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San Juan River workgroup formed

The San Juan River Workgroup (SJRW) became reality last Thursday evening, as approximately 50 individuals attended an organizational meeting at the Ross Aragon Community Center in Pagosa Springs.

A few participants reportedly came from as far away as Denver and Silverton.

According to program coordinators, interest ran high among a diverse crowd of ranchers and property owners, water service providers, photographers, anglers, whitewater enthusiasts, oil land gas developers, and conservationists concerned with protecting a wide array of intrinsic river values. To address their concerns on a local level, attendees agreed to form the SJRW and meet monthly through December.

Meeting facilitator Marsha Porter-Norton led the discussion, which began with an overview of the River Protection Workgroup Steering Committee created in 2006 by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) and San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA).

Born from regional discussions among water planning and resource protection organizations, the steering committee moved to involve the public in developing measures to protect the natural values of select streams, while allowing necessary water development to continue. To do so, it developed a means of forming similar workgroups focused on protecting Hermosa Creek, the east and west forks of the San Juan, portions of the upper Animas River, the middle and east forks of the Piedra River, the Pine River and Vallecito Creek.

The east and west forks of the San Juan have been identified as “suitable for Wild and Scenic River designation” in the amended San Juan Public Lands Draft Forest Management Plan.

According to the steering committee, successful workgroups will implement and complete a collaborative community process that includes disparate stakeholders; establish agreements regarding future action(s); or determine that current stream protections are adequate to preserve priority values.

Once the SJRW became official at Thursday’s meeting, the group discussed a three-phase process it will undergo, and how its program relates to the above-referenced forest management plan. Basically, anyone interested in the river will have a seat at the table and will be considered a stakeholder throughout the process.

While respecting all opinions expressed, even when different than their own, group members will consider future actions that meet the interests and/or needs of a diversity of stakeholders and water users. All will receive factual information and tools necessary to lead productive talks resulting in 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.

• 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.

Locally, conservation easements, county land use codes and contractual agreements are also useful tools in protecting sensitive areas and adjacent waterways.

As its efforts wind down, the workgroup will issue a report and recommend actions for future implementation in cooperation with necessary partnerships.

Workgroup funding will come from various in-kind donations and grants from the SWCD, SJCA, Trout Unlimited, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the National Forest Foundation. Other grants are pending. The group will meet from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month at a location soon to be determined.

For more information on the San Juan River Workgroup, contact facilitator Marsha Porter-Norton at 247-8306 (porternorton@animas.net) or Meghan Maloney of the San Juan Citizens Alliance at 259-3583. You can e-mail Meghan at meghan@sanjuancitizens.org, or visit the River Protection Workgroup Web site at http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection and click on San Juan River Workgroup.

chuck@pagosasun.com