As we move into a future of climate uncertainty, and as streams with exceptional water quality become increasingly rare, it will become ever more important that we protect the high-quality water that still exists in our mountains and forests.
Through this process, the Clean Water Act gives individual states the authority to designate special protections on pristine waterways to ensure water quality is not degraded. In Colorado, the decision to designate “Outstanding Waters” is made by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) and depends on specific criteria like water quality standards and the presence of outstanding natural resource values (like aquatic habitat or recreational use). The WQCC ultimately makes their decision during a rulemaking hearing that culminates in a triennial review of water classifications and standards for each basin in the State of Colorado.
For our San Juan Basin, which contains the Animas, this hearing is scheduled for June of this year, and our group is ready to propose enhanced protection for 26 tributaries to the Animas, the San Juan, the Dolores, the San Miguel, and the Gunnison rivers. These are streams that contain extremely high-quality water and aquatic habitat, add resilience to our water systems, and offer exceptional recreational opportunities from fishing to paddling.