Guest column: Running dry in the high country
For the first 17 years of my life, Glenwood Springs was my home. I am 18 now and studying the environment at the University of Vermont, but my soul still misses that valley each day.
When I was 13, my family and our neighbors were told to evacuate our homes as the Cattle Creek area wildfire raged in the pinyons above our house. In the chaos of packing, boxes went missing. I applied for a new Social Security card and birth certificate. My mother grieved the loss of my sister’s art projects, some of her favorite clothes, and a pile of printed photos she would never get back.
Last July, when I was out of state attending my college orientation, my mother asked me where I had hidden my emergency box filled with irreplaceable memories. My father, at home near Glenwood Springs, needed to pack it away. He was preparing our house, yet again, for the pre-evacuation process.
In early July, the Lake Christine Fire was in its infancy. By the time it blew itself out, over 12,500 acres were destroyed.
At the same time, our main water source, the Roaring Fork River Watershed, was dangerously low. In 2018, the U.S. Geological Survey reported the amount of Roaring Fork River flow to be on average a quarter of the median levels taken in the last 47 years. During the same period of time, the flow in the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs was measured to be on average 30% or less of median levels.
Our community depends on the security of tourism revenue and the knowledge that our pools, mountains, rivers and restaurants will be filled. Another summer without snow runoff, low water levels, and months of smoke could directly hurt the main industry that supports so many.
When I was 17, I sat inside my home wishing I could go camping just one more time before leaving home for my freshman year of college. But I understood then that a statewide fire ban was in effect: camping was just short of impossible.
The day before I boarded my plane across the country, I hiked Mushroom Rock for the first time since mid-June, as the smoky haze had finally become bearable. My mother suffers from asthma and just stepping outside during the month of July proved difficult.
As a member of the Glenwood Springs community, and a young person who has been shaped by the natural beauty of our town, I am asking my neighbors, peers and friends to ask for stronger protection of the rivers and the land their waters feed.
According to the Roaring Fork Valley Drought Management Plan, Glenwood Springs is the only municipality in the Roaring Fork Valley without current water use restrictions. This is unacceptable.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy reports that Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale all have current restrictions in place. Limiting irrigation, individual car washing, and alternative watering schedules are all policies easily implemented and could have a huge impact.
Though our town has a Drought Management Plan, there is no preventative plan in place for the possibility that snowfall continues to decrease, and water levels drop once more.
The Denver Post reports that nearly a third of the U.S.’s total number of wildfires in 2018 occurred in Colorado. Glenwood Springs houses the largest population in the valley and is viewed as a tourist hub by the rest of the world.
Our town serves not only the array of tourists we attract but also our entire community whose lives depend on the rivers for drinking, sanitation and tourist recreation. It is our responsibility to implement a set of preventative water use restrictions for the years to come.
Summer should represent fun and warmth, not the annual fear of losing one’s home.
Erin Bucchin grew up in Glenwood Springs, recently moving away for her freshman year of college. She feels that educating the community on the importance of our rivers is of utmost importance.
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