Summer Newsletter 2021

Summer Newsletter 2021

Sonja Chavez, General Manager


As the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (District), it is not uncommon for me to be asked, “What does the Upper Gunnison District actually do?”  This question always gives me a moment of pause because I’m thinking, “Where do I begin and how do I keep this to a short conversational answer?”  The Board and staff of the District certainly wear many hats, and in this issue of our newsletter, we hope to provide a broader perspective of all of the waters we dip our collective toes into! 

To start, the District was established in 1959 by a vote of area taxpayers.  Our mission is to “be an active leader in all issues affecting the water resources of the Upper Gunnison River Basin.” As a special tax district with funding from property tax revenues, we take our fiscal and statutory responsibilities very seriously.  We are committed to managing and funding effective monitoring, protection and restoration programs in order to maintain high water quality standards as a necessary part of a healthy economy and environment. 

In this summer’s edition of our newsletter, you will learn more about the programs we lead, sponsor and participate in, including augmentation programs, water quantity and quality monitoring, Wet Meadows Restoration and Resiliency, District Grant Program, Gunnison River Festival, Growing Gunnison Water Smart, and the Gunnison Conservation District. 

These are but a sampling of many local programs we are involved in as we also work hard to participate in statewide and federal issues that affect water resources within our basin, on the Western Slope, and within our State.  We make sure that the Upper Gunnison District is a strong and consistent voice guarding against inequitable and unmitigated damage to our water interests.  For instance, my staff and/or I and our General Counsel (attorney) represent water interests and provide technical support on the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group, Upper Colorado River Commission, Colorado Water Congress Federal and State Affairs and Water Quality Committees, Colorado Water Conservation Board Demand Management Technical Work Groups, Governor’s Water Equity Task Force, Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Committee, and Gunnison Basin Roundtable.

As you can see, with all of the hats we wear, there is rarely a dull moment in the water world.  And while we all do our very best to address the water issues of the day, the one thing we can’t do is control Mother Nature.  So, until she decides to pull us out of this cycle of drought, let’s all do our very best to conserve where we can.  Enjoy your summer!

Lawrence and Sun Ditch - before

Summer Newsletter 2021

Summer Newsletter 2021 Sonja Chavez, General Manager FROM THE GENERAL MANAGER As the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (District), it

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Spring Newsletter 2021

Spring Newsletter 2021 Sonja Chavez, General Manager WATCHFUL OF WATER USE Ah…..sunshine, budding trees and greening grass!  You’re not alone if your observation is that

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Spring Newsletter 2021

Spring Newsletter 2021

Sonja Chavez, General Manager


 Ah…..sunshine, budding trees and greening grass!  You’re not alone if your observation is that – we hardly had a winter and this is all happening way too early in the Upper Gunnison basin.  Snowfall was pretty sparse, and our snowpack never really got much above 80 percent of average.  And, I’m having a hard time recalling any really frigid temperatures this winter.  With extremely dry soil conditions persisting, much of the spring runoff will end up going to fill our dry soil profile. Without some healthy and frequent spring and summer rains, our Gunnison water supply forecast predicts streamflow of only 41 to 72 percent of average for the summer and inflow into Blue Mesa Reservoir estimated at 68 percent of average.  Therefore, the District has embarked on an aggressive drought outreach campaign to encourage our residents and visitors alike to enjoy our rivers, streams and reservoirs, but also to be mindful of their water use.  

Very soon, you will start seeing yard signs, posters in restaurants, stickers, reusable shopping bags and water bottles popping up throughout our community with the message “Water. It doesn’t grow on trees.”  This clever slogan was selected from a contest the District held earlier this year (see the Contest Winners article).  It is our hope that this ironic and quirky reminder can help us all be more in-tune with our responsibility to conserve and protect our limited water supplies.

The District’s drought marketing outreach will also encourage businesses, residents and visitors to be mindful of their outdoor and indoor water use.  Some conservation measures are obvious and really easy. For example, visitors can advise hotel housekeeping that they don’t need their towels and sheets to be washed daily.  When enjoying our wonderful local restaurants, advise your waiter that you don’t need a refill of your water glass unless you request it. Don’t let your faucet run when brushing your teeth or shaving and take shorter showers.  

