Crystal River Wild and Scenic designation effort gets a guide

Josie Taris
The Aspen Times
The Crystal River flows through the valley just outside of Redstone.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent file

The Wild and Scenic Feasibility Collaborative selected a facilitator to organize stakeholder interests and community engagement in the effort to explore — and potentially win — a Wild and Scenic designation for a portion of the Crystal River.

Consultant groups Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions were chosen for their expertise in community engagement. 

Jacob Wornstein, the founder of Wellstone, and Wendy Lowe, the owner of P2, boast “strong backgrounds in natural resource issues and direct knowledge of the Crystal River,” according to a press release.

The companies are based in Denver and Loveland, respectively.

The facilitators will create a stakeholder group to compile interests and viewpoints on protection for the Crystal River, including the Wild and Scenic designation. 

In the 1980s, then re-affirmed in 2002, the White River National Forest designated 39 miles of the Crystal River across Pitkin and Gunnison counties as eligible for a federal Wild and Scenic designation. Certain stretches qualify as wild and others scenic.

Members of the collaborative involved in selecting the facilitators include the town of Marble, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, American Whitewater, and landowners in unincorporated Gunnison County and the Pitkin County Crystal River Caucus.

A dam proposal on the Crystal in the early 2010s ignited the discussion over the protection of the Crystal River. The process stalled around 2016, but picked back up in 2021 when Pitkin County Healthy Rivers granted $35,000 to Wilderness Workshop for a public outreach campaign to educate the community on the Wild and Scenic designation.

This map shows the sections of the Crystal River that could be designated wild, scenic and recreational, according to the finding of eligibility by the U.S. Forest Service.
Courtesy Roaring Fork Conservancy

And Pitkin County Healthy Rivers allocated at least $100,000 in the past year and a half to the designation effort, said Francie Jacober, chair of the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners.

Many of the stakeholders in this process already have a long history of supporting a Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal River, which would prohibit future dams and diversions along the designated stretch. 

“Wild and Scenic designation primarily would prevent any dams or diversions from taking water from the river Watershed into another basin. And we are woefully over allocated in terms of the Colorado River. So, I think we can be fairly certain that they’re going to start coming back to the Roaring Fork Valley and looking for more diversions from our area,” Jacober said. “Keeping our water in our basin is really important for the people who live here for many reasons: cultural, recreational, scenic, house uses, well permits. All those things that we use our Crystal River Basin Water for, we prefer not to have threatened by taking our water somewhere else.”

Another feature of the designation is its ability to customize the act to fit individual rivers’ qualities.

Bill Argeros lives in Redstone along the Crystal River and is a member of the Crystal River Caucus. He has been an advocate for the Wild and Scenic designation for years.

“I’m excited to move forward with the selected facilitation groups in order to engage in a stakeholder process that will result in a Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal River that is tailormade for our community,” Argeros said in a press release. “Such a designation will prevent in perpetuity any dams or diversions of our precious water while maintaining the integrity of individual property rights. It will ensure the Crystal River will remain free-flowing and ecologically balanced.”

The Wild and Scenic Rivers System, created by Congress in 1968, is meant to preserve a river’s qualities that caused it to receive designation. 

“Designation neither prohibits development nor gives the federal government control over private property,” according to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System website.

The designation does not affect existing valid water rights or interstate water rights, either. 

The county posted a request for proposals seeking a facilitator in October 2022 and closed it in November. 

Facilitators will need to prove widespread community support for the designation in order for Congress to approve Wild and Scenic designation. 

Both Carbondale and Glenwood Springs’ municipal councils passed resolutions in the past year in support of the designation for the Crystal River. 

Costs for the facilitation services and expenditures of the stakeholder process are to be shared through both monetary and in-kind contributions from the town of Marble, Gunnison County,Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, and American Whitewater, according to the press release. 

Collaborative members said they hope to see federal action on the designation within the year, with stakeholder group work set to start in early 2023.

“In order for this to pass in Congress, we’re  going to have to prove that the local people are very supportive of it. So, that would be something that we’d like to strive for,” Jacober said.

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