From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):
In January the Colorado Water Conservation Board granted the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and partners $175,000 to begin local watershed management planning efforts. The funding will support the gathering of baseline information, initial stakeholder outreach, and future needs assessments in three Upper Gunnison tributary basins from 2017 to 2020.
The goals of the Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Management Plan are to protect existing water uses and water quality, and improve relationships between different water users. The plan also seeks to understand whether there are gaps between available water and future uses, and how to best manage that water moving forward. Water experts predict that the Colorado population will rise exponentially, putting more stress on the Front Range’s limited water supply and thus the Western Slope, and changing temperatures will reduce water availability.
The planning framework developed by the UGRWCD includes needs identified in the Colorado Water Plan, but also focuses on agricultural and municipal uses. Irrigated hay and pasture meadows have rights to approximately 95 percent of the basin’s water resources. “Our planning process distinguishes between ‘watershed management’ and ‘stream management,’” explained UGRWCD board member and outreach coordinator George Sibley.
“’Stream management’ in the Colorado Water Plan focuses almost entirely on environmental and recreational needs. Watershed management covers our interactions with all of the water resources in the entire watershed, including groundwater, and water removed from streams for human purposes,” said Sibley…
Gunnison River watersheds encompass over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado and are critical headwaters of the Colorado River. “The Upper Gunnison River Basin is a headwaters basin, which means it is not yet really a river, but many flows of water becoming a river. Most of those streams organize themselves into seven main watersheds, each unique in its natural and human cultural geography,” said Sibley…
Locally, the assessments will begin with the Ohio Creek, East River and Lake Fork watersheds, providing a framework for the other four watersheds over the next four years.
Each watershed study begins with a needs assessment inventory of known and anticipated needs stretching out to mid-century from industry, recreation, agriculture, and human settlements in general—while subsequently identifying areas with significant environmental concerns.
The studies will seek to understand ecosystem function needs, river flows, infrastructure in need of improvement, water quality impairment issues, and ensuing legal frameworks. This first phase will also address information gaps and develop pilot projects to demonstrate best management practices. Pilot studies and demonstration projects in each watershed will look at options to reconcile instream and diversion needs. Potential demonstration projects include ditch repair, stream channel reconfiguration, wetland enhancements, coordination irrigation or other conservation practices.
The UGRWCD will be the coordinating agency for the watershed management planning processes, working with other water-related agencies and organizations within the Upper Gunnison Basin, including but not limited to the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the seven municipal/domestic water suppliers in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Trout Unlimited, High Country Conservation Advocates, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, the Lake Fork Conservancy, recreational organizations, and federal and state land management agencies.