RBC | The 14 agency representatives on the county’s White River algae technical sub-group met March 21 and, after considerable discussion, approved a nearly $130,000 U.S. Geological Survey research work plan for the rest of this year. The White River Conservation District (WRCD), in the person of their executive director, Callie Hendrickson, will continue to facilitate and oversee the study on behalf of the county through a contractual agreement with USGS.
The discussion last Wednesday included questions, comments and suggestions from some 20 additional public and agency folks in attendance who are not members of the tech committee. Hendrickson assured the group that the USGS scope of work being recommended will address all the possible causes for the algae bloom that have been suggested to date.
The USGS work will include the analysis of all relevant data on river water quality and physical characteristics already available and then attempt to collect current data that will be comparable using 20 identified assessment points on the main stem of the White, from Meeker upstream.
It’s anticipated that there will be three seasons, or years, of data collection followed by a year of data analysis and reporting. The group also intends to pursue “adaptive management” wherein research goals and plans for the next year will be determined by the apparent results of the current year’s work. Total cost estimates for the entire period exceed $430,000. USGS itself will support about 35 percent of that total.
Matching dollars for this first year’s work are coming from the Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD), Town of Meeker, Rio Blanco County, the Conservation Districts, Trout Unlimited, and the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation. In-kind contributions are also expected from BLM, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, and partners of the ongoing White River Water Quality Monitoring Project, Hendrickson explained. She also said the conservation districts would be pursuing grants and further matching funds from stakeholders. As of the meeting last week, the tech committee was about $25,000 short of their total funding need for the 2018 work.
Shawn Welder, owner/operator of Welder Ranch Outfitting Services upriver, read a letter delivered to the committee from the newly formed White River Alliance, a citizens’ group. Welder is serving as the group’s chair. The letter explained that the group is a non-exclusive effort concerned about the health of the river. He expressed hope the county will be open to greater citizen involvement in the river issue. He suggested that the algae bloom itself is just one obvious sign of the river’s problems.
Welder’s letter also indicated that the group was working proactively with upriver landowners and managers to curtail the insecticide spraying for mosquitoes that appears to be having a negative impact on macro-invertebrate populations which graze on algae. Welder’s late father, Frank Welder, closed out his USGS career in Meeker having spent many years working on White River Valley water quality and sedimentation matters.
Upriver landowner and businessman Leonard Thompson asked the tech committee what they were going to do about any particular problem the research might identify. Committee member Alden VandenBrink, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District manager, quickly answered that their mission was not to pursue any enforcement or regulations, that they’d hand all that off to the county commissioners.
Other committee members in attendance Wednesday were the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts, represented by Ben Rogers covering for Gary Moyer; Ken Leib, USGS; Jocelyn Mullen, Rangely; Tiffany Jehorek, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Clay Ramey, U.S. Forest Service; Commissioner Si Woodruff, RBC; Brian Hodge, Trout Unlimited; Travis Day, Meeker; Mindi May, CPW; Keith Sauter, BLM; Kurt Nielsen, Meeker Sanitation District; and Hunter Causey and Dave Kanzer, CRWCD.
Hendrickson points out the full minutes of this and previous meetings, the USGS PowerPoint presentation and other documentation is available on the “White River Algae Group” tab of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website at www.whiterivercd.com. She also urged anyone with questions to “please feel free to contact the district office.”