With regard to outdoor water use, did you know that Colorado State University Extension studies have shown that on average Gunnison Basin and Grand Valley residents over-water their lawns by 40 percent?  If you have an automated sprinkler system, ‘don’t just set it and forget it’. Pay attention to local precipitation events and daytime temperatures to determine your outdoor watering needs and water during the coolest times of the day.  If you use a garden hose, use your phone alarm app to remind you to move your water.  As you start to plan for your gardens, flower beds, and even grass, remember we are in a severe drought and our future will most definitely include on-going drought, so plan effectively.  

When in the backcountry, respect any local fire bans, use designated fire rings, and do NOT leave your fires unattended.  Finally, pollution from human waste and trash can have a significant impact on our watershed health so remember to “pack it in and pack it out”.  

If everyone commits to doing their part, we can weather this dry weather!   

Water. It doesn’t grow on trees! So Be An Upper Gunnison Basin Water Hero! 

George Sibley Resigns from UGRWCD Board

George Sibley
George Sibley as the Water Buffalo in “Sonofagunn.” Photo courtesy of the Gunnison Arts Center.

George Sibley was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2006 representing Division 8, the City of Gunnison, and most recently served as Secretary for the District. After nearly 13 years of service, George submitted his resignation to the UGRWCD earlier this year.  George is well-known and well-respected on the Western slope and throughout the state for his commitment to and many years of valuable service on water issues and protecting water users in the Upper Gunnison Basin.  Because of his knowledge, time and effort committed to all things water, George affectionately earned the honorary title of Gunnison’s own “Water Buffalo,” a role he portrayed in many of the annual Sonofagunn productions at the Gunnison Arts Center.

“George will be dearly missed within the water community for the knowledge he brings to the table and for spurring much needed conversations around the water resource challenges we face,” said UGRWCD General Manager Sonja Chavez. “We wish him the very best!”

Here’s to calm waters, George, as you embark on the next phase of life!

Stacy McPhail UGRWCD Board Member Profile

Stacy McFail

Stacy McFailStacy McPhail was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2018 representing the Ohio Creek sub-basin (Division 6).  Stacy currently serves as the Vice President of the Board. Her term expires in 2022.  

Stacy hails from Texas originally, so when she moved to the Gunnison Valley with her husband, Eric, and children in 2006, she saw the contrast when it comes to the importance that water plays in the area. “In Texas, it was not uncommon to get 40 inches of rain in an average year and there was always a concern for flooding,” said Stacy. “Here at the headwaters, I have learned how dependent we are on our rivers and streams to meet our water needs and I want to be a good steward of for all our water interests.”  In particular, Stacy felt she could serve as a voice for agricultural water users in the District, which compelled her to apply for the board vacancy in 2018. 

“One of the messages I hope to convey as a Board member is the importance of water storage in times of drought and population growth,” Stacy said. “It is not just about the storage our reservoirs provide, but also the important role that agricultural irrigation ditches and stream diversions play in slowly releasing that water supply back to the stream system throughout the water year for the benefit of the fishery, drinking water supplies, wildlife habitat, recreation, etc.”

Stacy explained that one of the big challenges that the District faces is the concept of “agricultural demand management,” which involves a water right holder voluntarily and temporarily electing to limit, reduce or completely forego irrigation while being compensated in order to prevent involuntary curtailment. “As a District Board member, I see one of my main roles as actively addressing issues like demand management or any future water policies that might affect or limit the use or function of water in the District.  With our location here at the headwaters, we have to pay attention to the big picture as there are many downstream water users that are affected by policies within the District and the entire State.”   

Stacy also serves as the executive director of the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy (GRCL). Through her work with both the GRCL and the District, she uses her background in production agriculture to collaborate with ranchers and landowners on conservation measures, and “drought” is always a topic of concern.  In agriculture, Stacy says, “You plan for a normal (water) year, but we have yet to have one!”  She feels that dry conditions in the District are likely to be a persistent problem going forward, but believes we have the ability through research and development to adapt to the “new normal” conditions.  Her bigger concern is population growth we are seeing across the state and whether we can adapt quickly enough to enable our water resources to meet growing water needs.  “The scarcity of water resources in the District and in our State will be an ongoing issue.”

Stacy said she is proud of the strides the District has made in the watershed management planning process and feels the measures the District has taken directly address scarcity of water resources.

When not working for the GRCL or District, you’ll find Stacy “mothering” two teenage boys and a teenage goddaughter, along with an array of horses, goats and chickens.  Stacy also enjoys all things outdoors, including hiking, skiing and biking.

