Lots of people made the haul over to Marble to attend the first in-person public input session of the most recent stakeholder process concerning the fate of the Crystal River. Cars were parked bumper to bumper along West Park Street leading to the fire station, where the community summit took place.
The facilitators, Wendy Lowe with P2 Solutions and Jacob Bornstein with Wellstone Collaborative Strategies, were surprised by the turnout. Lowe noted that they’d expected around 60 people, but the count was tallied at 138.
“Earlier this year, the Collaborative announced the selection of Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions to facilitate and lead a stakeholder process intended to engage local communities and water users in a public dialogue process to evaluate community interest in pursuing lasting protections for the Crystal River,” a press release read.
The large group was indeed composed of people with varying interests in regard to the Crystal River. But most, if not all, agreed on one thing: preserving the Crystal River. How that’s accomplished is another story.
Upon arrival, people were left to find a seat at a table with a few other acquaintances, or perhaps complete strangers. Each table was tasked with answering three questions throughout the evening: 1) What is most important or valuable to you about the Crystal River at this time? 2) What are your long-term aspirations for the future of the Crystal River? And, 3) What are your biggest concerns?
The groups were given about 20 minutes to reflect on each question. Each time, they were tasked with writing up to four key words or phrases, which the table had to agree on, using large color-coded sticky notes (green for question one, pink for question two and orange for question three). Like-colored sticky notes were posted together on the walls of the firehouse, and those responses were broken down into categories by Bornstein and Lowe.
What people found most valuable about the state of the Crystal River currently was lumped into 11 categories: free flowing = no dams, the natural character of the river, wildlife, scenery, water quality, water rights, mindful development, recreation, access, local control and the natural hydrology of the river.
The long-term aspirations mimicked what the conglomerate already appreciated about the current state of the river. “Flow and protection” made up the largest category. Water rights and local control made this list as well.
As far as concerns go, dams and diversions were at the top, followed by drought/climate change and overuse/overdevelopment.
A final question challenged attendees to reflect on the answers of their fellow community members to the three previous questions, now displayed on the walls. “What criteria could be used to reflect what is important to our community when we evaluate management options for protecting the Crystal River going forward?” Responses were marked on blue sticky notes.
Free flowing and dam prevention was once again heavily represented, as well as water rights and local control. Public “buy-in” made up a robust category, which one blue sticky summarized as, “Informed community consent.”
The Sopris Sun had the chance to catch up with some attendees during and after the summit. Sam and Dustin Wilkey own and operate Crystal River Jeep Tours and said their most popular tour follows the Crystal River. They said they’d be all for wild and scenic designation, with the expectation that it would not affect standing water rights for longtime farmers and ranchers.
Larry Darien, owner of the Darien Ranch, expressed that he is concerned with the federal government having more control, and worries that wild and scenic designation would invite that. All the same, he wishes to see the Crystal River preserved and dam free, but believes there are other options.
Local rancher Bill Fales later told The Sopris Sun that he needs more information before making an informed decision about whether or not to support designation.
Fales questioned the need because he doesn’t think it would be geographically feasible to divert water from the headwaters of the Crystal to some place like the Front Range. He added that wild and scenic designation could result in even more people coming to visit the pristine Crystal Valley. Lastly, he conceded that he, like most, doesn’t like to see the Crystal River dry up in the fall, and wonders if wild and scenic designation would dispose of possible solutions to address depletion in the future.
“A dam might be a way to prevent that. If we get more and more people, more and more demand on the river, how are we to manage it?” he questioned. “It’d be kind of crazy to take all of the tools away.”
At the conclusion of the three-hour summit, the organizers summarized the next steps. The Collaborative co-chairs are to select steering committee members from the people who expressed interest. The steering committee is intended to be representative of the diverse types of user groups on the Crystal River.
“The steering committee will meet to discuss what they heard from the broader community and prepare presentations on management options for a second community summit in September for further public input,” a press release summarized.
According to www.rivers.gov, “Colorado has approximately 107,403 miles of river, of which 76 miles, or one river, are designated as wild and scenic — less than a tenth of 1% of the state’s river miles.” The Cache la Poudre River is the one river currently designated as wild and scenic in Colorado.