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Something we can do about drought

Driving back from Denver a few days ago I was shocked. Believe me, it takes a lot to visually shock me at my age in today’s “anything goes” culture.

Dillon reservoir always catches my eye between Silverthorne and Frisco. This time I did a double take. From the passenger seat I stretched my neck as far out as it would go, but it didn’t help.

I couldn’t find the water line of the man-made lake.



In the 19 years that I have lived in Colorado, never have we faced such a water crisis. Having lived in the arid Southwest most of my 56 years of life, I can honestly say that I have never seen things this bad when it comes to drought.

Drought is a word that has always been hard for me to roll off my tongue. What it truly means for us Westerners this coming summer is even harder to comprehend.



When it comes to how dry things really are, we’ve been in trouble for a few years and haven’t been willing to admit it.

I’m not sure we know what to do.

I do know this; just thinking about the upcoming fire season scares me out of all complacency. As if last year wasn’t scary enough.

It was the Spring Creek fire near New Castle that made a believer out of me.

Dispatched to the fireline during initial attack as Safety Officer, I carefully side-stepped my way down the steep west-facing slope of Spring Creek to where the smoke jumpers were working.

A jumper was pulling away limbs from a fallen tree he had just cut down to build line when I noticed. There was no sap in any of the cuts he had made.

Pulling off my glove, I raked my bare hand across the knee-high fresh cut stump. No sap.

“Sap is always present low to the ground near the roots of a tree,” my inner voice told me. Not this year.

To confirm my suspicions, I checked other stumps along the fireline that had been cut earlier in the day. No sap anywhere.

The live timber in our forest was as dry as the kiln-dried wood in a lumber yard, maybe drier.

Knowing personally the effects of drought are not enough. But putting such knowledge into action isn’t easy for any of us.

It has to start with each one of us making conscious decisions to conserve what precious water we have available to us.

Even though our family likes homegrown fresh vegetables, we decided for the past two years not to plant a garden.

Last year we watered the lawn with just enough water to keep it alive and no more.

This year, those folks living in many communities along the Front Range are being told they will not be able to water their outside lawns, shrubs or flowers. The decision was made for them.

All the books and articles, tables and charts about water scattered around me on the floor have not helped me with this column like I thought they would.

What has helped is the memory of Ute Elders hiking with me across the Flat Tops over the years.

Every time we came across a spring they would stop and kneel down. Every time. Silently hands would reach into a pouch or pocket and take out a small offering.

It could have been tobacco, sage, sweet grass. It was not my place to ask. A humble but powerful ceremony would be performed and prayers in the Ute language would drift toward heaven.

Maybe there is something we all can do.


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