Citizen input requested at roundtable meetings

A Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) committee will hold vital public gatherings in Southwest Colorado, beginning Feb. 2. In the process, the group will solicit valuable citizen input on environmental and recreational water uses within the Southwest Basin.

According to a recent notice from the Southwest Basin Roundtable — one of eight such roundtables in Colorado — its Southwest Nonconsumptive Needs Assessment Committee will assemble for two hours on four consecutive evenings, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, at the Pagosa Springs Community Center. Subsequent events will take place in Cortez, Telluride and Durango.

House Bill 05-1177 obligates roundtables, which include municipal water users, agricultural users, regional governments, water conservation and conservancy districts, environmental and recreational interests, and representatives of the business community, to completing non-consumptive needs evaluations in their respective basins. The Southwest Basin incorporates the San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel watersheds.

In a Tuesday phone interview, CWCB spokesman Eric Hecox said the committee will seek varietal public feedback regarding water supply and availability as they relate to the environment and recreation.

Environmental concerns involve lake or reservoir levels and streamflows adequate to sustain diverse aquatic species, including endangered fish, marine invertebrates or riparian vegetation. Recreational matters embody myriad water-related outdoor activities, such as fishing, rafting, kayaking, tubing, waterfowl-hunting and birding. Apparently, indentifying priority streams and lakes in the area, and finding ways to better protect minimum surface levels and streamflows is the ultimate goal.

With a focus on water quantity rather than quality, committee members will provide meeting attendees updated “draft mapping” for public review. Hecox said draft mapping is the result of detailed data compilation and reconciliation, but local site-specific input is essential to assuring a thorough analysis.

“We need public input at the meetings,””Hecox said. “There will be large maps for people to comment on and work from, and there will be contact information, if people want to think about it and submit feedback later.”

Meanwhile, by participating in this series of meetings, Hecox believes the public will better understand the scope of the project, and the process that determines regional water requirements and how best to establish, protect or maintain them.

“This is first step in identifying the needs in precise geographic areas,””Hecox stated. “Then we can determine what needs to be done in those areas.”

When asked how the CWCB would achieve absolute compliance with established minimum streamflow requirements, for instance, Hecox suggested everything is subject to adjudicated water rights.

“We can’t force minimum streamflows on users with senior water rights,” he exclaimed, “but we have programs that work with users. We can protect in-stream flows by acquiring rights through purchase or donation.”

Hecox added that an increasing number of senior users now recognize the value and importance in protecting what’s left of riparian areas and germane wildlife habitat.

For more information on the Pagosa Springs meeting, or exact times and locations of those in Cortez, Telluride or Durango, contact Pete Kasper at 970-264-4241. Kasper is the lead water commissioner in the Pagosa Springs office of the state Division of Water Resources. Hecox is available at 303-866-3441, ext. 3217.

chuck@pagosasun.com