Group may oversee Garfield County Colorado River watershed | AspenTimes.com

Group may oversee Garfield County Colorado River watershed

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado River, undoubtedly one of the most studied waterways in the West and lifeline to roughly 30 million people, is about to undergo yet another look.

This time, however, it will be only the portion of the river that flows through Garfield County – specifically, from the Eagle/Garfield county line in the east, to the upper end of DeBeque Canyon in the west.

Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River District office in Glenwood Springs, told the Garfield County Commissioners on Nov. 9 that he and others are hoping to create a watershed working group that will focus on this particular part of the Colorado River Basin.

A group of 26 participants started meeting on Sept. 18, according to the group’s four-page draft mission statement.

“The fact is, we have groups throughout the state covering every watershed,” Treese said in a telephone interview on Nov. 23. He pointed to the Roaring Fork Conservancy, which keeps an eye on that watershed, and other, existing watershed organizations that already cover much of the Colorado River basin, and on whose turf the new group does not plan to tread.

But for the stretch through Garfield County, he said, there is no group standing guard.

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“Watershed groups typically organize around a problem, or an issue,” in which the watershed is perceived as being under threat by some use or another, he said.

“We don’t have that right now,” Treese noted.

But he added that “We recognize that water is a scarce and valuable resource in the West, and it takes stewardship to manage that resource effectively.”

From the potentially massive water needs of the still-embryonic oil shale industry, to water-quality concerns linked to current gas drilling in Garfield County, to basic population growth impacts, to the invasively flourishing Tamarisk plant that is choking out native plant life along the edges of rivers, the group is looking at a variety of issues, Treese said.

“We don’t even have a name for ourselves yet,” he joked, although the draft mission statement refers to the “Middle Colorado River Watershed Partnership Exploratory Purpose and Scope.”

Although he is working with a number of area groups and individuals, Treese said his primary partner in the effort is Clark Anderson of the Sonoran Institute, a western lands and conservation group with offices in the U.S. and Mexico, including one in Glenwood Springs.

Anderson said the group, which currently is made up by representatives of government, energy industry, nonprofits, environmentalists, ranchers and other facets of the local political landscape, is still “figuring itself out.”

But whatever the final group coalesces into, Anderson said, “I don’t see it as another environmental group.”

Although some might think the Colorado River District itself should be in charge of such research and activity, Anderson said the district has “a much greater scope” and is in charge of the entire length of the river in the state.

The river’s course through Garfield County, though, is in need of a closer examination, he said.

“There’s a lot going on in this stretch of the river,” he declared. “There’s a lot of different issues.”

On Oct. 29, the group issued a “stakeholder information letter” inviting any interested individuals or organizations to contact Treese (ctreese@crwcd.org or 945-8522), Anderson (canderson@sonoraninstitute.org or 384-4364) or any of a half-dozen of the group’s organizers.

Both Treese and Anderson predicted that it will not be long before the group concludes either that there is no need for its efforts and disbands, or that it is time to come up with a name and a mission statement and declare itself. Treese said the next meeting of the group is not scheduled until after New Year’s Day.

jcolson@postindependent.com