“Director McPhail is an invaluable asset to our organization for many reasons, but most importantly because of her strong basin-wide water resource knowledge and work with the agricultural community.  In addition, her leadership and engagement with and support of the entire Watershed Management Planning Team has been a huge lift and we’re so appreciative.”   

Drought Conditions Stay Strong on the Western Slope

Beverly Richards, UGRWCD Water Resource Specialist

As spring runoff begins, water managers on the Western Slope turn to drought predictions for the season and well into the summer.  Drought conditions continue to persist in most of western Colorado and throughout the southwestern United States.  Many areas have continued in or have moved into the exceptional (D4) category and these conditions will likely carry us through the summer and into the fall.

What does this mean for the water resources in the Upper Gunnison River Basin and downstream?  Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 77 percent of average and the snow water equivalent (SWE) is at 12.9” for this time of year.  The peak for SWE usually occurs between April 5 to April 17 and is typically at 14.7” at the peak.  

This means that going into spring runoff, we are below average in both snowpack and SWE.  Add this to the fact that Taylor Park and Blue Mesa Reservoir are currently at 59 and 49 percent of full respectively, conditions this runoff season could continue to deteriorate, though demands will likely stay the same.  The Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting that Blue Mesa Reservoir will only fill to 67 percent full and NRCS forecasts that streamflow will only be 57 percent of average for the season. 

Lack of soil moisture will also add to the problems for water managers this coming water season.  Soil moisture in the  entire state is classified as either the second lowest or record lowest in the 10-year average.  This will have implications on streamflow if the soil profile must be filled first.

The predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are that these drier conditions that are currently being experienced throughout the entire southwestern United States will continue and could result in the most significant drought since 2013.  From April through June, warmer than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation is forecasted to continue, adding to the drier than normal conditions.

The Upper Gunnison District realizes that diminished supplies means special attention MUST be paid to how we manage our water.  We will continue planning for every contingency.  Our mission this year is to get the word out about ways we can all adjust to drought and how we can all be mindful of our water use.   It will take cooperation from everyone within the District to meet all our needs. Be an Upper Gunnison Basin Water Hero!


UGRWCD Announces Contest Winners

Teresa Golden

Top Photo by Teresa Golden

The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) has selected Teresa Golden of Gunnison as the winner of their World Water Day Photo Contest.  Teresa submitted a selection of photos taken in the Gunnison River valley including one of an eagle flying over the Gunnison River, another of two moose in Taylor Reservoir and another of big horn sheep at the river’s edge, to name a few.  Teresa was awarded gift cards to Gene Taylor’s and The Dive in Gunnison.  

World Water Day is celebrated annually on March 22nd and was first held in 1993 as a day of observance by the United Nations focusing on the importance of freshwater worldwide.  Each year a theme is chosen for the day of celebration and this year’s theme is “Valuing Water.”

“Teresa’s photos are beautiful examples of how much we value our reservoirs, rivers and streams in this valley,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager of the UGRWCD. 

The UGRWCD also selected Judy Bratcher of Lake City as the winner of their Drought Slogan Contest.  Judy’s winning submission is “Water, it doesn’t grow on trees!”  Judy’s slogan, along with a new graphic of a tree with water droplets instead of leaves, will be printed on promotional products like yard signs, water bottles, stickers and bags. 

“We all thought Judy’s slogan was a catchy way to get across the point that, water is a limited resource for us and that we can’t behave as it grows on trees,” said Chavez.  “Hopefully, with these messages being posted all over the valley, it will be a regular reminder for us all to be mindful of our water use, especially during this time of drought, and that we can all be Upper Gunnison Water Heroes.”

The UGRWCD will be seeking volunteers to help distribute the products throughout the District later this Spring.  If you’d like to help, please call the District at (970)641-6065

World Water Day 2021


In celebration of World Water Day 2021, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District is hoping you will share your best water-related photos and videos (10 seconds or less) taken in the Gunnison River Basin.  Winners will be selected from a variety of categories, including recreation, agriculture, scenery, and flora and fauna.  Winners will receive $25 gift certificates to area businesses.

World Water Day is celebrated annually on March 22nd and was first held in 1993 as a day of observance by the United Nations focusing on the importance of freshwater worldwide.  Each year a theme is chosen for the day of celebration and this year’s theme is “Valuing Water.”

