The Colorado Branch of Trout Unlimited received support from Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday to seek an Outstanding Waters designation on three branches of upper Thompson Creek near Carbondale.
Trout Unlimited is seeking protection on parts of the north, middle and south branches of Thompson Creek due to their outstanding water quality and unique cutthroat trout populations. All three branches are located within U.S. Forest Service lands and are not on private properties.
Outstanding Waters is a protective designation that would preserve the current water quality as the baseline standard for any activities permitted by the state of Colorado.
“What that would mean is if some state-permitted activity were to come along, this would ensure the water quality has to stay the same as it is now,” said Aaron Kindle, the Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “There could be no future degradation of the water quality in those streams.”
The water-quality standard is triggered when local, state or federal approvals are sought for activity that could affect the quality of the designated waters.
Permits authorizing discharge into Outstanding Waters areas or their tributaries, whether on private or public lands, would not be authorized unless the quality of water discharged is equal or better than the established baseline standard.
The north and middle Thompson creeks are home to a conservation population of Colorado River cutthroat trout that Trout Unlimited wants to see protected due to their genetic purity.
The Outstanding Waters designation also would protect Park Creek, a tributary of North Thompson Creek that contains a Lineage GB population of cutthroat trout. The Lineage GB, or green back, is the indigenous fish that has persisted in this area for roughly 10,000 years.
“We’re trying to protect a genetically pure cutthroat population that’s been around since the last ice age,” Kindle said. “We’re doing everything we can to protect these cutthroat creeks.”
Kindle said Trout Unlimited has done extensive outreach to nearby landowners, ranchers that use those areas to graze their cattle, energy companies that hold leases in those areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The proposal is set to go before the Water Quality Control Commission on June 9 in Grand Junction.