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Dismal water flows inspire expansive collaboration

Locations: News Published

The Colorado River District (CRD) held its annual “Middle Colorado State of the River” meeting at the Morgridge Commons in Glenwood Springs the evening of May 3. Presenters predicted another hot summer with low water levels; not dissimilar to 2021. 

From March through June, several meetings are taking place throughout Western Colorado, from Ouray County to Grand County, with many stops in between. For a list of meeting times and locations, visit www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/state-river-meetings-2022 

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Zane Kessler, director of government relations with CRD, led the meeting. “This is the first in-person State of the River we’ve been able to do in more than two years. It’s really good to be back in the room with our constituents, seeing folks face-to-face and having conversations about our most important natural resource: our water and the Colorado River.”

Kessler also introduced Steve Beckely as the Garfield County representative to CRD. He explained that the CRD board of directors are appointed by county commissioners from each of the 15 counties it represents.

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Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was also in attendance. “Water is important to our county, it’s important to the entire Western Slope,” he told The Sopris Sun. “There’s no doubt, we are in a 20 year drought.”

Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist at the Colorado State University Climate Center, was the first presenter. She explained that snowpack determines the rivers’ flows. “Even though we’re doing okay with snowpack, we really needed above average snowpack to get the inflows back to where they need to be,” she stated.

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“We are still struggling through this long-term drought situation,” Bolinger stressed. “The summer heat is a big concern and what the precipitation does is also going to be a big concern.”

Lindsay DeFrates with CRD spoke about the history of western water politics, beginning with the 1922 Colorado River Compact which she described as the foundation of the law of the river. The Colorado River Compact divided the right of use between the upper and lower basin states.

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“Recent totals indicate that the lower basin states consistently overuse water from the allotments of the Colorado River because they do not take into account things like evaporation, transportation losses or the inflows from their tributaries,” she said. “The upper basin states — Colorado, Wyoming and parts of New Mexico and Utah — we all live within our hydrology because we are not downstream from a ‘savings account.’” 

DeFrates, and many others throughout the evening, touched on Lake Powell, which she referred to as the upper basin states’ savings account. Lake Powell is now only 23% full.

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She further stated that with every 1% rise in temperature, streamflow is reduced by 3-9%. “Last year, we ended at 89% snowpack, but we only had 32% inflow into Lake Powell,” DeFrates explained. She referred back to Bolinger’s presentation, stating that “thirsty soils are going to drink the snowmelt first, before it becomes streamflow.”

She continued, “As we go forward, it’s going to take organization nights like this where voices are brought to the table who might not have been there before. … It’s going to take recognizing that we can’t just wish away our reality anymore.” 

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Janeth Stancle with Senator John Hickenlooper’s office confirmed the senator’s support for the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program. David Graf, the instream flow coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, spoke about the ecological benefits of the endangered species recovery program. 

Raymond Langstaff, with the Bookcliff Conservation District, addressed the importance of agriculture in the region and the industry’s reliance on water. At the end of his presentation, Kessler added that 90% of agricultural businesses on the Western Slope are family owned.

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April Long with Ruedi Water and Power Authority, as well as Roaring Fork Conservancy, touched on local trends. Long mentioned that last year Ruedi Reservoir had the second to lowest water level since it was built in the 1960s. She hopes to see a more unified regional approach to water regulations across municipal and county lines in the region.

Paula Stepp, executive director of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, referred to the ramifications the Grizzly Creek fire had, and continues to have, on water quality. She encouraged readiness for the next watershed changing event.

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CRD director of strategic partnerships Amy Moyer wrapped up the evening by offering a presentation on the state organization’s Community Funding Partnership program. “We are just a year and a half into this program, where we have $4.2 million annually to dedicate to high impact water projects across our district,” she explained.

The program was first approved by Colorado voters in November of 2020. Eligible projects must be on the Western Slope and are sectioned into five categories: productive agriculture, watershed health and water quality, healthy rivers, infrastructure and conservation and efficiency.

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Presentation materials from the May 3 meeting will be available online at www.coloradoriverdistrict.org

Tags: #Colorado River #Colorado River District #Middle Colorado State of the River #Middle Colorado Watershed Council #water
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