“We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful area where we have access to fresh water for our daily personal use, agriculture, recreation, industry and so much more.  Over 2.2 billion people in our world are not so fortunate,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. “Along with our efforts to safeguard this critical resource and promote the value of water in our basin, we also want to celebrate what it means to the people of our valley and what better way than through pictures and videos.”

Submissions are due on March 15, 2021 and can be emailed to:  Winning submissions will be posted on and shared with the media beginning on March 22nd for World Water Day and continue throughout the year.  For more information, contact the District at (970)641-6065.

Gallery Option 2

Fall Newsetter


Sonja Chavez, General Manager


Our children are back at school, our local community got through our last big weekend of the 2020 summer tourist season, hunting season is underway…it feels like a good time to reflect on our water year.

Where do I start?… Ah yes, COVID-19.  The number of people escaping the city and coming to our beautiful valley to relax and play in the outdoors – both in our forests and on and around our rivers and lakes – was jaw-dropping.  In my 18 years in this valley, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many tourists.  I think many of us are grateful as our community continues to recover economically.

This year (2020) was a tough year in terms of water availability.  At the end of this spring, we were thankful to have an average snowpack materialize after having such a dry fall 2019 and winter of 2020 (especially January and February).  Unfortunately, dry soil moisture conditions and unseasonably early warm temperatures meant that our water supply was literally disappearing before our very eyes.  Peak flow occurred about two weeks early and quickly fell. Our summer monsoon season was short-lived and modeled inflow forecasts to our reservoirs continued to be revised downward.

Our challenge was to make the best use of what would be a diminishing water supply, while also helping our community get through tough economic and hydrologic times.  We needed to sustain our natural environment, support recreation and agricultural, and preserve enough storage to protect our community against a potential second year of drought in 2021.  Not an easy task when one considers that our recent hydrology has been marked by dramatic and erratic swings from highs to lows.

Our water community is no stranger to drought these past twenty years, so we got to work.  Consider, for example, the role of the Taylor Local Users Group (TLUG). When it became evident that run-off was going to be early and inflow projections were dropping, the TLUG (comprised of the Upper Gunnison District and representatives from each water use community) made a difficult and early recommendation to the Bureau of Reclamation regarding Taylor

Reservoir operational releases.  That decision was to forego “typical” fall releases in order to provide enough water in sufficient quantity and timing for water users – June through August.  It allowed agricultural water users to finish their only hay crop of the season (i.e. they would forego any potential partial second cut and would not put fall water on their fields).  Commercial rafters and anglers were able to make the most of a limited seasonal water supply while overcoming operational challenges due to COVID restrictions.  Our fishery remained healthy as flows were maintained at a level that kept temperatures below the point at which fish start to experience stress during the hottest months of July and August. It required frequent communication among water users and water managers, but above all else, it required a willingness to compromise and sacrifice for the greater good of our entire community. We made it through Labor Day weekend, just barely, and the TLUG represented the community admirably during a very tough hydrologic year.

On another note, our augmentation water supply sources, Meridian Lake (a.k.a. Long Lake) and Lake San Cristobal (LSC) met their designated purposes. Meridian made its annual Instream Flow (ISF) releases in early September to provide supplemental water for the natural environment of the Slate River and LSC (located in Hinsdale County near Lake City) provided Instream Flow (ISF) releases to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison beginning the third week of August when Colorado Parks and Wildlife placed fishing restrictions on the Lake Fork. To learn more about LSC ISF releases, check out our newsletter article, Lake San Cristobal: An Important Drought Response Tool.

While all of the above could be the end of this story, mother nature wasn’t done with us yet!  We saw a foot of wet snow September 8-9 after being in the 80’s only a couple of days prior.  How’s that for a hydrologic ‘swing’?  It certainly brought some needed moisture and helped clear the air of smoke drifting from wildfires on the west coast and in the Grand Junction area, but it also wreaked havoc on our community with downed power lines, damage to homes and personal property, loss of heat, etc.  My children couldn’t believe they were getting a “snow day” from school.  My best to everyone out there still trying to clean-up from the mess and my thanks to our utility workers, public works department, emergency services, etc.

These are just a couple of examples of how our water user representatives, Boards of Directors and our community have come together during both a pandemic, a severe drought, and a huge early snowstorm to support our community.  Water is our life blood.  It starts in the very heart of the Colorado River Basin, right here in the headwaters of the Upper Gunnison. It flows through the veins of this community, sometimes challenging us, but also nurturing and sustaining us, and all that we appreciate and love about our home.

