Streams on Forest Service land may soon be a little more vulnerable.
For the past eight years, the Forest Service has been able to insist on "bypass flows," or minimum instream flows, when towns and other water users divert streams on national forests. The agency says it has the right and responsibility to demand bypass flows to protect fish and wildlife, just as a landlord stipulates how a renter can use an apartment. Western Republicans vehemently disagree, arguing that only states can regulate water flows within their borders.
At a May hearing of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, conducted by Colorado Republican Rep. Scott McInnis, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth testified on behalf of bypass flow authority. But he hinted that the agency may back away from bypass flows; observers say he may revert to the no-bypass-flow policy established by the first Bush administration.
Though the Forest Service has enforced bypass flows only 15 times in the past eight years, Dave Nickum of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited says the authority is a crucial part of the agency's negotiations with water users. "The adage is 'Speak softly and carry a big stick,' " he says. "If you're just speaking softly, there's no incentive for anyone to try and work out a solution."
The agency's new policy is likely to be part of the final plan for Colorado's White River National Forest, scheduled for September release.