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San Juan River workgroup to meet Feb. 25

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, a new workgroup called the San Juan River Workgroup will begin a series of meetings at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

Everyone is invited to participate.

Through a series of 10-12 meetings that will involve education, field trips and community discussions, the workgroup will be asked to address a fundamental question: “What is the best way to protect values on the San Juan River — East and West Forks — while allowing the continuation of current uses and future water development?”

Workgroup meetings will be facilitated and operate on consensus. The participants will define a set of ground rules and will be asked to use them. The Web site for this project is: http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/ (click on San Juan River Workgroup).

The San Juan River Workgroup is organized by a regional effort called the River Protection Workgroup, which was launched in 2006 by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The primary issue that brought this group together was the San Juan National Forest Draft Land Management Plan’s preliminary decision that a number of river segments are suitable for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

After the San Juan National Forest released its Draft Land Management Plan, a steering committee was formed as an outgrowth of discussions among members of regional water-planning and conservation organizations about the need to find long-term, reliable measures to protect special values in certain stream/river segments while allowing water development to continue. Other entities participating in the steering committee include the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, including the Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board; San Juan Public Lands Center (USFS/BLM); Southern Ute Indian Tribe; The Nature Conservancy; The Wilderness Society; Five River Chapter of Trout Unlimited; and staff from the local offices of U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, and U.S. Rep. John Salazar. John Taylor, a local resident, has served on the River Protection Workgroup steering committee since its inception, representing the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Over a period of four years (2008 to 2011), the River Protection Workgroup will complete five workgroups on these rivers/streams: Hermosa Creek; San Juan River — East and West Forks ; portions of the upper Animas River; Piedra River — Middle and East Forks ; the Pine River; and Vallecito Creek.

Portions of these streams or their tributaries have tentatively been found “suitable” for possible federal designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers following an analysis by the San Juan Public Lands Center (USFS/BLM) as part of its draft management plan for the San Juan National Forest and San Juan Resource Area. The first effort, the “Hermosa Creek Workgroup,” recently concluded its work in January 2010.

The Wild and Scenic River designation is one federal tool for protecting free-flowing streams and rivers that have “outstandingly remarkable values,” which may include stunning scenery, excellent recreational opportunities, great fisheries, cultural or historic resources, rare plant communities, notable geologic features, and other characteristics with regional or national significance. However, the Wild and Scenic River designation causes concern for many local water officials because it could prohibit needed water resource projects that might adversely affect river values, and because the designation may include a federal reserved water right. So, this effort provides a way to bring interested parties together to determine viable alternatives for protecting these streams’ values. The San Juan River Workgroup will consider all possibilities for protection, including a no action alternative.

The workgroups are open to everyone. A participant need not be a government official, water expert, or board member of a water district or conservation group. Anyone willing to commit to coming to the table for the 10 or 12 meetings it will take to study the San Juan River is considered a stakeholder. While the actual river segments are the focus of discussions, land-based protections and the watershed will be addressed as well.

At the Web Site, interested persons can find a first draft of the San Juan River East and West Forks Initial Information Sheet; information about the River Protection Workgroup; a Glossary of Terms and Agencies; a handout on the three-phased process that will be utilized; and a document explaining currently used land and water protection tools.

For more information, contact the Southwestern Water Conservation District, 247-1302 or water@frontier.net; or Meghan Maloney of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, 259-3583 or meghan@sanjuancitizens.org; or the facilitator, Marsha Porter-Norton, 247-8306 or porternorton@animas.net. The Web site is: http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/ (click on San Juan River Workgroup).