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Piedra River Workgroup to begin collaborative process

The River Protection Workgroup (RPW) Steering Committee invites the public to the first Piedra River Workgroup meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

The meeting will take place at the Ross Aragon Community Center in Pagosa Springs from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

The goal of the River Protection Workgroups is to engage a diversity of people in collaborative process to strike a balance between the protection of natural resources and water development.

In 2006, the Southwestern Water Conservation District and San Juan Citizens Alliance organized a River Protection Workgroup (RPW) Steering Committee. This steering committee was formed as a result of discussions among members of regional water-planning and resource-protection organizations about the need to find long-term, reliable measures to protect special values in certain streams in the San Juan Basin, while allowing water development to continue. These meetings are a separate process from the San Juan Public Lands Center Draft Management Plan.

Other entities participating in the Steering Committee include the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, including the Division of Water Resources, Division of Wildlife, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, San Juan Public Lands Center (USFS/BLM), Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Trout Unlimited and the Wilderness Support Center. Staff from the local offices of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s local office are also invited to participate.

Prior to starting the public workgroups, the steering committee met more than 20 times to inventory the special values and the multiple uses occurring for the selected drainages. It developed a public process for forming local workgroups to study Hermosa Creek, the San Juan River (East and West Forks), portions of the upper Animas River, the Pine River, Vallecito Creek and the Piedra River (Middle and East Forks). As part of an analysis done by the San Juan Public Lands Center as part of its new draft management plan for the San Juan National Forest and San Juan Resource Area, portions of these streams and/or their tributaries have tentatively been found “suitable” for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

A Wild and Scenic Rivers (“WSR”) designation is just 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 more on a regional or national scale. A WSR designation can also cause concern for many local water officials because it has the potential to prohibit needed water resources projects that could adversely affect river values and because the designation may include a federal reserved water right. Thus, the steering committee was designed to provide a way to bring interested parties together to determine viable methods for protecting these streams’ values. The workgroup studying each stream will consider all possibilities for protection, including a no action alternative.

Workgroups are open to everyone with an interest in a particular stream. An interested person does not have to be a government official, water expert or board member of a water district. Anyone willing to come to the table for the eight to 12 monthly meetings it will take to study each stream segment is considered a stakeholder. The Hermosa, San Juan and Vallecito/Pine Workgroups have been completed. The Animas River Workgroup is in the early stages of the process.

The Piedra Workgroup will be studying the East and Middle Forks of the Piedra and a portion of its mainstem. All interested citizens are encouraged to attend. Please bring an open mind, a willingness to work with others and a commitment to respect the opinions of others.

For more information, contact John Taylor of the Southwestern Conservation District at 731-5765 or jtaylor034@centurytel.net, or Wendy McDermott of San Juan Citizens Alliance at 259-3583 or wendy@sanjuancitizens.org.

More information about the River Protection Workgroups can be found at http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/.

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