Let’s continue to work together and plan for these challenging times.  Let’s make smart decisions and take actions now that support the responsible use of our existing and future water supplies.

Until next time, please stay safe out there!


Welcome Sue Uerling!


The Upper Gunnison District would like to introduce you to our newest team member, Ms. Sue Uerling.  Sue has assumed the District administrative assistant position previously held by Ms. Beverly “Bev” Richards for 14 years (Bev is now serving as the District’s Water Resource Specialist).  The administrative assistant position is critical to our organization as it serves as our first line of communication with our public, provides critical support to our staff and Board, and most importantly, keeps the cogs of our organizational wheel turning efficiently and effectively.

Sue has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Marketing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has spent the last 30 plus years in a variety of administrative and managerial roles primarily for nonprofit organizations.  Most recently, she worked for Elk Mountain Therapy Associates as the Office Manager.

Previously, she served as the Executive Director of Six Points Evaluation and Training and the Gunnison Arts Center.  She is also a dedicated volunteer and community member servingon various boards and committees.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to learn all about our watershed and water issues,” said Uerling.  “Water is so important to our valley and I’m honored to be part of an organization that supports the responsible care of our existing and future water supplies.”

Sue has lived in the Gunnison valley since 2006 with her husband, Colin, and daughter, Erica, and was recently blessed with her first grandchild. Congratulations!

Welcome Sue!

Lake San Cristobal: An Important Drought Response Tool

In 2011, the Lake San Cristobal Water Activity Enterprise, a partnership between the Town of Lake City, Hinsdale County, and Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, obtained a water right to store 950 acre-feet of water in Lake San Cristobal. (One acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, or enough water to cover one acre of land one foot deep.) The water is stored by means of an outlet structure that controls releases of water from the Lake into the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Under the terms of the water right decree, releases are made to protect water rights that would otherwise be curtailed when a senior water right places a “call” on the Lake Fork. These are called augmentation releases. To obtain this protection, the water right owner must purchase an Augmentation Certificate from the Enterprise. When augmentation releases are not required, the outlet structure maintains the lake at a level which enhances the recreational uses, fishery, and wildlife habitat.

When the water right was decreed, the Enterprise dedicated 200 acre-feet of storage to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be used to protect the natural environment under the CWCB’s senior water right for instream flows in the Lake Fork. This dedication is outlined in a contract between the Enterprise and the CWCB which provides that the CWCB may direct releases of the dedicated water at any rate it deems necessary to protect its instream flow water right.

At the end of August, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) determined that rising water temperatures caused by declining flows in the Lake Fork were having a dramatic effect on the fishery and asked anglers to curtail fishing activity during the hot afternoon. Noting this, Enterprise officials notified the CWCB that its instream flow right was not being met. After consultation with CPW, the CWCB requested that the Enterprise release the dedicated water at the rate of five cubic feet per second (cfs) to maintain the instream flow. The Enterprise complied immediately. As flows in the Lake Fork continued to decline later that week the CWCB requested an increase to eight cfs, and the Enterprise again complied. These releases maintained the instream flow at 35 cfs, the minimum amount necessary to protect the natural environment to a reasonable degree during the hottest and driest period of late August and early September. Under the release schedule, the dedicated water was estimated to last about 13 days.

Once the dedicated water is exhausted, the CWCB will be entitled to place a call on the Lake Fork to protect its senior instream flow water right. The call would require augmentation releases from Lake San Cristobal of approximately 0.3 cfs to protect holders of Augmentation Certificates and curtailment of all other water rights junior in priority to the instream flow right.

The Enterprise has storage in Lake San Cristobal in excess of the amount required to meet the augmentation requirements of Certificate holders. The Enterprise Board of Directors met on August 28, 2020 and determined it would serve the community to make voluntary releases to continue to protect the natural environment in the Lake Fork, if necessary. Based on discussions with the Enterprise Board, the voluntary release would be at 5 cfs.

Gunnison Tomichi Valley Ditch

The Gunnison and Tomichi Valley Association Ditch (GTVA) project was submitted to the District as part of the 2020 District Grant Program.  This project is a collaborative effort between owners of the GTVA ditch, Trout Unlimited, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to replace the irrigation return/sluice gate at the point of diversion.  The ditch delivers irrigation water from the Gunnison River to over 600 acres of grass hay meadow and pasture in both the Gunnison and Tomichi valleys.

