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Conservation Colorado: What’s next for water?

Sasha Nelson/For the Saturday Morning Press

This spring our state began the process of implementing its first-ever Colorado Water Plan and joined the rest of the nation in allowing the legal use of rain barrels for residential rainwater capture. As I prepare my own rain barrels to use rainwater on my new garden beds, I wonder — what’s next for water in Colorado?

Water is vital to our community’s health and future. It isn’t a coincidence that in “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” a book that uses reverse psychology to describe what not to do to build a community, authors Doug Griffiths & Kelly Clemmer focus on clean and abundant water, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Water is critical to our communities. I’ve been speaking with people who spend a great deal of time working on water issues in Northwest Colorado. I asked them what’s next for the Yampa River? What’s next after rain barrels?

One answer came from Butcherknife Brewery in Steamboat, one of many microbreweries in our region and a business that relies on water. Owner Nathan Johansing told me he’d like to see the legalization of rain barrels for commercial buildings. This would allow businesses to re-direct rainwater to landscaping, allowing them to conserve water.

Clean and abundant water flowing down the Yampa River is also necessary to the success of Red Coyote Adventure, a river craft rental company in Craig. Owner Derek Cleverly is optimistic that the rental and shuttle service he provides is on track to beat last year. His business — and the community — might get an added boost in the future if a water park is developed near the golf course in Craig. Rob Schenck brought the idea of a water park to the community a couple of years ago and now has a small group of people helping to secure funds needed to turn the idea into a reality.

Another local water voice wants to know who is friend or foe of the Yampa. Kent Vertrees is a manager at Steamboat Powdercats, a board member of the Friends of the Yampa, teaches River and Canyon Orientation at Colorado Mountain College, and has served as the recreation representative on the Yampa, White, Green River Basin Roundtable for several years. He is optimistic about the future of the river but knows we have more to do. At the annual Yampa River Fest; Kent delivers a “State of the Yampa” speech. This year he asked river recreationists if they were truly “friends” of the Yampa, and challenged everyone to think about how they help to conserve, as well as, use the river. Kent, members of the Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads in Craig, and others will celebrate American Rivers’ 25th National River Cleanup Day on July 9. Stewardship programs like this river cleanup welcome more volunteers and provides a simply way to prove friendship towards the Yampa.

As friends of the river, we need to tackle some hard issues. One issue is non-native fish in the river. Many of us know how much fun it’s been to catch pike and smallmouth bass so the idea of removing sport fish to improve the river is a difficult pill to swallow. But then I imagine what it would be like if our river system was restored and we were able to catch six-foot-long pike minnow. Sometimes we have to take a step back before we can move forward. In this case, to protect native fishery and the natural balance in our river, we will have to come to terms with our non-native fisheries management.

Long-term management for the Yampa has also been on Geoff Blakeslee’s mind. He is a long-time rancher who works as the Yampa River Project Director for The Nature Conservancy and is the environmental representative on the Yampa, White, Green River Basin Roundtable. With the other roundtable members, Geoff is creating a water modeling program that will help us better manage the river by understanding how to balance the need to manage flows for recreation and environmental purposes and when, where and how to best develop future water projects. One of the hardest parts is figuring out our water needs now and far into the future. Wise management now is critical to meeting future water needs.

During his tour of Northwest Colorado in late April, John Stulp, the governor’s water adviser, got me thinking about water in a new way. He reminded me that water is a commodity, but that doesn’t mean we bottle and sell it to reap the rewards.

As we come together as a community to forge a new economic future we should recognize that healthy rivers, lakes and streams of our region are now, and increasingly will be, valued as a source of our community’s wealth providing great recreation, refreshing beer and beautiful landscapes — all fed by our healthy river.

Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.


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