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San Juan River Workgroup meets today

The San Juan River Workgroup is scheduled to begin today, Feb. 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Community Center. Everyone is invited to participate.

The outcome of this project will be a final report detailing the workgroup’s proceedings and any recommendations that may emerge. The workgroup is advisory in nature and it is anticipated the workgroup will conclude in December of 2010.

The workgroup will follow a three-phased process. In the beginning, members will be reviewing basic information about water and land protection tools and concepts, as well as an initial information sheet for the east and west forks of the San Juan River. This step is to ensure everyone is operating from the same base of information. Then, values for the east and west forks will be discussed at length — both human and natural. The workgroup will develop a values statement and then will review the current protections in place which include: wilderness; conservation easements on private lands; USFS management practices and plans; an inventoried roadless area; and in-stream flows. Next, the workgroup will look to the future and decide if additional protections are needed. If so, brainstorming will occur about what those additional protections might be, bearing in mind that there is private land in the area with associated rights and that the USFS manages the public lands.

The River Protection Workgroup, the coalition sponsoring this effort, has devised a number of principles that will be used. A fundamental ground rule will be used: Please be respectful of all opinions, even if you do not agree with them. Anyone with an interest has a seat at the table and is considered a stakeholder. There is not a pre-set or appointed membership to the workgroup. Consensus will be the decision-making method. If any additional recommendations for protections are made by the workgroup, they will be designed to meet the needs of a diversity of interests.

Because water and land issues are sometimes contentious, a premise of the new workgroup is that accurate facts will be brought forth so members can develop common understandings of complex issues. When requested, additional information will be researched where possible. There are no pre-set “done deals” or decisions that have been made.

This community effort is funded by a variety of sources including the Southwestern Water Conservation District; San Juan Citizens Alliance; Colorado Water Conservation Board; The Wilderness Society; Trout Unlimited; National Forest Foundation; and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

A Web site documents the process. Participants and other interested citizens can find an initial information wheet for the east and west forks of the San Juan River; a glossary of terms and agencies; a handout on river and land protection tools; an information sheet on the River Protection Workgroup; and later on — meeting minutes, handouts and maps. The Web site is: http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/ (click on San Juan River Workgroup). 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.