Valley looks for watershed moment
January 8, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoPeople drink the water of the Roaring Fork Valley, irrigate with it, fish in it, float on it, admire its beauty.It’s also easy for many to take for granted that it always will be there, in the same kind of quantity and condition as today.A diverse group of agencies and nonprofit organizations doesn’t want to leave that to chance. Instead, it is undertaking the first comprehensive watershed plan for the Roaring Fork Valley.The Ruedi Water and Power Authority is sponsoring the effort, but it is the result of two years of work by such entities as The Nature Conservancy, Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado River Water Conservation District. They have been working together as a planning and information-sharing group called the Watershed Collaborative.An initial phase of the planning process entails creating a State of the Watershed Report. It will pull together information from several dozen studies and create a comprehensive picture of the watershed’s current condition, said Mark Fuller, executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.”The philosophy is we won’t be able to tell what we want to change until we know what we’ve got,” Fuller said.The authority has contracted with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to take the lead on the planning effort. The watershed report is scheduled for completion in November, and the final plan a year later.The budget for the first phase is $115,000. The authority board, consisting of one elected official from every community in the Roaring Fork Valley, has contributed $20,000, and most of those jurisdictions have chipped in their own funds as well.The Colorado River Water Conservation District and Gunnison County also have donated funds, and the Colorado River Basin Roundtable has endorsed a $40,000 grant that would come from state water planning money.Also, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has contributed money the Roaring Fork Conservancy has been using for initial outreach to ranchers, water lawyers, river recreation companies, homeowners associations and others to learn their concerns and get them involved in the planning process. A February meeting will begin gathering input from the general public.Fuller said the watershed report will help identify data gaps and prioritize water management needs in the valley.He thinks local water quantity and quality are fairly good. “But neither of those are at a level that people would like to see them,” he said.Thanks to diversions, the Roaring Fork River can dry up in the Aspen area and up Independence Pass in some drought years, as can the lower Crystal River.”Anytime you lose quantity, there’s an effect on quality, because obviously the more water you have on the river the more able it is to absorb pollutants,” he said.Studies also show lower-quality riparian and fish habitat where the Roaring Fork flows through Aspen and Glenwood Springs, Fuller said.”I don’t think that many people are aware of some of the threats to the local water resource,” he said. “We think it’s really important that the public at large understand the local water resource and use that knowledge to assure that our government representatives do what they can to protect that resource.”Fuller said a watershed plan could improve communications between governments to better protect the watershed. Such coordination can be lacking now, he said. For example, he said, Basalt put together a good plan some years ago to stabilize riverbeds and improve riparian areas.”Unless the jurisdictions upstream of them and downstream of them are aware of that and are sort of working in concert with it, it has a lot less chance of success. So those are the kinds of connections we’re trying to make,” he said.Fuller said the local planning process dovetails with what Colorado is trying to do at a statewide level, and within major watersheds such as the Colorado River basin.Louis Meyer, co-owner of a Glenwood Springs engineering and surveying firm, welcomed the idea of a watershed plan. He and other members of the local 2003-04 class of the American Leadership Forum took on the project of trying to boost public education about issues involving water quantity and quality, and get people involved in seeking solutions.”I think if people understood the threats to the watershed and what’s happening on a statewide level with transbasin diversions and statewide water planning, more people would get involved,” he said.As a kayaker and fisherman, Meyer said he considers the Roaring Fork River “one of the best amenities that we have.” He said he sees a lot of threats to it, and doesn’t see any one entity taking the lead to protect it.”There needs to be more of a unified effort,” he said.