GRAND JUNCTION— For the overtapped Colorado River to meet a variety of needs, from agriculture to recreation, West Slope water users need to start rowing in the same direction.
That’s the message of a new outreach effort—“Our Colorado River”—launched today by sportsmen’s group Trout Unlimited, which is encouraging Colorado River stakeholders to work together to find innovative water planning and river conservation solutions.
The upper Colorado River is the lifeblood of the West Slope of Colorado. The Colorado River mainstem, along with major tributaries such as the Yampa, White, Dolores and Gunnison, nourish everything that happens on the West slope: agriculture, recreation, tourism, and related businesses. But the Colorado River faces a host of increasing pressures, from drought and diversions to industrial and municipal growth. Many experts believe that Colorado will face serious challenges in meeting water needs, while preserving river habitat and wildlife.
“West Slope water users need to realize our common stake in preserving the river’s health and vitality,” said Richard Van Gytenbeek, Colorado River basin coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “From farms and ranches, to recreation and tourism and towns and cities—the West Slope economy depends on a healthy Colorado River.”
In western Colorado, noted Van Gytenbeek, water from the Colorado River basin irrigates pasture on about 9,000 farms and ranches—operations that produce animals and crops with an economic impact of $1 billion annually. Similarly, West Slope recreation and tourism industries depend heavily on the Colorado and its tributaries to support rafting, fishing, kayaking, camping and other activities. Recreation is a huge and growing business in Colorado, generating in excess of $9 billion per year to the West Slope economy.
“Together, the agriculture and recreation sectors comprise western Colorado’s largest economic engine—an engine that runs on water. Without healthy rivers, the economic future of the West Slope looks bleak,” said Van Gytenbeek, who is taking this conservation message on the road with a series of presentations to West Slope communities and groups.
As part of the “Our Colorado River” effort, Trout Unlimited also unveiled a new website, www.OurCoRiver.com, which highlights the need for collaboration and features a gallery of “Voices of the Colorado River”—multimedia profiles of diverse West Slope water users, from fishing guides to ranchers to vineyard owners, who talk about their personal connection to the Colorado River and the need to protect river health.
— Special to the Sky-Hi News