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Group forming to preserve natural values of San Juan River

Whether you’re a rancher, amateur photographer, avid angler or whitewater enthusiast, preserving the natural values of the San Juan River probably interests you. If so, the San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) and Trout Unlimited (TU) invite you to an enchanting evening of whitewater and flyfishing films at the Liberty Theatre.

Billed as “Sweet Memories of Summer Days Not Long Gone,” the program gets underway at 6 p.m. Monday night (Dec. 7), and includes “The Call of the River,” a historical whitewater paddling documentary by Kent Ford. Ford is a local whitewater hall-of-fame inductee whose film features “vintage canoe and kayak footage, eclectic pioneers and untold stories.”

While event organizers plan additional film entertainment, they will also seek individuals willing to engage in a collaborative workgroup with a focus on protecting the river and surrounding lands, as future water development continues. Once formed, the voluntary organization will commence regular meetings in January.

Anyone with an interest in the river will have a seat at the table, and will be considered a stakeholder throughout the process. Group members will be asked to attend periodic meetings for between six and 12 months, while respecting all opinions expressed, even when differing from their own.

Through mutually respectful dialogue, the group will consider future actions that meet the interests and/or needs of a diversity of stakeholders and water users. Everyone will receive factual information and the necessary tools leading to productive talks and creative problem-solving. Group discussions will be open and transparent, and everyone will be heard.

As planned, participants will identify specific river values that should be preserved, while considering recommendation of a range of reliable federal, state and other measures to accomplish meaningful safekeeping. Though talks will include stream protections already in place, the workgroup will also examine the following federal mechanisms:

• U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land management plans.

• The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.

• Wilderness designation via the Wilderness Act of 1964.

• National Conservation Areas.

• Other federal legislation.

State protection mechanisms worthy of discussion include:

• The Colorado In-stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

• Various Colorado laws and intergovernmental agreements.

• The Gold Medal Waters and Outstanding Waters designations.

• Recreational in-channel diversions.

On a more local level, conservation easements, county land use codes and contractual agreements are also useful tools in protecting sensitive areas and adjacent waterways.

Workgroup funding will come from various in-kind donations and grants from the SJCA, TU, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, Colorado Water Conservation Board and the National Forest Foundation. Other grants are pending.

As a growing population places greater demands on limited water resources, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and Trout Unlimited believe protecting our rivers’ natural, social, economic and cultural values is increasingly paramount. While both non-profits will work to protect at least half-a-dozen rivers and streams in southwest Colorado in the coming years, Monday night’s Liberty Theatre event will initiate the San Juan River project.

Tickets (at the door) will cost just $5, and offer attendees opportunities to win exciting door prizes. All proceeds from the entertaining and enlightening affair will offset eventual workgroup expenses. Call of the River DVDs will be available for purchase, and those wishing to join the alliance, TU or both may do so Monday night, or by visiting their respective Web sites. The alliance is at www.sanjuancitizens.org and TU is at www.cotrout.org.

For more information on Monday’s “Sweet Memories of Summer Days Not Long Gone” at the Liberty Theatre in Pagosa Springs, or the upcoming workgroup and how to help protect the San Juan River, contact Meghan Maloney at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, 259-3583.

chuck@pagosasun.com