‘The future will not look like the past’: Local water leaders emphasize outreach, education about the Blue River
As the first installment of the Summit County government’s new County 101 series, community members gathered to hear from local water leaders about the state of the Colorado River drought and how it affects local headwaters.
Representatives from the Colorado District, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Blue River Watershed Group and High Country Conservation Center gave presentations about local waters and how community members can understand recent reporting about drought across the river basin.
“Our goal really is to help foster a better understanding of these very complex issues. Water law is complex. It’s confusing,” said Taylor Hawes, a water lawyer who has spent over 20 years working on the Colorado River. “There’s a lot going on. It’s in the newspaper every single day right now, and it’s in the national news every single day right now. The future will not look like the past, so we really wanted to make sure our community has a really good understanding of the issue so you can engage on these really important topics.”
Currently, Colorado River Basin states are working toward large cuts in usage due to extreme drought across the basin.
On Oct. 12, the Biden administration designated at least $500 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to go toward the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Colorado, for “investments in conservation and long-term system efficiency,” according to a release from the White House.
“(Drought and climate change are) something here in the headwaters we live with — our hydrology. We see it happening. We see less snow. We see the dry soils that are absorbing what runoff we do have,” said Marielle Cowdin, director of public relations at the Colorado River District. “For every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in average temperature, stream flow is reduced between 3% to 9%, with most studies actually leaning toward that 9%.”
Like other parts of the Upper Colorado River Basin, the Blue River has faced changes in the past decade as a result of climate. This includes less snowpack for spring runoff, drier soils and warmer summer temperatures.
“It’s my belief that these bigger-picture issues that are brought up and that we’re all facing, they’re coming down the pike,” Troy Wineland, water commissioner for Summit County, said. “And believe me, they’re coming. We’ve got two of the largest reservoirs in the country sitting about 24% capacity. If that’s not the kind of writing on the walls, I don’t know what it is. So outreach and education to me is critical.”
In addition to legislative work, local leaders are continuing environmental restoration to further support local wetlands and watershed areas in Summit County. Kendra Fuller, executive director of the Blue River Watershed Group, said that the Swan River restoration — a multiyear project to restore portions of Swan River near Breckenridge — is continuing, and so far there have been significant improvements in areas that have been completed.
“We need to figure out how we can make this river the best it can be for the conditions that were set. We have and we’re going to continue to have inflows that are probably just going to be lower and lower,” Fuller said. “We really want to continue with a lot of outreach. It’s really important that you’re teaching your neighbors, your kids, your friends about the watershed about how they can protect their local area.”
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