff of the Elk River in the 53 years of available U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge data.

“There is strong potential for the Elk River to crest above flood stage,” said Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the forecast center, a federal agency that is part of the National Weather Service.

The only stream gauge on the Elk River is located along County Road 42 west of the Marabou Ranch subdivision and has recorded river flows consistently for 53 years. The water level at the gauge at 11:15 p.m. Thursday showed a peak of 5.5 feet or 2,900 cubic feet per second, or cfs, following significant increases the previous three days. The high water forecast through the next 10 days at the stream gauge is for 6.85 feet or 4,581 cfs on May 4. The river can fluctuate approximately 1,000 cfs from the warmest to the coolest parts of the day, hydrologists say, and the flood level at the gauge is 7.5 feet or 5,916 cfs.

Biden-Harris Administration breaks ground on Boone Reach trunk line of Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Anna Perea):

Major water infrastructure project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to provide clean, reliable drinking water to 50,000 Coloradans once completed

PUEBLO, Colo. – The Bureau of Reclamation today broke ground on the Boone Reach trunk line of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), a major infrastructure project under President Biden’s Investing in America agenda that will bring clean, reliable drinking water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Gary Gold and Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton joined local and Federal leaders at the groundbreaking ceremony where they highlighted the $60 million investment provided through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the project. When completed, the project’s 230 miles of pipeline will deliver as much as 7,500 acre-feet of water annually from Pueblo to Lamar, where water providers in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties will serve a projected future population of 50,000.

“The results of the historic investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are evident here today as we see this project moving forward,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Gary Gold. “This project will bring a long-term, clean water supply to so many communities in southeastern Colorado.” 

“Through the President’s Investing in America agenda, Reclamation is now well positioned to help advance these important water projects that have been paused for decades,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Our investment in this project, dedicated by President Kennedy more than 60 years ago, will provide the path forward for safe drinking water to so many residents of this area.”

“This long-awaited project is a vital step forward for the Arkansas Valley and shows what can be accomplished through a strong coalition of federal, state, and local partnerships,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager.

“Generations of people of the Lower Arkansas Valley have waited for the AVC for more than 60 years, and now with construction starting, we are seeing the realization of that dream,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “This is the culmination of years of determination on the part of Reclamation, the District and the AVC participants to get this job done.”

“This is a truly monumental achievement and marks the culmination of decades of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by those who have devoted their lives to the business of water,” said Seth Clayton, executive director of Pueblo Water. “Pueblo Water is proud to be an integral participant in this important time in history.”

The Arkansas Valley Conduit was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and its construction represents the completion of the project. Once complete the project will replace current groundwater sources contaminated with radionuclides and help communities comply with Environmental Protection Act drinking water regulations. The connection point for AVC is at the east end of Pueblo Water’s system, at 36th Lane and U.S. Highway 50, and follows the Arkansas River corridor from Pueblo to Lamar, with spurs to Eads and Crowley County. Reclamation is building the trunk line, while the Southeastern District will build the spur and delivery lines. Estimated total cost is about $600 million.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, and complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. The funding for this project is part of the $1.05 billion in Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance Projects provided by the Law.  

Michael Bennet, Colorado Senator; Bill Long, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; Camille Calimlim Touton, Reclamation Commissioner; Rebecca Mitchell, Director Colorado Water Conservation Board stand with pipe for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Photo credit: Reclamation

Click the link to read “Arkansas Valley Conduit project breaks ground” on The Pueblo Chieftain website (James Bartolo/USA Today). Here’s an excerpt:

Advocates of the Arkansas Valley Conduit celebrated the groundbreaking of the conduit’s Boone Reach 1 trunk line, which will connect Pueblo’s water system to Boone, on Friday, April 28, at Martin Marietta Rich Sand & Gravel east of Pueblo. The trunk line is the first 6-mile piece of the conduit’s planned 230mile project stretching from Pueblo to Lamar and Eads. Once completed, the conduit will send up to 7,500 acrefeet of Pueblo Reservoir water to about 50,000 southeastern Colorado residents. WCA Construction LLC., a Towaoc, Colorado-based company owned by the Ute Tribe, was awarded a $42.9 million contract from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in September 2022 to complete construction of the Boone Reach 1 trunk line.

Communities benefitting from the conduit include communities in eastern Pueblo, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers counties. Drinking water in many of these communities currently contains contaminants like radionuclides and selenium, according to Bill Long, board president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

Estimates for the total cost of the project are between $600 and $700 million, Long said. Project leaders hope to receive upward of $500 million more from the federal government. After receiving $60 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, the Arkansas Valley Conduit continues to be a competitive project in the fight for future federal funding, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camile Touton.

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.