Rifle meeting addresses Western water issues | AspenTimes.com

Rifle meeting addresses Western water issues

Heidi Rice
Rifle correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Post Independent fileWhile this kayaker had plenty of Colorado River to play in, water experts concerned more about drinking water and environmental health in the region met Friday in Rifle to talk about increasing local education and federal investment in Western water issues.

RIFLE, Colo. – Educating people about how to manage and protect the Colorado River Basin are just a few of the goals for the collection of water advocates who make up the Middle Colorado River Watershed Partnership.

Environmental concerns, increased user costs and the quality and quantity of the water are just some of the issues associated with the Colorado River Basin and its users in the middle section of the river from Glenwood Canyon to DeBeque Canyon.

Friday morning, about 25 people – including city and county officials and concerned citizens – attended a meeting in Rifle to listen to a presentation by Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and Mike Wilde, a former teacher for Glenwood Springs High School on water education and member of the MCRWP steering committee.

The presentation, which was the third in a series of educational meetings held by the group, was titled: “The Colorado River: People, Policies and Plumbing.”

“This was about the plumbing of the Colorado – what goes in and out,” Wilde said. “The Colorado River is incredibly used and is a spoken for river today.”

According to Kuhn, there are several major issues facing the long-term viability of the Colorado River and its resources, including the existing demand for water, which now exceeds the available supply.

“About 80 percent of the water is west of the Continental Divide and 85 percent of the people are east of the Divide,” Kuhn said. “People don’t move to where the water is, they move to where the jobs are.”

Along with looking at supply and demand, there are also concerns regarding the future of agricultural and oil and gas industry water needs.

“The oil and gas industry is not a large user of water,” Kuhn summed up. “But oil shale potentially is.”

At this time, the MCRWP is applying for 319 funding for watershed planning activities and waiting to hear whether it will receive a $64,600 federal grant, with a $72,200 matching grant, for a total of $136,800. The money will allow the group to complete studies that will hopefully increase awareness of the Middle Colorado River Watershed and the state of the river.

“We want to get a better understanding of the existing conditions of the watershed and look forward so we know what the situation is and we can track change,” said Clark Anderson, director of the Western Colorado Legacy Program in Glenwood Springs, which spearheaded and facilitates the efforts of the MCRWP. “[The MCRWP] is truly a diverse partnership with a lot of different entities engaged. We’re looking at water in a whole new way.”

The MCRWP expects to hear whether or not they’re approved for the federal grant by the end of March. Until then, their focus is to educate folks on the issues facing the Colorado River.

“In the meantime, our whole focus it to get people to understand water in Colorado,” Wilde said. “Water is a finite resource and we need to begin to understand how it works and how we can protect it.”

For more information about the MCRWP and issues facing the Colorado River system or to get involved, call Anderson at (970) 384-4364 or visit http://sites;google.com/site/mid-coriverpartnership/).

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