Federal Land Management Plan?

Many water managers in the state, including those in southwest Colorado, are concerned about recent actions taken by federal agencies regarding historical water use, permitting, and planning activities involving federal lands that could impact existing and future water rights in Colorado. In addition to HR 3189, discussed above, the San Juan National Forest and USBLM Tres Rios Field Office have published a joint Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that was recently released after more than five years of quiet idleness. It attempts to provide a long-term LRMP for 2.4 million acres of BLM and USFS lands in southwest Colorado as well as 700,000 acres of federal minerals.
Particular issues of concern are proposed wild and scenic designations, additional fish species listed as Outstandingly Remarkable Values, and “standards” for minimum flow rates for streams and minimum pool levels for reservoirs. Wild and scenic designation not only undermines collaborative and successful stakeholder-driven processes, but is an attempt by the federal government to obtain federal reserved water rights. The Colorado General Assembly has vested the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the sole authority to appropriate or otherwise acquire water for instream flows in the state. According to Bruce Whitehead, Executive Director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, “one of the most contentious points in the LRMP is the potential for federally imposed by-pass flow requirements in a permitting process.” According to an appeal filed by the SWCD in December, these flow requirements are “arbitrary and capricious.” Moreover, local river protection groups and reservoir managers are clearly more knowledgeable and vested when it comes to their water storage facilities and rivers.

Whiteheadstated that these requirements could have a major impact for the entire Dolores/San Juan River Basin. In addition, “if these criteria are adopted in the Joint Plan, it will likely be included in other federal planning efforts in Colorado which is why this is a concernstatewide.” According to the protests filed to the proposed plan the San Juan Forest and BLMTres Rios LRMP is in violation of not only to state water laws, but the Administrative Procedure Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In this regard the federal government has: exceeded its authority; unnecessarily alarmed, blindsided, and provoked water managers; not involved the public in the decision-making process; and taken an enormous step backward by breaking their commitment to work in a collaborative nature with participating entities. Appeals or protests have been filed by the following water interests: Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CWCB), Colorado Water Congress, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. In addition, Governor Hickenlooper has requested a Consistency Review of the BLM portion of the plan.