County interests meet on river algae issue

RBC | More than three dozen people gathered at the sheriff’s office conference room in Meeker last Friday morning to continue addressing why we’re experiencing such bothersome summer algae blooms in the ecological heart of our community—the White River. Led by Rio Blanco Commissioner Si Woodruff, with Commissioner Jeff Rector at his side, the past meetings were acknowledged and the county laid out their proposal for moving forward. The proposal was that an action oriented advisory group, smaller than the whole group gathered Friday, be established which could better focus on needed actions.
In addition, the county proposed that the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts (CDs) take the lead in coordinating and facilitating meetings and electronic communications and serve as the fiscal agent to pursue and manage finances including grant applications and management for addressing the algae and overall health of the river.
Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the CDs, explained the discussions the CDs had held with the county and presented a possible scope of work to be carried out. In doing so, she presented the district manager, Chris Colflesh, and stated that it was his last day on the job. While expressing regret that they were losing Colflesh, who was named top conservation district manager in the state a year ago, Hendrickson reported that she’s enthusiastic about the district’s hiring Tristan Nielsen of Meeker to take his place. Colflesh is reportedly departing Meeker with his wife for the lusher pastures of her home area near Silt.
The advisory group proposed by the county initially includes representatives from the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), the county, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Towns of Meeker and Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the CDs. Interested vested stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and members of the general public are expected to be included at some point as well.
The assembled group Friday accepted the county proposal without objection. The advisory group itself met Friday afternoon.
The county’s concept was also to turn to the USGS to do much of the needed further research. USGS scientist Ken Leib of Grand Junction, who has been attending the county river algae meetings, gave a presentation to the whole group on what such a research effort should look like. Leib reviewed much of the information on the river conditions that have already been collected, and the further research and data gaps USGS would try to complete.
Hendrickson facilitated a round-robin collection of important pieces individuals at the meeting would like to see included in further study and action. Several group members urged that the advisory group not delay pursuing actual remedial actions regarding the algae that make sense in the short term while conducting longer term research.
Jeff Crane, currently a watershed planning consultant for the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, focusing primarily on Front Range flood control issues, spoke to the group, first complimenting the strength and diversity of the participants and then encouraging the group to investigate cooperative work with the State Water Plan and watershed management planning being advocated by the state’s basin round-table structure and process. He told the group they should consider aligning with the Colorado Stream Health Assessment Network and apply for funds currently available to well-rounded stakeholder groups in developing stream management plans.
Initially a hydrological engineer, Crane was a founder of the Colorado Watershed Assembly and served as its executive director from 2006 to 2012.
Alden Vanden Brink, director of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely which operates the Taylor Draw (Kenney) Reservoir and hydroelectric facility, seconded Crane’s suggestion and reminded interested parties of the opportunities to work with the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable. Vanden Brink, formerly Rangely’s water utilities superintendent, is currently vice-chair of the basin round-table.
County director of public health, Julie Drake suggested that the overall group not lose sight of the value of qualitative analyses as well as quantitative data. In this case, she suggested that qualitative information would include recording and considering valuable stories and testimony from people who have lived along the White River for a number of years and observed changes.
Rangely town planner and engineer, Jocelyn Mullen, reported to the Herald Times that the Friday afternoon meeting of the advisory group went well and that the group plans to move forward with the county proposal involving the CDs and USGS. A more detailed research proposal from USGS is expected within a week which the advisory group will review. Mullen also reported the group did not feel they needed to pursue funding at this point for a full-blown stream assessment and management plan in conjunction with the basin round-table programs. The group is to meet again in later November and will be looking to combine financial commitments from the agencies represented to support the USGS research.

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