A Government Of The People – For The Trout

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Government is not always recognized for its efficiency or working properly but when it does readers should be made aware of it.   Not many of us  have very much direct interaction with government but  there are times when we may need assistance from those in authority. Most shy away from even contacting any government agency; however I recently ran into such a situation where I contacted government officials and the result was encouraging. So let me tell you about my experience and maybe you will be encouraged to become more involved if you encounter a similar situation. I was dealing with state agencies but local branch offices which facilitated their involvement since they too are members of the local community.  

We have a beautiful sparkling creek that runs through our community which has native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout that are all but extinct every where except for a couple streams in our general area  This species of trout have been studied by the Department of Wildlife (DOW) for decades.  They study water quality, habitat and maintain data on fish populations.  Our Landowners Association (LOA) decided they wanted to siphon the water from the stream to use on our dirt roads and have water available for potential wildfires. Therefore they inserted a 2000 gallon cistern adjacent to the stream and diverted water from the stream into the cistern. In order to fill the cistern they had to raise the level of the stream which was accomplished with large amounts of rock which literally cut the stream in half.  (See photo) This  prohibited this surviving species of rare fish from swimming up and down the stream with the rock barricade blocking their pathway. 

It had been reported  to members of the association that permission had been granted to place this cistern in the stream but when I called the Division of Water and DOW to verify this they were unaware of any permission. The president of the (LOA) had apparently casually  inquired of the commissioner of water but not presented the full purpose for this project and never submitted plans as requested by the Colorado Division of Water.   After numerous calls to the two agencies a meeting was arranged at the site. The DOW biologist and enforcement officer were visibly upset over this development.  There were native trout present at both ends of the 20′ blockage attempting to go up or down the stream but were prohibited from doing so.  The Division of Water representatives were openly perplexed since they had been misled over the purpose of this obstruction and had never received plans nor given actual permission. Twenty feet of stream  blocked by large boulders and round river rock are hard to justify when it endangers the rare native fish species the DOW has labored to preserve.  Since no plan had been submitted as requested the minimum  requirements which would have included  a fire lock and shut off gate were no where in evidence. 

It was determined that the entire installation was not only illegally installed but was a very poorly designed installation which could cause serious damage to the viability of the stream.  The appropriate process to have followed would have been to first start at the County Land Use Administrator, who would require final approval by the US Army Corp. of Engineers, DOW, and Division of Water prior to any approval being granted. None of this had apparently been done and now four different agencies are involved to straighten this mess out. It also turned out the LOA did not own the water rights to this creek and those who actually do are now being notified by various government agencies of the misappropriation of their water. If you set out to do everything wrong this was a perfect example of how to accomplish it. 

While the blockage currently remains  in place the wheels of four government agencies are in motion and the promised result will be the restoration of the stream to its natural state. There may be  penalties, fees and fines which will then be passed on to the members of the association in the form of additional dues not including the original cost to install a structure that will now have to be removed. This demonstrates how a singular bad decision can be very costly.  Had the cistern been done properly an approved head gate would have been installed that would not impede the fish population and would have met all governmental requirements. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has numerous plans available. Derivative consequences from a bad decision like this and attempting an end run around the authorities to avoid getting permits and authorization will also result in the community now being under intense scrutiny for any future projects. Those in charge will now also have to deal with some very angry governmental officials.

Our natural resource has been temporarily damaged but government agencies have agreed with each other that this obstruction needs to be removed and restored. The lesson of this story is: if you see something illegal be a good citizen and report it to the appropriate agencies. This stream belongs to all of us and it is only proper to give government a chance to do what they are set up to do. It may not always work like it should and the results may take time and vary but be patient, persistent and follow up. Government can and does often work if you calmly and methodically approach the issue in the right way. In my case a calm approach, documented with photos, and persistence telephone calls all worked.

As I write this the blockage is still in place but with numerous government agencies working on this issue it is only a matter of time before it is set right. If any negative developments occur they will be separately reported.  At the moment I have full confidence in the various governmental agencies to work together to resolve this issue favorably and restore our natural resource. 
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and living in the mountains go to:  http://www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com