Thursday, July 18, 2019
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Community gathers to discuss local water management plan

“The future of our water supply… is somewhat bleak.”

By Toni Todd

Monday night, representatives from the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (the River District) hosted a gathering at the Fred Field Heritage Center in Gunnison. Folks came out to hear River District presentation on the state of the of Upper Gunnison River Basin, and the District’s current efforts to build a plan to address that state, now and into the future.

“The future of our water supply in the Upper Gunnison and the Colorado River Basin is somewhat bleak,” said River District general manager Frank Kugel. Projections, he said, call for increased demand in the face of decreasing supply.

Kugel said one third of Southern California’s drinking water comes from the Colorado River. And population is expected to grow about 71 percent in Gunnison and Hindsdale counties by 2050. “We want to protect what we have, given more people and less water,” he said. With climate change and its resulting higher temperatures, Kugel said stream flows are projected to be 20 percent lower by 2050. Reduced stream flows impact not only water quantity, but quality in our lakes and streams.

“Natural water supplies have not aligned with human settlement patterns,” added River District general counsel John McClow. The Colorado Water Plan, he explained, is a product of “collaboration, cooperation and community.”

An executive order issued by Governor John Hickenlooper in 2013 resulted a many-months-long effort to create a comprehensive plan that accounts for the needs of growing cities, agriculture, recreation and the environment. McClow explained that the state’s plan calls for reducing the gap between supply and demand to zero by 2050; encourages land use plans that include water-saving actions; voluntary reductions in use by farmers and ranchers; increases in water storage, outreach and education; and the promotion of watershed health.

The statewide plan also calls for individual river districts to complete local plans of their own.

“We want your help, participation and ideas,” McClow told the gathering of some 80 people.

“One of the pressures we’re feeling in the basin comes from the Colorado River Compact,” he added. The Compact, as it’s called, is an agreement written in 1922 allocating water from the Colorado River to southwestern states and Mexico. The Gunnison River is a major tributary of the Colorado. The concern is that pressing needs and demands of growing states downstream will eventually make their way upstream, to us.

The public meeting was a part of the River District’s outreach and education efforts, but also a way to encourage input and ideas for conservation, storage and efficiencies to help the local River District complete its plan. Kugel insists it will be a “learning by doing” process as they assess the Greater Gunnison River Basin one small stream basin at a time over the next few years. The hope is to complete what the River District calls an “adaptive” plan by 2021, and to affect positive changes wherever and whenever practical along the way.

Ideas to contribute the plan, including suggestions to protect, increase or enhance water quantity and/or quality in the Upper Gunnison River Basin can be submitted by contacting representatives via the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy website,

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