The improvements to the GVTA ditch will help to promote the use of well-established Gunnison Valley water rights and will allow better management of irrigation water.  This will provide many benefits to water users such as increased water use efficiency, improved water use management, and reduction of in-channel disturbance and ditch maintenance.  Also, the project will contribute to the maintenance of important pre-compact water rights, provide measures to improve water use efficiency in times when water supplies may diminish, and will help to implement watershed management actions and practices.

Calder Farm and Water Efficiency

Calder Farm is a small family-owned organic vegetable operation that grows two acres of mixed vegetables on the southeast corner of the Van Tuyl Ranch through a lease agreement with the City of Gunnison.

Calder Farm requested funding for their water efficiency project via the District’s 2020 Grant Program process and was funded as a Watershed Management Planning (WMP) Demonstration Project. The project involved upgrading the farm’s drip irrigation system with the intent of expanding cultivated growing areas and improving water efficiency for row crop growing, which is not too common in the upper Gunnison River basin.

Their goal of improving irrigation water use efficiency and expanding their operations through innovative practices including the use of solar energy made this project an ideal candidate for Demonstration Project funding.  The information gained through the process can be used to demonstrate how these methods may be used in other areas of the Upper Gunnison basin.  In addition, Calder Farms provides educational information to local groups about sustainable farming practices for these types of operations.

Photo: Calder Farms Website

UGRWCD Mini-Grant Program 2020

The Upper Gunnison Mini-Grant Program was developed by the District Education Committee and began in 2014.  The grant provides up to $300 for projects that support educating our community about water in our valley.  Over the course of the program, we have had many interesting projects.  These include supporting continuing education and training for teachers in fields related to water, a “Water in the Valley” painting developed by the local elementary and middle school children, a fully functioning water wheel constructed by the industrial arts class at the high school, and the creation of rainstick musical instruments combined with discussion of the water cycle and uses of water.

For 2020, we have received several applications and again they range in diversity.  Coldharbour Institute received funding for an agricultural solar skills workshop where local gardeners and producers were shown the benefits of solar power in their operations.  Gunnison Middle School was awarded funding for supplies and the incorporation of shaded tarps to support learning in their outdoor lab near the Legacy Pond and Deck.  The Crested Butte Community School was awarded funding to expand their ability to further inform students about stream ecology and make connections between ecosystems and the water they use to survive.

Such programs help ensure that the universal benefits of healthy water systems will be passed on to the next generation, maybe inspiring the next generation of water managers, engineers, hydrologists and chemists.  These grants are available to anyone wanting to educate our community about water in the Gunnison Valley so that we can continue to support and maintain the health of our local water systems.  If you have an interesting water education idea, contact Beverly Richards (

Water is Life: Some Local Color

Cheryl Cwelich

5 February 2019

Water connects us to each other, to our natural surroundings, and to life. The beautiful Upper Gunnison river valley boasts numerous rivers, creeks, lakes and more that support this basin’s community and beyond. Here begins a series of stories on our local people, their connection to water and how we can be good stewards and protect it.

Water splashes playfully as it bounds down over timeless granite rocks and waterworn cobbles. Rough and ragged peaks soar high above, the sky taunting them to climb higher than they already are. These are some of the water-towers of the West, collecting precipitation as air masses collide with the Rocky Mountains and push the moist air up against the rocky heights to create clouds, bringing rain and snow. For the Gunnison River valley, most precipitation comes in the form of snow, about 45 inches of snow on average annually. Up in Crested Butte the snowfall is much greater, 217 inches on average annually, which is definitely part of the reason so many locals own snowmobiles. CB receives more than twice as much rainfall than Gunnison at 24 inches a year to Gunni’s 10 inches of annual average precipitation. No wonder Crested Butte is the wildflower capital of Colorado. While these  precipitation numbers aren’t that large, it’s the snowfall amount that makes the skiing so fun, the spring run-off so good for the pastures, and the lingering flow of water so preferable to the trout and Kokanee salmon. We live and play in a mountain waterpark. Have you ever caught that scent of spring in Crested Butte? That sweetness in the air? I have never smelled anything like it anywhere else in the West – it is unique, special… precious. It’s clean air, truly clean air, purified by that splashing water and burst of trees and flowers.   

