The Garfield County Commissioners began their public meeting on Monday, Aug. 15, by issuing a letter to the acting director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Heather Dugan, requesting answers to a list of questions regarding the process by which Sweetwater Lake became Colorado’s 43rd state park.
Sweetwater Lake is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages it as a state park. The commissioners felt like they were left in the dark throughout the process. “The declaration was a surprise to Garfield County,” the letter reads, “and a marked departure from the process of establishment of other state parks in the State of Colorado.”
“We’re just saying … they moved so fast that nobody followed their own rules and regulations with Sweetwater Lake,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky stated. “We’re just trying to get everybody to slow down, follow the rules and regulations and give the Garfield County Commissioners and the citizens of Sweetwater a chance to give input into this particular project.”
In addition, the commissioners sent a letter to the executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Jackie Miller, with a list of questions regarding its issuance of an “interest-free loan for up to $7 million to The Conservation Fund (TCF)” to purchase Sweetwater Lake and the surrounding property. Chairman John Martin noted that TCF is an out-of-state organization.
In their letter to GOCO, the commissioners argue that at the time the loan was approved, GOCO did not have the authority to issue loans. “In fact, it was not until March 18, 2021, that GOCO adopted a policy for loan eligibility,” the letter states. Even then, the commissioners claim the renewed policy still “fails to identify any authority for GOCO to issue loans.”
As reported in a Sopris Sun article titled “Input sought for Sweetwater management” in its Feb. 3rd edition, “TCF transferred the land to the U.S. Forest Service to be added into the White River National Forest.”
“Sweetwater, for those who don’t know, is in Garfield County,” stated Commissioner Mike Samson, “and I think it is a travesty that something like this happens without consultation and working with the county commissioners and the county government.”
Steve Beckley, representing the Colorado River District (CRD), appeared before the commissioners to give the organization’s quarterly report, summarizing the focus of CRD’s July 19 board meeting.
“First of all, we had a great rain last night — this has been a great monsoon season,” Beckley began, “but, unfortunately, we are still in year 22 of a very extreme drought and we’re down to a critical time for the Colorado River.”
Beckley told the commissioners that CRD’s recent board meeting revolved around a statement made by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camile Touton to a U.S. Senate committee on June 14.
Beckely read directly from a CRD report, stating that Touton had announced to the committee “‘that the seven states in the Colorado River Basin need to develop a plan to reduce their total consumption use by between 2 and 4 million acre feet of water before the middle of August’ — so, that’s today,” continued Beckley. “‘If states are not able to do so, the commissioner indicated that the Bureau of Reclamation will take unilateral action to reduce system consumption.’ So, everybody is pretty much scrambling to figure out what that means,” stated Beckley.
Included in the notes from CRD’s July 19 board meeting (provided to the commissioners), is a quote from Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein. “We are in compliance with the compact,” Rein reportedly stated. “When it comes to using our allocation, we are way under. At the state engineer’s office, there is nothing telling me to curtail. In fact, if you have the legal right to water, and a beneficial use to put to it, then I’m encouraging people to use their water.”
The state’s position, Beckley concluded, is that Colorado is already under consuming its portion.
Beckley added that the Lower Basin states did cut back to 7 million acre feet this year, but that the inflows into Lake Powel will only be between 3.5 and 4 million acre feet. “The math just doesn’t add up,” he stated.
On Aug. 16, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced “urgent action to improve and protect the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System,” reads a DOI press release which goes on to explain that downstream releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be reduced again in 2023.
“In the Lower Basin, the reductions represent the second year of additional shortage declarations,” the press release continues, “demonstrating the severity of the drought and critically low reservoir conditions.” For specifics, readers can refer to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin August 2022 24-Month Study, at www.usbr.gov/uc/water/
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