River District has say on forest plan streamflow issues | AspenTimes.com

River District has say on forest plan streamflow issues

Heather McGregor

The Colorado River Water Conservation District board approved a revised set of comments on the proposed White River National Forest plan Wednesday, in time to be included in the “Common Sense” alternative.

The comments call on the Forest Service to drop its plan to secure in-stream flows from water diversion structures located on the national forest, and criticize the agency’s preferred Alternative D.

Newly appointed River District board member Marlene Zanetell of Gunnison County asked for more time to hear from constituents and revise the letter to endorse the biodiversity goals of the proposed forest plan.

She is concerned that a plan emphasizing human activities would “open these forests to the Front Range,” referring to transmountain water diversion proposals from the Gunnison National Forest.

“We need to reconsider the broadness of this statement. Isn’t there anything positive we can say?” Zanetell asked.

“I’m very satisfied with the direction of the letter and would not want to see it changed,” countered T. Wright Dickinson, Moffat County board member.

In a 10-1 vote, the River District board agreed to send the eight-page letter to the Forest Service posthaste, with a notation that more comments may be added before the May 9 comment deadline.

“Other entities are very interested in our comments,” said River District staffer Chris Treese, who wrote the comments.

“A lot of people don’t want to wade through all of it,” said River District President Paul Ohri of Grand County, referring to the 16-pound draft forest plan. “They’re looking to us for leadership on this water portion.”

“Most people are focused on the alternatives,” Treese said of the six options for management laid out in the draft plan. “But in-stream flows are not a part of that, as are most of our comments. People appreciate that we’ve taken a broader look.”

Former White River National Forest Supervisor Dick Woodrow attended the Wednesday meeting, and told reporters later that he will include the River District’s comments in the “Common Sense” alternative.

It’s being drawn up by a coalition of motorized recreationalists and other forest users, under the leadership of U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, as a seventh alternative.

Woodrow said White River Supervisor Martha Ketelle agreed to publish the Common Sense alternative in the final forest plan document. Officials will also give it the same consideration as Alternative I, the biodiversity and wilderness-oriented option submitted by environmental groups, he said.

Woodrow said the coalition hopes to have a draft alternative ready in a few more weeks. The group plans to take it around to county commissioners and interest groups in February.

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