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Group considers values and protection of Piedra River and Weminuche Creek

What are the characteristics of the Piedra River? Of the Piedra watershed? Of the middle and the east forks of the Piedra River? Of the Weminuche Creek?

What values do these characteristics hold?

Are there any perceived threats to these values?

Are there any protections in place? Are they adequate protections? Are they time limited?

These are the questions that a group of environmentalists, Forest Service staff, Hinsdale County Commissioners and outfitters discussed last week. They come together as the Piedra River Protection Work Group to discuss protection tools for the Piedra River north of U.S. 160.

With regard to the Weminuche Creek, which feeds the Piedra River, values and characteristics the group listed included commercial outfitting, scenic and timber harvest potential. The characteristics of the Piedra River the group listed included hot springs, commercial rafting and extreme scenic value.

The group then discussed the potential threats to those sections of the river, such as development.

According to the group facilitator Tami Graham, the group is continuing to gather information on the river, about the conservation easements and current protections that may already be in place. Also, they intend to find out if there are any significant senior water rights south of U.S. 160 that may have an effect on the river.

Graham explained that the next phase is to decide whether or not the current protections that are in place are adequate or not.

“Given all the information, are they (the current protections) adequate or not for all the segments of the river? If not in any way, what tools are out there?” Graham said, adding, “That’s where it will get real interesting.”

One of the tools is Wild and Scenic designation, but Graham emphasized that this is not the only tool for river and watershed protection. After all possible protection tools are discussed, the group will write a report with protection recommendations.

The report, Graham said, has the potential to become a useful aid in drafting legislation to implement the recommendations, as is the case with the Hermosa Creek River protection group.

The next meeting of the group is Tuesday, April 17 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

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