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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

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Water Education Colorado

The Agencies’ Take on Watershed Groups

State and federal agencies in Colorado rely  heavily on the staff and volunteers of watershed groups to help them do their jobs.  Jayla Poppleton, Headwaters editor, talked with Jay Skinner, Water Resources Unit Manager, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Chris Sturm, Stream Restoration Coordinator, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Loretta Pineda, Director, Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and Dick Parachini, Watershed Program Manager, Colorado Water Quality Control Division to get their thoughts on watershed groups.

Jay Skinner
Water Resources Unit Manager, Colorado Division of Wildlife

From your perspective, why do watershed groups exist?
The water rights system is not really designed to involve affected parties that don’t own land or water rights within a basin. Watershed groups give the public a place and a voice in some of these decision-making processes that they really don’t have elsewhere.

How would you characterize the most effective groups you have worked with?
Groups that are successful have somebody that has longevity and energy and time on their hands to wade through all the bureaucracy that is water divisions in Colorado.

How do you view the value of watershed groups’ involvement?
It’s exciting to see citizens interested in what’s happening in their watershed. Because it is very bureaucratic and very easy to get discouraged and say, ‘How could I possibly make a difference here?’ But there are groups who, at least for their little piece of the universe, are making a difference, and we appreciate that they’re there.

Chris Sturm
Stream Restoration Coordinator, Colorado Water Conservation Board

From your perspective, why do watershed groups exist?
Watershed groups exist to protect and restore water quality, water quantity, habitat and recreational opportunities. Their watershed transcends political boundaries—a very important point. Watershed groups bring together stakeholders from different communities and levels of government to focus on hydrologic concerns that cross those political boundaries.

Why is what they’re doing important?
Their efforts are directly linked with water quality improvements, higher functioning channel morphology, flood hazard mitigation and water supply protection. This protects and improves the local economy, society and ecology.

What does it take to make a watershed group successful?
Local appreciation for where you live and that sense of place is so important. Otherwise it would be easy to give up because it doesn’t pay. Watershed restoration tends to benefit everybody within the watershed but it doesn’t benefit any one person so much; there are no capital gains to be had.

How do you support the work of watershed groups?
I help people discover new methodologies and make recommendations based on what I’ve seen that’s worked well and what doesn’t work well. I also offer advice on funding sources, and I try to provide watershed groups, especially the smaller ones that aren’t well-funded, with GIS support to help them start prioritizing and planning.

Loretta Pineda
Director, Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety

How do you partner with watershed groups?
We get about $350,000 a year in severance tax money that we give out to watershed groups as they’re putting their projects together dealing with non-point source problems related to abandoned mines. For a while we were mostly doing these projects ourselves. Now we provide a lot of technical expertise, but we give the money directly to the watershed groups. It puts the money in the hands of the local people.

How do you and the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety support the work of watershed groups?
Recently we’ve placed VISTA [AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America] volunteers in 20 watersheds throughout the state in partnership with the Western Hardrock Watershed Team and the Office of Surface Mining. It has helped a lot of watershed groups in doing some of that administrative work that so many of these groups need because a lot of them are volunteers themselves. During the three-year program, VISTAS set up meetings, organize volunteers, write grants and try to build some capacity. The idea is to use the VISTA to reach out and get you to a place where you’re stronger as an organization.
How do watershed groups help you?
When we’re out in the state trying to do different projects, we know we have some champions of our own in those communities that will help us get through any rough times that we would have with any kind of initiative or a clean up, that people would come forward who are familiar with the work we do and understand how we’re trying to partner with them.

What is the benefit of watershed groups’ local input
and knowledge?
It’s easy for us in the state to sit up here and decide what local communities need, but I want to be listening to the local community about the kinds of reclamation they want to see. One community’s mine dump could be somebody else’s historical structure. We have to be careful when we go in and we want to eradicate mines.

Dick Parachini
Watershed Program Manager, Colorado Water Quality Control Division

From your perspective, why do watershed groups exist? What void are they filling?
They have become the local voice for dealing with the non-point source side of the Clean Water Act. Without the watershed groups, we, the state, would not be as effective in pursuing non-point source management projects.

How do you partner with watershed groups?
Ultimately, we want someone on the local level to do all the planning and all the implementation for non-point source management projects. Local groups are the ones who are going to know the most about their river and the stressors on it. We will provide them the resources, whether they’re technical, financial or administrative, to help them.

To what extent would you say your agency relies on watershed groups?
We rely on them, first of all, for information-sharing. But we also rely on them for technical advice on our project selection group. And we rely on them very heavily on being project sponsors and coming up with that critical non-federal match. Where we don’t have watershed groups we’re not doing much of any watershed protection or restoration projects.

How would you characterize the most effective groups you have worked with?
Watershed groups typically organize around an issue on a very small segment of water, but if you’re going to be effective, you’ve got to look both upstream and downstream of where you’re at and engage everybody.

What do you see for the future of watershed groups?
It’s been interesting to watch the progression as watershed groups have slowly but surely become an integral part of our overall water quality management scheme. They are very diverse. They are very enthusiastic. And they have an essential role to play in this.

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