RIFLE — A relatively new, soon to be nonprofit organization, is hoping to craft a cooperative setting in which local governments, the energy industry and other groups can work together to preserve and protect the quality of public waterways in the Colorado River drainage.
Known as the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, it was formed in 2009 with funding mainly from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and currently has just one paid employee — Coordinator Laurie Rink of Carbondale.
The organization has been undergoing a kind of birthing process since it was formed. Organizers are applying for nonprofit status and meet frequently to discuss problems and issues unique to the Colorado River drainage, and to hold public events to familiarize the local citizenry with the Council and its mission.
Rink, as part of the Council’s outreach to other organizations and agencies, gave a presentation on Thursday night to the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board (EAB) about the Council, its goals and its structure.
The Colorado River watershed, Rink told the EAB and an audience of roughly a dozen members of the public, covers approximately 2,000 square miles of terrain from the eastern end of Glenwood Canyon to the town of De Beque.
The boundary of the watershed, she said, is largely identical to the contours of Garfield County.
The watershed encompasses about 7,500 linear miles of rivers, creeks and streams, she said, but not the Roaring Fork River drainage. Although the Roaring Fork is a tributary to the Colorado, it is watched over by another organization, the Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt.
All that water, Rink said, is generally used for recreation, agriculture, the energy industry, wildlife, and drinking water.
The uses of that water, including such concepts as water conservation and water-quality protection are, broadly speaking, either regulated by governments and laws, or subject to voluntary agreements and concessions among the different user groups.
“What we’re looking to do is kind of fill in the gaps between voluntary efforts and regulated efforts,” she said, in the hope of keeping pollutants out of the water for the protection of future generations.
The watershed approach, she explained, is useful because “we can cross artificial boundaries” such as city and county boundaries, in the search for ways to achieve those goals with the collaboration of what she called “stakeholders,” meaning the diverse groups and organizations that all use the river for their own purposes.
“It’s very much on the grassroots level,” she added.
One of the slides in her PowerPoint presentation listed the many entities that the Council deems to be its “partners” in its mission, including cities and towns, the Garfield County Re-2 School District and Garfield County itself.
The Council currently has a “watershed assessment plan” under way, to come up with an overview and computer database outlining what Rink said are “key conditions and trends” in the watershed and among its various constituent user groups.
Part of that assessment, she said, is to catalogue conditions in the watershed, including land use, land cover, soil types, topography and hydrology, and to “identify pollutants of concern and their origin.”
The hope also is to identify gaps in the data about the watershed, come up with plans to fill those gaps, and monitor how those plans are followed and fulfilled, Rink explained.
“So the plan is not something that sits on a shelf,” Rink said. “It’s something that’s alive, that folks can do something with.”
All of this analytical work, she said, includes how the oil and gas drilling industry fits into plans to preserve water quality and quantity.
Recognizing the need for the industry, which produces energy for the economy and the populace, she said that “there is, however, the potential for contamination” that must be fully analyzed and monitored.
She praised the WPX drilling company for hosting a citizens tour of its facilities in July, which included the opportunity for questions from tour participants to company officials, as an example of cooperation between the industry and the people living in the area of its activities.
All the data gathering and analysis, she said, is to be used in a “stakeholder planning process” in 2014, which is to involve a series of public meetings to identify issues, answer questions and come up with strategies for water quality preservation in the future. From that process, a database for future Council planning is to be drawn up.
In answer to a question, she said the Council is not set up to be a water-testing agency, but instead relies on information gathered by governmental and nongovernmental agencies.
Rink also conceded that the Council has no “authority” to direct governments, companies or others to either endorse their findings or enact policies or procedures recommended with those findings.
She said a website now being developed by the Watershed Council will provide a link to the database once it is collected and formatted for public consumption.