Featured Photo: Jeremy Wallace
Whether it’s the snow we ski on in Red Lady bowl, the early season runoff that flushes Oh-Be-Joyful Creek, or water collected in our tiny cutthroat tributaries, these waters nourish our ecosystems here and downstream. As citizens of the Upper Gunnison Basin, we’re the stewards of the headwaters of a major tributary to the Colorado River. For 26 years, our water program has sought to ensure that our stream systems have enough clean and cold water to provide for local environmental and community needs.
Our water program has deep roots in the Gunnison Valley. It was spawned when Steve Glazer recognized a need to clean up the Coal Creek watershed and stand up against trans-basin diversions. In those early days, HCCA advocated against growing front-range municipalities that threatened to divert our water resources across the divide, and put pressure on the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to require that Amax Inc. build a water treatment plant to prevent heavy metals from entering Coal Creek. Since then we’ve opposed applications for additional water rights to develop the Red Lady mine, helped to negotiate federal water rights for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and worked with local partners on numerous water projects. We’ve successfully partnered with the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to protect instream flows in the Upper Gunnison Basin. HCCA has filled the unique role of working in water law and policy to ensure that we leave some water in our creeks for wildlife and fisheries. Protecting and restoring local flows remains an integral part of our work.
Our unique role as an advocacy organization has allowed us to carry on the tradition of urging for strong local water quality standards through implementation of the Clean Water Act. High Country Conservation Advocates participates in hearings with the Water Quality Control Division to ensure that our local water quality standards are protective of aquatic life and human health. In these hearings we’ve partnered with the Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association to keep molybdenum allowances for our streams low, with the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition and the Town of Crested Butte to rein in heavy metals loading into Coal Creek, and with Gunnison County to weigh in on potential nutrient regulations. This summer we teamed up with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality Committee to assure that revised stream temperature standards are established based on adequate local data.
Watershed Management Planning Update
We’re entering into a new era now where creativity and collaboration are more crucial than ever. Climate change is causing changes in the timing of our runoff and precipitation patterns. Population growth and increased peak tourist demands are creating challenges for our local water providers, and increased use and temperatures can add an extra layer of stress on stream ecosystems facing low flows.
One of the current focuses of our Water Program is Watershed Management Planning. The collaborative Watershed Management Planning effort is seeking to create a plan to help protect existing uses and improve watershed health by looking at solutions supported by local data and community input. HCCA is helping to coordinate this planning effort in the East River Watershed. This summer we heard from over 50 local stakeholders who weighed in on this process.
Concerns raised in these initial surveys have included things like impacts from increased SUPing on the Upper Slate River, changes in the timing of runoff that impact our irrigators and instream flows, and the impact that warming temperatures will have on ecosystems and water providers. We need all the input we can get to figure out how to address these and other issues as a community.
What is important to you in Watershed Management Planning? Here’s what some advocates have to say:
“The sustainable and continued protection of water use and using efficiency and other methods to maintain a healthy stream is critical for decades of future use.”
“Keep our water flowing downhill, not to the Front Range!”
“I’m concerned about water flows decreasing and quality decreasing due to population expansion and global climate change.”
“Please consider recreational users in flow planning. We want to coexist with other users and landowners in a friendly manner.”