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The Colorado River: Balancing Water Needs for the West

The Colorado River is an incredibly  important water resource for Southwest  

about 40 million people rely on the Colorado  for drinking water and irrigates five and a  

half million acres of agricultural land,  it supports hydropower about a twenty six  

billion dollar recreation economy and  demand and is outpacing supply and so  

we're using on average more water than  the river provides. Water is everything.  

If there's anything that's going to stop any

growth in the West it's going to be water.

If you want to do anything in the West in water  you you've got to work with agriculture. We tend  

to use about 70 to 80 percent water resources in  the Colorado River Basin to grow food and fiber so  

we work throughout the Colorado River Basin  on partnerships with agriculture to improve  

water use for multiple purposes. Our focus is  really on building relationships and building partnerships.

In the Yampa River we're working  with the Maybelle irrigation district to do some  

really fundamental improvements to their system  that are gonna help them get more control over  

their operations.

This is the start of the whole Maybelle ditch

and so the water from the river actually enters the ditch here

from these head gates in the divergence structure.

Once it comes into the head gates then it flows  down approximately 18 miles for the farmers and AG people to use.

It was hand-built in a lot of  areas and they started running water sometime around 1901

and it's not only very important for that community

but it's also important for the town of Maybelle.

Things have changed in the last 20 years.

We used to turn it on full blast in the spring and just let it run and then in  the fall we turned it off

and we just can't do that anymore. We have to manage our water

and so some of the projects that the Nature Conservancy has been helping us with

is the management of that water.

We put check structures in their ditch.

What those allow them to do is to check to  build the water up

so they can turn it out to the fields without having to run the ditch as full

they can run less water in the ditch

but get it up to where it could get turned out to the fields

and also have some slow the water down

so they're not just having to run as much through to keep those levels up.

Our next project with them will be to help line a portion of the ditch

and then hopefully a much bigger project to replace their diversion on the river itself.

The whole point of the project is to rebuild the head gates and make the diversion structure

more accessible to the recreational folks

more fish friendly for the endangered fish

and more friendly for the irrigation district

and so we're hoping this project will be a win-win for everything.

We'll be able to automate their headgate.

It'll make sure they get just water that they  need and anything else will stay in the river.

We're also working on the Price River in Utah to  try and figure out how we can address certain flow  

needs in the lower-Price River which often goes  dry in the summer months.

We're the second driest state in United States so we need to take care and use our water the best way we can.

And we started our partnership there working with a carbon canal company.

Without carbon canal I mean there's 11,000 acres here that that would not be serviced

with water. We divert water out of the Price River you have 250 shareholders, we deliver water to approximately 11,000 acres, we have 27 miles of  

open canal. The Nature Conservancy found resources  to get the flood control gate replaced and then  

next thing is the Olson reservoir project.

Olson reservoir project it's an old and relatively small reservoir in the Carbon canal system.

TNC recently purchased storage rights in the reservoir and that's going to allow us to work with the canal company to manage our water to be able to  

deliver it to the river to meet some of those flow needs.

The goal is to bring water that's not being delivered to shareholders from the Karpin Canal over to Olson reservoir and store it here enhance  

the wetland habitat here but also store it so that  we can later strategically release it to the lower  

price River which normally goes dry around July or  August to the detriment of rare fish.

This is water that they call it carry water right it's water  they use to help move water that they need for  

their farmers and shareholders and then at the end  of the system that water just you know basically  

dumps out into the desert.

The benefits are many.

The shareholders in the Carbon Canal company will benefit because we will pay

fair market value for that water.

Also we are going to replace some of their head gates so that they can better manage their water.

If this can go through it helps the future generations here to have more of a stable flow of water

that would you know benefit everybody down the line not only our operation it might keep alive the species that we in here.

You know ranching operations in the West is a story  they they mean a lot to a lot of people it's our job to help to take care of all of it

and that's what I see makes it a little bit easier to do our job.

We're gonna bring a lake back to life out in the middle of the desert down there.

Things will be a lot different adults and as well again it'll be  more like when I grew up

it'll be wildlife there they'll be ducks it'll just bring life back to  that area where it has kind of slipped away at this point

because of there's lack of water there

because it always ties back to water and the water's the number one thing and you're not going  to have wildlife

we're not gonna have a healthy environment here if we don't have the water and so far we have an opportunity to store some of this water instead of just flowing on downstream

I think it's extremely important for the area.

In the Grand Valley western Colorado the primary  project that we've worked on over the last few  

years is with the Grand Valley Water Users  Association. They provide irrigation water for  

about twenty four thousand acres and we've been  working with them on what we call a conserved  

consumptive use pilot project which would work  with willing landowners to temporarily reduce  

their water use on their properties through  you know sort of a number of practices then the  

water users Association would make sure they could  track and account for that water and working with  

them we were able to figure out a mechanism  to then return that water to the river both  

for the benefit of fish species in the Colorado  River here but also for that downstream water  

security benefit where it can help bolster  those reservoir levels.

Well when we first started talking about water banking or conserve consumptive use doing this pilot program I I was  

very against it it to me as a farmer don't make  any sense not farming a productive ground. 

As we kept getting into it and kept discussing it and  arguing about it I become to see it as necessary  

I'm not stupid and I know the future and and  the future is that we're gonna have to learn  

better ways to conserve water

You know farmers want a farm that's what they do

and talking to them about you know not farming and not using  their water

is a challenging conversation.

A lot a lot of late nights arguing.

The conversation was really a big part of the benefit of the whole thing yeah and there's just no other way to

have it then to kind of fight your way through it.

Where we got to is that it's really important to have AG voices in the bigger conversations about what we need to do to tackle these broader challenges

on the Colorado River and this was one way that they could really get a seat at the table

and help shape some of those conversations about you know solutions we need and what might work and what  might not.

At a more fundamental level the people that participate overcompensated we ask them not to go crop and to leave their water in the river

and that's an economic that decision for them and that works out really well for some farmers they were able to sort of think of

a water sharing program as another rotational crop.

When we first got involved with the Nature  Conservancy there was the stigma that that  

community needs to stay away from environmental  groups and so forth and I have learned working  

with them on a regular basis that their goals  and my goals in the ditch kameez goals are

are the same.

We align more with Nature Conservancy  then we disagree with Nature Conservancy.

I can I can truly say that and they work really hard to  make it

even easier for us to align with them.

We could see they weren't here to take our water  and and that's always the big concern.

I mean water's...water's the lifeblood of the West and  we're in a desert so it's a big deal.

Water is the most precious thing we have.

Our world revolves around it you can't live without it.

It's hard to make money without water.

You don't farm to get rich.

Farming and agriculture's a way of life.

And you got to love the outdoors, you got to love  the thrill of putting that seed in the ground and  

seeing it grow to maturity and raising a healthy  plant and working the land.

It it's a way of life and I guess when it comes down to it that's what I would like to see protected here is a way of life.