Watershed Management Planning
Warmer evening temperatures, earlier spring runoff, and unusual precipitation patterns indicate that headwater hydrologic cycles are changing. At the same time, our population in Colorado and in the Valley continues to grow. Meeting future water use needs while protecting our riverine ecosystems will require careful planning and collaboration across a range of entities.
The final Colorado Water Plan (CWP) included a goal to create stream management plans (SMPs) for 80% of Colorado’s watersheds. Locally, the need for watershed management planning has been recognized by the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, and by a range of other local stakeholders.
In April 2016, HCCA agreed to participate as a member of an ad hoc committee formed by the UGRWCD to guide the process of collecting the foundational information necessary to launch a watershed management planning process in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Other members of the ad hoc committee included board members from the UGRWCD, members of the Stockgrowers Association, and a representative from Trout Unlimited. The committee constructed a framework that outlined how to conduct environmental and irrigation infrastructure inventory assessments in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Our approach is unique from the strategy taken by other groups. In recognition of the large local agricultural community, we’ve designed a framework that looks at agricultural shortages as well as ecosystem needs.
These plans include stakeholder involvement and management actions supported by sound science to help our communities plan and adapt to growth and changing hydrologic conditions while enhancing stream resiliency. This process will utilize both existing and new data sources to analyze and identify necessary flows for ecosystem needs, water use, recreation, and water quality and take into account existing municipal and agricultural uses and shortages. Ultimately the plan will be adaptive, recognizing the importance of accommodating existing and future consumptive use needs while striving to maintain or improve the current state of aquatic ecosystem health- the most effective stream management plans build consensus and prioritize ecological, recreational, and other goals within a given watershed. Once goals are agreed upon, stakeholders work together to identify a range of projects and management solutions to meet these challenges. Stakeholder participation in planning and implementing identified strategies is voluntary. Improving stream health is a primary goal of these plans.
Let the Planning Commence!
In November 2016, the Upper Gunnison River Watershed Management Planning Committee applied to the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program (CWRP) for funding to support watershed management planning in our basin. HCCA serves as a member of the committee that submitted a request for $175,000 to fund our project entitled, “Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Assessment and Management Planning: Initial Steps for Ohio Creek, East River, and the Lake Fork Sub-basins”. Our request for funding was approved at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s January 2017 meeting. In addition to the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and High Country Conservation Advocates, project partners also include Trout Unlimited and the Lake Fork Valley Conservancy. This funding will help us initiate the watershed management planning process in the three identified local watersheds.