Meeting focuses on future of Colorado River

Alex Zorn

Annie Whetzel, community outreach coordinator with Middle Colorado Watershed Council, gives a rundown of what her organization does at the Rifle State of the Colorado River at the Ute Theatre on Thursday.
Alex Zorn / Post Independent |

Participants raised many issues during the Rifle State of the River meeting Thursday. But one generated more conversation than any other: What would happen to local water users if the Colorado River experienced drought conditions?

While reports showed that the snowpack peaked a little early this year and Colorado saw warmer temperatures statewide, there was no indication that a drought was near. Even so, presentations on a Grand Valley water banking experiment and Silt irrigation project show having these conversations now is the best way to prepare for the future.

“We’re in a good year, but it’s easy to slip back into a drought year,” said Annie Whetzel, community outreach coordinator with Middle Colorado Watershed Council. “Having conversations are important so that people aren’t surprised. If this should happen, we can handle it.”

Whetzel said her biggest takeaway was just how many members of the agriculture community were in attendance.

“I counted 70 people in attendance; it’s a water talk so we hope to inform a lot of leaders in the water field,” she said. “It was really nice to see how active agriculture is in the area.”

She was also pleased to see all three Garfield County commissioners present.

The State of the River featured several presentations. Speakers included Scot Dodero, who discussed the Silt Water Conservancy District and its upcoming $3 million upgrade to its pump house, and Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, who focused on big picture questions facing the Colorado River.

The Colorado River District started these meetings 24 years ago. Kuhn sees exports as a potential issue in the future, for every drop of water is used from the river.

“If California is in a drought and they can’t export more water from northern California, they will take more from the Colorado,” he explained.

He compared it to a rubber band being pulled on both sides; eventually it is going to snap.

Kuhn listed demand management and cloud seeding (or snowmaking) as potential solutions in contingency planning, but admitted it was a complex issue.

The evening’s final presentation looked at the Grand Valley water banking experiment, which will test how conserving consumptive water use by agricultural fallowing will send more water to Lake Powell to help bolster low reservoir levels.

“Water banking is the practice of intentionally foregoing diversion or consumptive use of a water resource and banking the conversed volume for use at a future date or different purpose,” said Mark Harris of the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

In 2017, 10 farm operators across the valley, each committing a minimum of 60 acres, will participate in the pilot program to reduce water consumption. The program will ensure that agricultural water users would have a seat at the table if and when water rights becomes more of an issue. In turn, they won’t be expected to shoulder the burden in drought conditions.

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