The Summit Board of County Commissioners has issued a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers requesting it not be included in a proposed wetlands bank service area.
The bank, called the Colorado River Conservation Reserve, has been in the works since at least 2012 and is located at the confluence of Muddy Creek and the Colorado River near Kremmling. The purpose of the bank is to protect wetlands habitat to offset losses due to development, as required by the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, said Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch.
But Summit County doesn’t want to be included in the bank’s service area, Lorch said, citing several environmental differences between Summit County and Kremmling. Although separated by a mere 60 miles, about 85 percent of Summit County sits above 9,000 feet of elevation and is located in the Blue River Watershed. Kremmling, on the other hand, sits at about 7,300 feet of elevation and is located in the Colorado Headwaters Watershed, which is uniquely different from the riparian environments found in Summit, Lorch said. The bank’s proposed service area includes all of Summit and Grand counties and parts of Eagle and Pitkin counties.
“These wetlands banks are a nationwide effort and they make it much easier to administer wetlands mitigation projects, but this project is being contrived at a headwaters at 7,500 feet,” Lorch said. “Down in Kremmling everything is just a little different than it is here in Summit County.”
In addition to environmental factors, Lorch said Summit County doesn’t want to be included in the bank’s service area because of its no-net-loss policy regarding local wetlands. The policy was adopted in 2002 due to concerns about losing vital wetland resources to development.
The county worked with the Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it drafted its policy, according to an initial letter issued to the Corps in 2012. Summit County therefore believes it has applicable wetland mitigation policies in place and is concerned the regulations governing the Colorado River Conservation Reserve would be duplicative and unnecessary.
Summit County also spearheaded discussions with private partners to create its own system of wetlands banks. Those efforts were slowed because of the 2008 economic recession.
“The simplest concern is that Summit County has had this no-net-loss policy in place for over a decade,” Lorch said. “We’ve been successful in maintaining that and mitigating impacts in Summit County. We’re not just concerned about the jurisdictional boundaries of this wetlands bank, but also the functions and values of high-altitude wetlands.”
Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson has been adamantly opposed to the wetlands bank in Kremmling. During a recent commission workshop, Davidson criticized the one-size-fits-all mentality driving the project.
“These banks may work well at sea level in the Midwest, but they do not work here in the mountains of Colorado,” he said.
Susan Nall, chief of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Colorado West Regulatory Branch and project manager for the Colorado River Conservation Reserve, lauded Summit County’s no-net-loss policy, but said the wetlands bank would provide additional resources for mitigation, should the need arise. The bank would serve the Eagle, Roaring Fork and Blue River watersheds, making Summit County key to ensuring the bank is viable, Nall said.
“There’s still a lot of work left, but one of the first things you do on a wetlands bank project is look at the neighboring watersheds and try to estimate the service area,” Nall said. “Summit County is important to the project because it’s in the Blue River Watershed.”
The Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the EPA, is tasked with enforcing section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Section 404 establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands, according to the EPA’s website.