The Gunnison river is born in Almont, at the convergence of dam-controlled Taylor River, and the free flowing East River out of Crested Butte. A stunning high-alpine creek, the Taylor River is full of fish for the fisherman and thrills for the boaters that comes out of the summit-lined bowl of Taylor Park and Taylor Reservoir. Meandering East River starts at Emerald lake and glistens down through Gothic and gathers Elk Mountain range rivers and creeks, then flows down into the development Crested Butte South, where it meets Cement Creek, and an important tributary, the Slate. The Slate River begins high in the Raggeds Wilderness before making its way through Pittburgh and Crested Butte. It has numerous exciting drops for kayakers, is crucial for wildlife habitat, including blue heron and elk, and brings along Coal Creek before making its way to meet up with the East. In Almont, the rivers meet to create the Gunnison. It shimmers and rambles its way on and picks up Ohio Creek flowing from the Anthracite range, which enriches numerous ranches and farms. The Gunnison River then flows through the town of Gunnison past the soaring Palisades of the West Elk Plateau and past the craggy recreation-lover’s paradise of Hartman Rocks. Just past Hartman’s, the ‘Sunny Gunni’ picks up Tomichi Creek, arguably the river’s largest watershed, and ironically one of the smallest volumes of water, which hosts the waters of the Quartz and Cochetope Creeks. Upon meeting Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Upper Gunnison River spills to its end. 

While the river technically, politically and legally ‘ends’ at Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest reservoir, the waters move on. Here the Blue Mesa takes on Cebolla Creek, as well as the Lake Fork of the Gunnison, a waterway important to ranching, fishing and boating. From the Kokanee salmon and trophy lake-trout filled Blue Mesa, the Gunnison River pours out into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. “The Black,” as it is affectionately called among rock climbers, is one of the steepest and narrowest canyons in North America, some canyon segments receiving only 33 minutes of sunlight a day. The canyon continues into the spectacular Gunnison Gorge, where the river provides days upon days of whitewater fun for rafters and kayakers alike. The Gunnison River makes its way into to the town of Montrose then winds through the sprawling Dominguez Canyon Wilderness of red walls and bulrushes. Fat with sediment and the milk of many streams, the Gunnison River comes into Grand Junction where the river meets the mighty Colorado, there at the confluence providing 40% of the Colorado Rivers volume. Here the Gunnison ‘ends’, but its story continues on in the Colorado and in the lives, habitats, and industries that use it. The river, water, is life.

Of all the water on the planet, only 3% is freshwater, and of that, less than 1% is in rivers and streams. The Gunnison River, the many rivers and creeks that create it, is precious. It is vital to numerous industries, ranching, farming, boating, fishing, even skiing. The Gunnison River provides water to many cities and communities, Crested Butte, Almont, Gunnison, Lake City, Sapinero, Montrose, Grand Junction, and on into the states of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and even into Mexico. In 1959 the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District was created as the agency to deal with the legal side of water projects. Today, the agency handles not only the legal side of water projects and issues, but the financial, political and engineering aspects as well. As a growing population and climate change increase demands on the river, it will be crucial for water managers to be forward-thinking, local-minded and big-picture minded for the decisions they make. It will be just as important that the people who use water, yes, that’s all of us, and you too, make good decisions about water too. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth. Take shorter showers. Use water-efficient appliances. Fix leaky pipes. Water your yard early or late in the day. Want to do more? Volunteer with the Upper Gunnison Wet Meadow Restoration Program and other opportunities to get and enjoy a day doing something good for the valley. Spread the word. Protect our water. 

Water is Life: Who’s Behind the Tap

Cheryl Cwelich

01 March 2018

Water connects us to each other, to our natural surroundings, and to life. The beautiful Upper Gunnison River Valley boasts numerous rivers, creeks, lakes and more that support this basin’s community and beyond. This piece on municipal water use continues a series of stories on our local people, their connection to water and how we can be good stewards to protect it.

Metal pipes and fittings emerge from the ground, bending here and there, a couple handwheels and levers show how the flow is directed. It reminds me of the old computer game, Pipe Mania, where one would lay pipe in the area provided before a water surge could overcome the fittings. But here in the real world, these angled arms and control valves are part of a City of Gunnison Wheelhouse where domestic water comes from one of the city’s nine wells. Water comes out of ground through a submersible pump, through tubes and filters, and goes directly into the city’s distribution system at approximately 260 gallons per minute.

