Business on board with protecting the Colorado |

Business on board with protecting the Colorado

Janice Kurbjun

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study on the supply of and demand for Colorado River water for the next 50 years – with the goal of identifying the gap and finding ways to bridge it – has the support of a small-town beauty shop owner in southwest Colorado.

Rafting company owners, fly fishing outfitters, grocery store managers and hotel officials are also among Colorado businesses joining a new coalition known as Protect the Flows. Its mission is to support the Bureau of Reclamation’s research and give a voice to those who benefit from a healthy Colorado River.

“It’s a broad group of people who feel strongly about (Colorado River flows),” Protect the Flows Colorado coordinator Molly Mugglestone said. “Keeping water flows is important to our way of life and business viability in the future.”

The beauty shop owner is on board because the shop thrives when folks come to town for recreation – and an early June river festival is one highlight of summer activity, Mugglestone said. When she canvassed Dolores in the spring, she found the festival’s upcoming economic boom was on everyone’s mind, which translated to broad support for the coalition and its mission.

The coalition has the support of roughly 100 businesses in Colorado that have joined Protect the Flows on some level. That includes about a dozen businesses in Summit County – ranging from KODI Rafting to Hotel Frisco to Locals Liquor – and three in the Vail/Edwards area.

Colorado isn’t the only state involved, either. During the last six months, the group has reached out to businesses in the seven states of the Colorado River Basin.”The group has the financial underwriting of the Walton Family Foundation, Mugglestone said.”

“The economic future of the West is tied to a Colorado River that flows strong and beckons people to communities along its banks for recreation and tourism,” states, adding that between climate change and drought and increasing demand for municipal water, the supply is running short.

The first-ever Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study is meant to assess the risks and develop a long-term strategy to conserve and stretch the river’s supply to meet current and projected needs for recreation, agriculture, tourism, cities and the environment. The reservoir system’s storage is at half-capacity, and agriculture, drinking water and electricity interests have caused the Colorado River to run dry in the Sonoran Desert before it reaches the sea.

As the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation studies the increasing imbalance and seeks solutions, Protect our Flows aims not only to support the research, but to emphasize the voice of businesses affected by reduced flows.

“(The study) will inform all major decisions on the Colorado River for years to come,” Mugglestone said. “The Protect the Flows coalition are asking the study’s participants to take a sober accounting of the river’s fate and propose a path forward that considers the health and sustainability of the river itself.”

“We want to maximize the message that this is the first time a cohesive group of businesses are coming forward with this type of message,” Mugglestone added.

Jim Buckler of Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne said his business is directly linked to healthy tributaries to the Colorado River. His competitor and colleague, Blue River Anglers owner Zeke Hersch, said he remembers the 2002 drought, during which the Blue River trickled down valley at 250 cubic feet per second. When it’s that low, fish die in water that warms faster – and if they survive in summer, they might die if the river freezes over in winter.

Buckler and Hersch contend the recreation industry they belong to isn’t insignificant.

According to data from the Colorado Tourism Office, visitors on touring and outdoor trips in Colorado (5.6 million) outnumber those on city trips and combined business-pleasure trips (1.6 million) more than three to one. Leisure visitors typically swim, camp, fish, ski and bicycle on their trips – in addition to shopping, visiting breweries, as well as taking part in entertainment and nightlife. The numbers highlight the importance of scenic Colorado to the state’s economy, the report notes.

A different analysis for the Colorado Tourism Office shows that overnight travel-generated earnings make up 15 percent of the Summit, Clear Creek and Gilpin county income compared to 1.5 percent in Denver. For mountain communities, accommodations and recreation make money and provide jobs.

“We need to have a seat at the table,” Buckler said, adding that Protect the Flows is a chance to voice the voice of recreation.

Campy Campton, owner of KODI Rafting out of Frisco, is also a part of Protect our Flows. He he comes at it from a rafting standpoint in Summit County – an industry that contributed more than $150 million to the Colorado economy in 2010, according to a report from the Colorado River Outfitters Association. On the Upper Colorado River alone, commercial rafting contributed $2.3 million to the economy, and downstream in Glenwood Springs, it generated $18.2 million.

“It’s important to keep water in rivers from a recreational standpoint as well as a private boater standpoint,” Campton said.

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