Gypsum White River appeal all about water |

Gypsum White River appeal all about water

Kathy Heicher

Town leaders are concerned about how a proposal to designate 50,000 acres of rugged forest land on Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek as official “wilderness” will affect the town’s ability to tap into water resources. Official wilderness status, under federal law, prohibits development and mechanized activities, including use of motorized and mechanized equipment, milling, road building, and logging.

The town’s water supply originates in the proposed wilderness area.

Specifically, the town wants to ensure its ability to access, maintain and develop water resources at Eye Lake, the Eye Lake Supply Ditch, Mosher Lake, Mosher Springs and the L.E.D.E. Pipeline.

Mosher Springs is one of the town’s current municipal water supplies. Eye Lake and its related ditch have been decreed to the town for direct and augmentation use.

Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll says since the plan came out, town officials have been talking with White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle about their concerns. Although the town has letters from the Forest Service stating the agency will work towards resolving those concerns, no formal solution has been offered.

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“There is no formal commitment. We feel we had no choice but to appeal,” says Shroll.

“It is the Town of Gypsum’s position that the Forest Service’s failure to deal with the highly pivotal issue of water rights when approving the 2002 Revised Land and Resource Management Plan was contrary to both National and Regional Forest Plan policy,” states the notice of appeal recently sent to the Forest Service by the town’s water attorney, Kevin Patrick.

The Gypsum appeal is one of 11 appeals the Forest Service received. Appeals came from all directions, including Vail Resorts, which also has concerns about water rights, and environmental groups, who feel the plan falls short of protecting the forest.

Dan Hormaechea, planning staff officer for the White River Forest, says appeals are anticipated any time a Forest Plan is issued.

“All forest plans are appealed. It is almost a matter-of-fact occurrence, even though we made a lot of changes based on the public comment,” he said. The Forest Service received some 14,000 letters and 65,000 specific comments in response to the controversial draft plan, issued three years ago.

“We responded a lot and think we came up with a well-balanced plan. That doesn’t seem to be enough any more. Everybody gets some of what they want. It is impossible to give everybody what they want in a forest like the White River with so many users, and so many things going on,” Hormaechea says, indicating the Forest Supervisor’s office has not yet seen the specific appeals.

The timeline for resolving appeals depends on the success of local level negotiations, he said.

“If we’re making some meaningful progress in talking to the appellants, then we can try to settle locally before we throw our hands in the air and cry “uncle’,” he said.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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