We would like to invite everyone interested in the Animas River to join a discussion regarding the future of this important component of our communities, economy and landscape.
The River Protection Workgroup for the Animas River is in its initial stages, and we want to make sure people understand the goals of the process and that their input is not only welcome but is strongly desired.
The RPW for the Animas is the fourth in a series of five discussions about rivers and streams in the region. The others focused on Hermosa Creek, the upper branches of the San Juan River, the Pine River and Vallecito Creek above Vallecito Reservoir, and soon the Piedra River. The goal of the local workgroup process is to engage a diversity of people in collaboration, striking a balance between the protection of natural resources and water development. Success for each workgroup is defined as: a) implementation and completion of a collaborative community process that includes diverse stakeholders; and b) establishment of agreements or ideas regarding future action or a determination that existing stream and/or land protections are adequate to protect priority values.
The RPW for the Animas is focused on the Animas River and watershed above Bakers Bridge (near the upper end of the Animas Valley, at the San Juan National Forest boundary). The dialogue will cover the mainstem of the Animas River up to the headwaters above Silverton, as well as tributaries such as Mineral, Lime, Cement, and Cascade creeks. The area identified for discussion includes a significant amount of federal land, as well as many privately owned parcels. The watershed encompasses portions of the Weminuche Wilderness and West Needles, as well as the town of Silverton. The community dialogue will determine whether a stream segment approach or a watershed discussion is appropriate for the designated area.
The series of facilitated meetings will look at the values that are important, focusing on water and the river itself, but also including such things as economic benefits, fish, grazing allotments, healthy natural landscapes, human values, minerals, recreation, regional identity, scenery, sensitive plants and plant communities, terrestrial wildlife, water rights and beneficial uses, and Forest Service-identified outstanding remarkable values. If there are additional values, we need to know of them and are open to input on the list.
The Animas River provides a water supply for multiple downstream uses including drinking water for Silverton, Durango and Aztec and irrigation water for thousands of acres of agricultural land. The Animas River is also heavily used for recreation purposes ranging from Class V whitewater boating to tubing on lower flows through Durango. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad attracts tourists from all over the world and is a primary driver of the economies of Silverton and Durango during the summer.
The extensive mineral deposits in the area have contributed to a rich, colorful history in the region and continue to hold the promise of future economic opportunity. The upper Animas is undergoing continued water-quality monitoring and projects designed to protect this vital water supply.
Obviously there are many different interests and opinions that will be expressed during these meetings, but the structure of the workgroup is intended to give everyone a voice at the table and receive input from all interested parties. It is important to discuss all the uses and values in the Animas watershed and to seek creative ideas for management and use of these resources in the future.
There are no predetermined outcomes from the process; the goal is to strike a balance between the various needs and desires of the diverse community interests. While there are a lot of organizations, agencies and businesses involved, the general public is explicitly invited.
The meetings will generally be held on the fourth Thursday of each month in Silverton, although there will also probably be some in Durango. They are facilitated and open, and the ground rules are designed to allow everyone to be heard, and decisions to be made as a group. It is anticipated that monthly meetings will take place over the next year, with a final report and summary of the process provided to public lands and water managers, local, state and federal agencies and entities, and to all interested community members and groups. The final report, as well as all background information generated during the process, will be available at http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection (click on Animas River).
Please attend, listen and let us hear from you; hopefully we can move forward in ways that support all of us who value the tremendous streams and landscapes of the Animas River watershed.
Dan Randolph is interim executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bruce Whitehead is executive director of Southwestern Water Conservation District. Reach him at email@example.com. They both serve on the River Protection Workgroup Steering Committee.