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Community Agriculture Alliance: Fluid discussions at a round table

Kevin McBride/For Steamboat Today
Community Ag Alliance
CommunityAg

Water in the West has been a complicated subject for hundreds of years. Every year, a different amount of snowmelt flows downstream from the high country, where most of the water in the Southwest originates. Ancestral cultures of hunting and gathering knew that water, or the lack of it, made for better or worse living. They moved seasonally and abandoned large parts of the West during prolonged droughts. European settlers, farmers and ranchers needed irrigation water for their agricultural culture. Some raised sheep, some cattle, and cultures and uses sometimes clashed. In the American West, eventually, it all comes back to water.

Today’s culture is different. Humans still hunt and gather, but more for recreation than need. We farm and ranch, but buy and sell into a wider market. We also use water to generate electrical power, irrigate lawns and even make snow. After we who live upstream use some water, the rivers flow into Utah, Arizona, California and Mexico, where they use water, too. People differ in their thinking about what the most important use is, where it is and how to protect it.

We have developed a complex set of water and environmental laws to deal with these differences. Not surprisingly, there is still conflict about the rules and how they should be interpreted and enforced. What one person calls use, another calls wasteful. So, in 2005, the state of Colorado created the Basin Roundtables to have a place to discuss water matters. These are organized according to river basin, so discussions occur within a watershed first, then bubble up to statewide negotiations.

The Yampa/White/Green Roundtable has two roles.

The first is to discuss local issues, and the second is to represents our basin in statewide discussions. One of its local objectives is to “develop an integrated system of water use, storage, administration and delivery to reduce water shortages and meet environmental and recreational needs,” in other words, an integrated system of cooperation.

Since the roundtable cannot make or enforce rules, cooperation is its only tool. Working on additional scientific knowledge, legal interpretations and enforcement procedures will be challenging. We’ll need to talk as things are sorted out. Before conflict outpaces cooperation, agreeable solutions are necessary.

How is that going? The Roundtable is made up of irrigators, cities, industry, recreationalists and environmentalists. It helps fund projects such as repairing reservoirs used for irrigation and fishing; repairing historic irrigation systems while improving endangered fish habitat; and creating recreational rafting structures while improving irrigation devices.

It has also been instrumental in getting the desires of the Yampa/White/Green Basin into the Colorado Water Plan, launched by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Importantly, the roundtable is looking to the future environmental health of rivers and the ability to use water in our basin. Cooperation within our watershed and among the other roundtables is important in how the state develops. This forum is leading to cooperation among its members.

Modern society doesn’t move with the seasons, abandon cities or only eat locally anymore. We live in a beautiful place, travel and eat widely.

Really, it all comes back to water.

Kevin McBride is general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.


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