Kremmling rancher picked to serve on state water board

New district representative sees water scarcity as a top Colorado River issue

Heather Sackett
Aspen Journalism
Kremmling rancher and fly-fishing guide Paul Bruchez has been picked by Gov. Jared Polis to represent the Colorado River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Bruchez will replace Basalt resident and former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, who is stepping down after one term.
Paul Bruchez/Courtesy photo

Gov. Jared Polis has appointed a Kremmling rancher to replace former state Sen. Gail Schwartz on the state’s top water board.

Paul Bruchez will now represent the main stem of the Colorado River on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Bruchez, 40, currently serves as the agriculture representative and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

Along with his family, Bruchez runs Reeder Creek Ranch, a 6,000-acre cattle and hay operation about 5 miles east of Kremmling, which is irrigated with water from the headwaters of the Colorado River. Bruchez is also a fly-fishing guide and has been active since about 2012 in state-level water management discussions. He is a governor appointee to the Inter-Basin Compact Committee and is on the board of the Colorado Water Trust.

“For the last 23 years, everything Colorado River and water has touched and impacted my life substantially as well as my entire family,” he said. “We all live and breathe Colorado River issues.”

Bruchez is also spearheading a project with other neighboring irrigators to see what happens when water is temporarily removed from high-elevation hay meadows. The results of the state grant-funded study could have implications for demand management, a program state officials are exploring that is designed to save water by paying irrigators to temporarily fallow fields.

The nine voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board are representatives from each of the state’s river basins, plus Denver. The Colorado main stem section extends from the headwaters in Grand County, through Glenwood Springs and the Grand Valley to where the river exits the state. The basin includes Summit County.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is tasked with developing and protecting Colorado’s water.

Bruchez said he thinks the biggest issue facing his basin is water scarcity.

“While we have challenges in the Colorado River, we also have some great people, and I hope I can make everyone proud,” he said.

Bruchez still must be confirmed by the state Senate and sworn in at the next Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in March.

Schwartz, a Democrat who represented a purple district in the Senate from 2007 to 2015, decided to step down after serving just one three-year term on the board, which began in March 2019. Schwartz said it was an honor to hold the seat, but she felt she couldn’t be as effective as she wanted in the position.

“I am super concerned about aridification, and I feel that it was just too challenging to move the needle on these incredible challenges to the Colorado River basin because our work is so broad,” she said Friday, Feb. 11. “It was just too difficult to make the kind of impact I would like to make.”

At the July 2021 board meeting, Schwartz had strong words regarding the gravity of the shortages on the Colorado River and urged the Colorado Water Conservation Board to act at what she called an extraordinary moment in time.

“This is a desert, and we are going to empty every bucket. We are going to empty every river, and this is the inevitable unless we can develop the courage and the ability to step forward,” Schwartz said in July.

Some have urged the state to move more quickly on a demand management program in the face of worsening climate change, drought and water shortages. At the heart of a demand management program is paying irrigators to use less water and store that water in Lake Powell to prop up the reservoir and help the upper basin states meet Colorado River Compact obligations. If a program were implemented, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico would also have to agree to it. Colorado Water Conservation Board members adopted a demand management “decision-making roadmap” in September.

“(Demand management) is on the back burner, in my opinion,” Schwartz said. “There was some fabulous input, and it was a really well-run process, but there wasn’t a very clear outcome.”

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