Our Colorado River: Cooperation, not conflict

By Richard Van Gytenbeek

For well over a decade, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project has partnered with the agricultural community and local TU chapters to improve habitat, upgrade aging irrigation infrastructure and boost stream flows throughout the West. In Colorado, TU’s field staff live and work in each of the major West Slope river basins that comprise the upper Colorado drainage. They work on projects that improve habitat, increase flows and help keep western Colorado streams and rivers healthy and productive. Their success is a direct result of cooperation with the agricultural community, not conflict.

Agriculture is the primary user of water on the West Slope. Farmers and ranchers use the water to grow and send crops and animals to market each year. Their farms and ranches protect important riparian and aquatic habitats, winter range, migration corridors and the iconic western landscapes. This agricultural way of life is sustainable and deeply woven into the fabric of our communities and their economies. Like agriculture, recreation and tourism also rely on healthy flows in our streams and rivers. These uses are also sustainable and have also become critical to West Slope communities and their economic health. When agriculture and recreation-tourism clash over the use of water, the community, the economy and the river all suffer. When they cooperate, flows, communities and economies all benefit. To help tell this story and take it to a new level, TU this summer launched the Our Colorado River program, which has three primary goals:

1)      Highlight our successful partnerships with agriculture in restoring habitat, upgrading irrigation infrastructure, and other efforts to boost healthy flows in our West Slope streams and rivers.

2)      Promote cooperation between agriculture and recreation-tourism interests to protect the water resources that are the lifeblood of our West Slope communities.

3)      Encourage that cooperation by asking West Slope residents, businesses, elected officials and organizations, to endorse some common “core values” on water, including cooperation, not conflict; modernizing irrigation; and maintaining open spaces.

We believe the core values are the centerpiece of the Our Colorado River program and provide the starting point for forging consensus on how to protect water resources in western Colorado. While West Slope residents won’t agree on everything regarding water, we are confident most can agree on these five commonsense values.  The goal is to encourage a wide diversity of river users and community members to show their unity and resolve in protecting West Slope water resources as we move towards a Colorado Water Plan by December 2014.

When it comes to keeping our rivers healthy, we’re all in this together. Please help us out by going to www.ourcoriver.com and signing the core values and supporting our West Slope rivers.

Richard Van Gytenbeek is the Colorado River Basin coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project.

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