Community Ag Alliance: Considering the water

Jackie Brown/For the Steamboat Today

Recently, Erin McDaniel Media, Natural Light Images and the Routt County Conservation District had the privilege of interviewing 11 agricultural water users with operations on the Western Slope of Colorado. It was the first week of April, the water situation was grim and the ground was dry.

As we spoke to folks about their upcoming production year, we heard from several irrigators that 2015 was the earliest year they had turned on their water. As we traveled around, our conversation, like the landscape, was dominated by the dependence of the West Slope on water.

The juxtaposition of driving around the Front Range doesn’t as much trigger thoughts on water — it is hidden in pipes and obscured by buildings and roads; truly it is infrastructure. This complicates the way Colorado’s population considers water.

Recently, I participated in an exercise where each water professional at the table was asked to talk to their neighbor about when they first fell in love with water. It was an emotional, loud and fun conversation that really got to the root of how humans relate to water, which was the point.

The emotional aspect of water strikes a chord with Coloradans looking for their own version of John Denver’s “I Guess He’d Rather be in Colorado” (you thought I was going to say “Rocky Mountain High”). And herein lies the delicate trade-off. We want the rivers to flow, the fish to jump and the cold clear water to continue crafting our local brews and hot showers. We want the large expanses, the spring calves, the fresh produce. We want to grow our economy, camp alone in the woods and gawk at the wildlife. And, of course, we have to share both the risks and the water. How we share is the big question.

The uncertainty of water in the West is the hot button topic these days. I haven’t read a Sunday edition of the New York Times all year that hasn’t mentioned the drought or the creative implementation that will help carry us through the unknown future of climate change and population growth.

Within our state, the Colorado Water Plan has been developing, and its contributors are attempting to provide answers that can balance competing uses smartly within our state while meeting our compact obligations with downstream parties. This is not an easy task, but every year that passes without a plan puts us a year behind.

I ask that you consider why you live in Colorado and what is important to you, and have that conversation with your friends — urban and rural. As you mull it over, visit and take a look at a short video we produced on our tour de West Slope and see if you learn a little something about rural Colorado and how you look at water — the first of five videos is available now, and one per week will be uploaded thereafter.

Follow the District@RouttCountyCD for updates. As with any compromise, values will be challenged. Don’t get caught in an eddy. Make sure your voice is heard.

Comments on the Colorado Water Plan ( submitted to the Routt County Conservation District ( by Sept. 17 will be compiled and sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Northwest Colorado Water Week kicks off May 26 with presentations on water, the Yampa River and festivities. Find out more at

Jackie Brown is district manager for the Routt County Conservation District, chairs the Upper Yampa Watershed Group and is an at-large member of the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable.

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