Community invited to discuss protection options for the Crystal River

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Community invited to discuss protection options for the Crystal River

Date: 11/01/2023     Category: News & Media    

Original Post ➡️

The Crystal River valley as seen through EcoFlight in May 2022.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Crystal River is both wild and scenic, but whether or not a federal Wild and Scenic protective designation is in its future is still in the hands of the community. 

The Crystal River Wild and Scenic and Other Alternatives Feasibility Collaborative is hosting a community summit from 5-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26 at the Roaring Fork High School Auditorium in Carbondale to discuss the multiple protection options available to the Crystal River. 

The Crystal River, which runs through the Colorado Highway 133 corridor in Gunnison, Pitkin, and Garfield counties, is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state. Community members have long advocated for its protection from perceived threats like dams and transbasin diversions.

One of the most recent threats to the Crystal River came up in 2011, when the Osgood and Placita Reservoirs proposals sparked public outcry.

A Wild and Scenic designation is a federal label that, among other things, protects a free-flowing river from future dams or diversions. Pre-existing water rights are not affected by the designation, and proponents note that the designation is largely customizable to local priorities.

In the 1980s, the White River National Forest determined 39 miles of the Crystal River were eligible for federal protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. They reaffirmed that finding in 2002. Efforts to win that designation have waxed and waned over the years, and this go-around is starting at the beginning to determine what protections are best suited for the river and the surrounding communities. 
Congress would have to approve a bill granting Wild and Scenic status to the Crystal River at the recommendation of the U.S. Forest, or approved by the Secretary of the Interior. 

At the first community summit in April, attendees shared their goals for the Crystal, like protecting ecological health, ensuring uninterrupted water flow, prevention from overuse, and guarding existing water rights.

That summit also served as a recruitment tool for the steering committee — co-chaired by Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, Gunnison County Commissioner Liz Smith , and Town of Marble Administrator Ron Leach — a group of 30-plus community members and experts who discussed the protection options for the Crystal. 

The committee has met monthly since June. Bill Argeros, a vice chair of the Crystal River Caucus and member of the steering committee, encouraged people to come out to Thursday’s community summit. 

This is (the community’s) opportunity to come and speak up and be heard. That’s the point I wanted to drive home, speak now or forever hold your peace,” he said. “Come with ideas and listen to the facts and share information.”

Argeros is an ardent supporter of the Wild and Scenic designation, but said the collaborative is committed to considering every option for the Crystal.

The summit’s agenda is dedicated to exploring the various options outlined by the steering committee, including a federal Wild and Scenic designation.

Possible protection strategies include:
– Wild and Scenic Designation
– National Conservation Area/Special Management Area
– Local management and intergovernmental agreements
– Instream flows and recreational in-channel diversions
– Other localized protection and restoration options
– No Action Alternative with 1041 Regulations
– CDPHE Water Quality Protections for Outstanding Waters

The meeting will include presentations on the various protection options with representatives from Wilderness Workshop, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council, and hydrology experts. 

The meeting will include a free dinner.