Blue River watershed in good shape | SummitDaily.com
BOB BERWYNsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado

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Blue River watershed in good shape

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

SUMMIT COUNTY – Although they represented scores of groups from around Colorado, the 300-plus people who attended a watershed conference in Breckenridge last week probably all agree on one thing – water quality and quantity will continue to be overriding issues for the state.A growing population will increase pressure on the resource, and a changing climate has already advanced the date of peak runoff flows by several weeks during recent decades. That timing is critical to the management of reservoirs used for power generation, agriculture and drinking water supplies.So how is Summit County doing in managing its watersheds compared to the rest of the state?County Commissioner Tom Long said the area is in good shape, based on long-running efforts to protect and restore local streams.”I think in Summit County, in all honesty, we are ahead of many other areas,” Long said, highlighting projects like sediments reduction in Straight Creek (in partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation), and controlling phosphorus loading in Dillon Reservoir.Many of the issues other watershed groups are tackling have already been incorporated in local policies and regulations, Long said. Summit County may not be getting enough credit for its efforts, simply because local officials have been “in the trenches” so long, steadily working on watershed issues.Looking ahead, Long said dealing with acid mine drainage is one of the biggest challenges for the area. Long also advocated for the development of additional water storage for local use. An enlargement of Old Dillon Reservoir is under consideration. A potential reservoir site in the Swan River drainage has also been discussed, and Breckenridge is also eyeing property at the north end of town for additional storage.New reservoirs would provide additional supplies for anticipated growth in Summit County, but could also help provide water for fish in local streams, some of which are depleted below sustainable levels by diversions to the Front Range, or for snowmaking.Stream flow depletion may be the single top water issue in Summit County, said Jim Pokrandt, an education specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Nearly all of Summit County’s streams are over-appropriated, meaning there is often not enough water in them to meet all the competing demands or fulfill all existing water rights, not to mention enough water to provide adequate flows for fish.But Summit County is in good shape, especially compared to areas like Grand County, where diversions to the Front Range threaten to de-water streams to an even greater degree.Another huge issue for Summit County is the spread of pine beetles. Changes in the forest landscape will have an impact on the watershed regardless of whether the dead trees burn, are logged or just remain in place, said Shanna Koenig, co-director of Summit County Water Quality and Quantity.A significant fire could lead to extensive sediment issues for local streams. And Koenig said that Front Range water uses could conceivably be eyeing any “new” water that might become available from runoff in areas where there are no more living trees to suck up the water, Koenig said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.