USFS says Deep Creek is suitable for Wild and Scenic designation
It’s been more than 30 years since local citizens first floated the idea of designating a portion of Deep Creek as a Wild and Scenic River.
This week, after seven years of public effort, the White River National Forest released a decision that the first 11 miles of Deep Creek, located on the southeastern corner of the Flat Tops plateau, is suitable to receive special recognition under Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
A suitability determination is the final agency step in the process to identify waterways across the country that are free flowing, with outstandingly remarkable values and to protect them for the benefit of present and future generations. If designated by Congress, Deep Creek could become only the second stream designated in the State of Colorado since the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968.
While a designation for Deep Creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was never previously proposed above the local level, former U.S. Rep Scott McInnis and Rep. Diane Degette both sponsored bills to designate this area as wilderness under the Wilderness Act. When contacted this week about the USFS decision, McInnis sounded a cautionary note about the Wild and Scenic action.
“My first reaction is the local governments need to pay very close attention to what Wild and Scenic designation means,” said McInnis, who is now serving as a Mesa County commissioner. “There’s a song out there that says ‘watch out for still water.’ If this has any implications downstream, we really need to be careful about what we do.”
McInnis noted that the wilderness legislation he previously sponsored impacted upstream water uses, but not downstream uses.
“Maybe there are no impacts downstream, so it’s (official designation) okay, I guess. But why are they doing it now? It’s not like that area’s endangered,” said McInnis.
The National Wild and Scenic River System website at http://www.rivers.gov states “The (Wild and Scenic Rivers) Act purposefully strives to balance dam and other construction at appropriate sections of rivers with permanent protection for some of the country’s most outstanding free-flowing rivers. To accomplish this, it prohibits federal support for actions such as the construction of dams or other in stream activities that would harm the river’s free-flowing condition, water quality, or outstanding resource values. However, designation does not affect existing water rights or the existing jurisdiction of states and the federal government over waters as determined by established principles of law.”
“The designation doesn’t affect water rights and it doesn’t affect property rights. It just designates the section as free flowing, which is a good thing for Deep Creek,” said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.
As to the question of why the designation is happening now, Chandler-Henry noted that Rep. David Skaggs first proposed the designation back in 1997. “This has been in the process for 20 years,” she said.
“I think this is part of a values statement, even though nothing is any different up there today than it was yesterday,” said Chandler-Henry.
Colorado River decision deferred
The USFS also studied suitability on two segments of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. A decision was made to defer a suitability determination in favor of adopting a plan put forward by a diverse stakeholder group made up of Front Range and Western Slope water providers, recreation groups and water users. The stakeholder plan for the Colorado River will protect the River’s scenic and recreational values but also provide more flexibility in managing the future of this complex river.
In this effort, the USFS joined with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Colorado River Valley Field Office as they were analyzing suitability for the sections of Deep Creek and the Colorado River on BLM lands as a part of their Resource Management Plan Revision.
The USFS determination will not change the current management for either Deep Creek or the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. The third and final step in the process for Deep Creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would be an official designation. Only Congress can make that determination.
For individuals seeking more information the Record of Decision is available on line at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=43846 . The Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Final Suitability Study are available on line at: http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/crvfo.html.