Upper Slate River Committee developing new watershed plan

Protecting Slate River watershed from pollution

The Upper Slate River Committee, a new group formed by the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) in early 2011, is bringing together key stakeholders to develop a Slate River Watershed plan. The plan will identify potential non-point source pollutants and where to focus efforts to prevent contamination within the watershed.



“What we want to get out of that is, ‘Here’s your list of the top ten priorities to help you address nonpoint source pollution,” said Anthony Poponi, director of the CCWC.
Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is any contamination that comes from a diffuse source; for example, rainwater or meltwater can pick up pollutants as it runs over the ground and deposit them into rivers and streams. The Upper Slate River Committee’s process was funded and developed in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Nonpoint Source Program. The group hopes to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to create a plan for the basin.
“We want Upper Slate River Committee to represent as many of the varied interests in the watershed as possible,” said Poponi. “We’re still working on finalizing the grant contract between the coalition and the Nonpoint Source Program. Once that’s complete we’ll have funding available to recruit additional stakeholders to the planning process and begin more comprehensive outreach and education.”
So far, the committee includes private homeowners in the Slate River watershed, groups like Trout Unlimited, Gunnison County and the town of Crested Butte. The Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Restoration and Protection Unit of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division have provided matching funds and are also participating.
“We’re just as interested as the other members of the group in a healthy watershed for the Upper Slate River,” said BLM Gunnison field office manager Brian St. George, “but it certainly is our Oh Be Joyful campground and recreation area that was the impetus for managing and preserving the Slate River.”
High runoff over the last couple of years has posed a problem for the BLM, eroding banks so that several campsites were lost. It has even prompted the agency to close the river crossing and the far west side during the early parts of the spring and summer seasons.
“Our interest was really stemming from preserving that recreation site,” St. George said. “We could put a lot of money into trying to stop the river doing what a river normally does or we could put money into trying to understand exactly how the Slate functions and what might be the best solution.”
In order to fully understand the Slate River, the committee has contracted with environmental consultant Ashley Bembeneck to compile an initial report to inform the group’s work.
“[The report] will use existing water quality to assess spatial water quality trends… and identify areas or items for additional investigation,” Bembeneck said.
Bembeneck will present an overview of the report on Wednesday, August 31 at 5:30 p.m. at the Watershed Coalition’s annual fundraiser at the Brick Oven.
A more detailed summary of the report will be given at the next Upper Slate River Committee meeting on Tuesday, September 6 at 4 p.m. at the Crested Butte town hall.
“It’s additional data compilation,” said Poponi. “You identify where you would like more info, get that info and then roll it into the plan instead of doing the plan first with limited amount of data. We want to do the plan with most data possible.”

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