Delta County Commissioners Don Suppes, Mark Roeber and Mike Lane have sent a letter to the United States Forest Service and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest Plan Revision Team stating that Delta County is not in favor of Wild & Scenic eligibility status for stream segments within Delta County.
"All the segments in our county are proposed for 'wild' classification, which is reserved for areas 'free of impoundments and general inaccessible except by trail ... that represent vestiges of primitive America'," the letter stated.
The commissioners wrote the "wild" classification process would be an unnecessary regulatory burden on Delta County citizens and property owners, citizens who depend on the land to support their livelihood. It represents a de facto restriction of access to these areas.
Many or most of the identified Outstanding Resource Values (ORVs) depend upon the continued presence of free-flowing water in the stream, but in many cases the water that supports those ORVs is only present when existing water users are not diverting, the commissioners stated. It is inappropriate to base an eligibility determination on an ORV that may not persist due to changing operations or demands of water users as they exercise their existing rights of diversion.
It is the general position of Delta County that any ORV identified which depends on water availability -- including scenery, recreation, fish, wildlife or botanic -- should only be considered if existing in-stream flows have been appropriated which are sufficient to support the preservation of that ORV in perpetuity.
Commissioners cited the example that GV-3 Kelso Creek has been determined as potentially eligible based solely on the fish ORV; however, Kelso Creek is fully appropriated by existing irrigation diversion rights, with no instream flow guaranteed, and calls have been placed on junior water users in both 2018 and 2017. This indicates that water availability is insufficient in some years to meet existing demands.
Therefore, the Forest Service cannot dependably manage this stream segment to preserve the fish population since the rights of existing water users would pre-exempt such management.
The Colorado Wilderness Bill of 1993 created the Tabeguache and Roubideau areas as distinct from designated wilderness because, unlike the wilderness designated in the bill, the areas did not encompass the headwaters of their respective drainages.
Since the Tabeguache and Roubideau areas did not encompass the headwaters of their respective streams, the act did not designate them as wilderness but rather as special areas. This distinction was made to preserve the ability of water development in the headwaters of these streams.
A Wild & Scenic designation on Roubideau Creek, Tabeguache Creek, or their tributaries would have the effect of curtailing water developments in the headwaters above these areas.
The curtailment of potential future water development would be contrary to the process and values of these areas as designated through Colorado Wilderness Bill process and would explicitly violate the intention of Sec 8(b)2(A), the commissioners said.
Delta County opposes Wild & Scenic eligibility for river segments within the Tabeguache and Roubideau areas on this basis.
In the case of the proposed segments within the Escalante Creek drainage, the only ORV identified is the presence of a genetically-pure greenback cutthroat trout population. The greenback cutthroat trout is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Delta County feels that the ESA listing is an appropriate and sufficient mechanism of protection for the species, and that further restrictions enacted under the Wild & Scenic Act are an unnecessary and burdensome duplication of protective regulations. The Forest Service is already committed by regulation and legislation to preserving greenback cutthroat trout habitats within the Escalante Creek segments.