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River watchdog departs with warning

Scott Condon

The woman who transformed the Roaring Fork Conservancy from an obscure, one-person educational group into a respected voice for protection of the local rivers is resigning.Jeanne Beaudry will step down as executive director of the conservancy on Jan. 31 for other professional pursuits. She is the only director the nonprofit organization has had since it was founded eight years ago to protect the Roaring Fork River watershed.Beaudry said she is proud that the conservancy has evolved into a model conservation group that vastly improved the education of valley residents on water issues. Nevertheless, on the eve of her departure she warned that valley residents still don’t realize the drastic effects diversions for the thirsty Front Range could have on the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers.For example, the concept of Front Range cities pumping water out of Ruedi Reservoir, up and over the Continental Divide had long been viewed as too expensive to be viable. Now, Colorado’s drought and growth don’t make it so far-fetched.”When you work in this for eight years you see that anything can happen,” Beaudry said.The conservancy is concerned – and all valley residents should be concerned – about the potential effects of that Ruedi pump-back project on the Fryingpan River, Beaudry said. If more water is diverted east, it could potentially mean lower flows in the Fryingpan during winters, when the trout fishery can suffer damage, she said.A primary focus of the conservancy has been to conduct scientific studies to show how winter water releases from Ruedi affect insects on the Fryingpan and, thus, some of the best trout fishing in the country. When those flows stay at 75 cubic feet per second it’s ideal, Beaudry said. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has verbally committed to trying to keep flows above 40 cfs, but there are no guarantees, Beaudry said.Under Beaudry’s guidance, the conservancy has also studied how important fishing and other water activities are to Basalt’s economy.The organization has monitored the water quality of the Roaring Fork River watershed at 24 sites and it has become a leading authority on how the drought has affected local rivers and streams. It also runs educational programs that are tapped by roughly 4,000 students from 17 schools every year.It has a staff of 10 to accomplish all that. But when Beaudry started, she said, she worked alone out of an office the size of a closet.”I think at first people were like, ‘Who are you and what do you want to do?'” Beaudry said. It earned credibility over eight years. “People came to trust us that we’re not going to just spew something out,” she said.Beaudry is as impassioned as ever about water issues, but the conservancy’s position is changing. The executive director faces increasingly more administrative responsibilities.The organization is facing tremendous change over the next 12 to 24 months. It acquired land in Basalt for a new “river center” that will use displays and programs to expand education about ecology and wildlife. The conservancy is heading into a major fund-raising period to build that center.Beaudry’s decision to leave was her own; she still has the support of the conservancy’s board of directors, stressed board President Diane Schwener.”Jeanne has done a fantastic job,” Schwener said. “She brought the conservancy to the place where it is today.”She said she anticipates the conservancy will collaborate with Beaudry on programs in the future.Rick Lofaro, who has been with the conservancy since it was created, most recently as water quality program coordinator, will be the interim director until Beaudry’s replacement is named.Diane Moore, a member of the conservancy’s board of directors, will head a search committee.Beaudry will remain in the Roaring Fork Valley – after a short stint in a dream job. She will work as a marine biologist on educational tours to the Antarctic Peninsula for Quark Expeditions. She will be gone February, March and April, then return to the valley.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com