White River Planning Advisory Committee begins process of gathering input from local residents

RBC | A group of local conservationists and environmentalists (many of which are agriculture and industry producers and elected officials) held their first White River Planning Advisory Committee meeting. The purpose was to begin the process of gathering local input regarding the possible development of a management plan for the White River that would find opportunities to improve water quality and quantity.

The State of Colorado adopted the Colorado Water Plan in 2016. The plan proposes to create a water management roadmap to achieve a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive ag., a strong environment and a robust recreation industry. Specific to protecting and enhancing stream flows, the plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by Stream Management Plans (SMP) by 2030.

Through this effort, locally led groups are encouraged to develop plans that will help meet the above 80% goal. The Water Plan initially encouraged only SMPs using biological, hydrological, geomorphological and other data to assess the flows or other physical conditions that are needed to support collaboratively identified environmental and/or recreational values. However, experience across the state has shown the need to incorporate a more holistic approach including consumptive uses (agriculture, municipalities, energy, etc.). These types of plans are often called an Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP). The local community is encouraged to determine what they want to accomplish within the White River watershed and then find the right planning effort to help them achieve their goals.

With the State effort to develop stream management plans, the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts offered to lead a local process to determine if the community is interested and willing to engage in this activity. At the January 2019 White River Conservation District annual meeting, there was strong support from attendees for the districts to proceed. Therefore, the districts developed the Planning Advisory Committee to provide guidance for this process.

Local stakeholder representatives on the committee will assist the districts in guiding this process. The committee is made up of 16 individuals representing agriculture, land and water right holders, municipalities, industry, environment and recreation. Many of the members are volunteers. The committee is well balanced geographically within Rio Blanco County and members have strong knowledge of water, water planning efforts, and local customs and cultures. The districts are providing coordination for the committee and Linda Masters, Rio Blanco County CSU Extension Director, will facilitate the committee meetings.

The members of this committee are dedicated individuals, representing various interests, who are willing to devote the time and effort necessary to help this process be successful. All stakeholders and interested parties will have ample opportunity to provide input.

To determine interest, support, and potential commonalities for developing a plan on the White River, the committee is developing a set of questions identifying approximately 30 Rio Blanco County citizens to be interviewed. District staff will be conducting the interviews.

The information gathered from those interviews will be used to develop a starting point for a much broader discussion within the community regarding this effort throughout the winter months. Multiple public meetings will be held for all Rio Blanco County citizens to provide input. Based on citizen input, a report will be drafted and made available for public comments before a final document will be submitted to the Districts for action in the spring of 2020.

To learn more about this project, meeting information, and timelines, visit www.whiterivercd.com or contact the Districts’ office at 970-878-9838.

By CALLIE HENDRICKSON | Special to the Herald Times