Carving its way down the eastern slope of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, Deep Creek is a tributary of the Colorado River, joining just upstream of Dotsero. A recent proposal seeks to designate about 15 miles of Deep Creek as Wild & Scenic, starting around the headwaters near Deep Lake in Garfield County to the downstream BLM boundary in Eagle County. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, created by Congress in 1968, preserves waterways with “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition” for the enjoyment of current and future generations, while also “recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development.” (rivers.gov)
The proposed designation area has three Outstandingly Remarkable Values as defined by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act: ecologic, geologic, and scenic. These values are based on the rare riparian plant species found in the area; the cave and karst systems that surround the stream; and the unique habitat which it creates for many riparian-dependent species.
In 1995, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service deemed Deep Creek eligible for the Wild & Scenic designation. At the time, however, the process stalled due to complications with the nearby wilderness proposal, as well as the River District’s conditional Deep Lake water rights, which have since been abandoned. For twenty years, no further action was taken. In 2015, the White River National Forest released its findings that Deep Creek was indeed qualified, which renewed interest in formally designating Deep Creek as a Wild & Scenic River.
A unique coalition known as the Deep Creek Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group began meeting in 2017 to further discuss adding Deep Creek to the 76 mile-roster of Wild & Scenic Rivers across the state of Colorado. The group diligently worked through the Wild & Scenic designation details and focused on concepts that address all the stakeholders’ diverse needs.
A member of the group since its inception, the Colorado River District has been actively involved in the Instream Flow Subcommittee, considering three instream flow concepts. The subcommittee ultimately recommended Option 3, which protects the Wild & Scenic values of Deep Creek itself while allowing more water to be available for appropriation for potential direct flow as well as small livestock storage ponds. This option gained initial support from all stakeholders.
At the Colorado River District Board Meeting on Tuesday, October 19, Senior Water Resources Engineer Raquel Flinker presented on the Deep Creek Wild & Scenic proposed instream flow protections. Flinker, along with district staff, recommended general support from the River District’s Board for the Stakeholder group’s preferred instream flow concept (Option 3).
The Board accepted staff’s recommendation for the instream flow option 3 concept, subject to future negotiation of the specific development allowance criteria.