Gunnison receives the majority of its water from ground water, an alluvial aquifer, but also supplements some water consumption through irrigation ditches from the Gunnison River. This irrigation water is not treated, so it isn’t potable water, and is used by homeowners for watering lawns, gardens and flowerbeds. These open water ditches, or as Western students might call them, “freshmen ditches,” are a unique system of water distribution that isn’t prevalent in other cities, and run throughout town, on most streets. The main city ditch runs 5 miles long, and at the community center, the ditch splits into a portion for use by the college, and the rest is diverted for residents. Anybody that has a ditch running through their property can get a pump to use the flowing water, though digging across the ditch is not allowed, and people would have to get a pipe. These city irrigation ditches are a way to “save” treated water from being used to water a lawn or garden, and help with conservation efforts by city managers.


It is a system that requires careful monitoring and management. One of the caretakers, who monitors the system and visits each wheelhouse almost everyday, is Water Operator Daren Glover. He works for the City of Gunnison’s Public Works Department, which is tasks with providing potable water to the community, among others duties. The Department is responsible for maintaining all domestic water distribution, water quality monitoring and metering, managing storm drainage, running the entire collections or sewage system, along with overseeing Gunnison’s 25 miles of irrigation ditches. There is one responsibility that stands out from the others, as Daren asserts that “Public Safety is the number one concern here.” The water that comes into the wheelhouse doesn’t need a lot of treatment. As Daren says, Gunnison is “blessed with high quality water.” The only element prevalent in Gunnison water is calcium, which is typical of ground water. While contamination isn’t a huge threat as in other states and areas, it is the goal of Public Works to not ever let that happen. “I enjoy the fact that our everyday actions affect the entirety of the town. All of our hard work is often time gone completely unnoticed when people turn on their tap. Being able to supply an extraordinary service without people having to worry about the quality.” Our ability to turn a faucet, and not worry about quality, is something we as a community all benefit from, and is a great privilege provided by people like Daren.

Having grown up in Gunnison, Daren has a deep love of the valley. Water is a way of life for him, and is more than just his position with Public Works; he is also an avid fisherman, kayaker and hockey player. While he spent ten years away from Gunnison working in the outdoor sporting goods industry, three years ago he committed to changing careers so he could come back. Daren heard about the open Meter Reader position from a friend, and was excited to learn the ins and outs. In the beginning, it took him two and a half weeks to read all the meters, now it takes him only three days. Gunnison has a unique metering system, with three different types of water meters: manual, Trace meters, and an Orion system. Manually reading a meter is as time intensive as it sounds, whereas the Trace meter uses radio waves to transmit data, and the Orion system offers additional analytics. Today, Daren’s job has transformed from just needing a CDL and reading the meters, to an array of responsibilities. One of Daren’s recent projects includes streamlining and upgrading the SCADA computer system used to run the well water system. This upgrade will give the Gunnison water managers more capabilities for controls and reporting. “With this upgrade I am building a reporting system I hope will place us as industry leaders in monitoring our water well health, well pump health, and historical data on our aquifer to justify future decisions for our distribution system.” Hard work, foresight and determination have made Daren a valuable asset to Public Works. He hopes that these kinds of upgrades and hard work between community members to understand different perspectives will inspire good decisions to protect the Gunnison watershed he works for and loves.

Daren is but only one of a few Meter Readers and Water Operators of our small mountain community. He has a wide variety of responsibilities including fixing water leaks, flushing fire hydrants, treating water, plowing snow, maintaining the ditches, and putting in new sewer systems. This diversity of work is something Daren deeply enjoys, calling himself, a “jack-of-all-trades.” He and his co-workers also do all of the well work, replacing or rehabbing the wells through influencing the aquifer to refresh the well, and put the new or old motor and pump back in. Looking towards the future and pondering the needs of the water system, Daren comments, “One thing that seems to stand out in my mind is two part; public education about water, water quality and water sources, and the recruitment within the water industry. There seems to be a very aged and dwindling labor source for this field.” It is surprising that, in a time of dynamic population growth and climate change, more people aren’t interested in water jobs. Further, water education seems imperative to any resident of an arid Western town such a Gunnison. Yet it does seem that when we turn on a water faucet, we don’t think about where that water comes from, how it got to our tap, and the people that made that possible.     

2019 Grant Recipient: Cottonwood Pass Vault Toilet

This project is a joint effort between Gunnison Angling Society, Trout Unlimited, U.S. Forest Service, Gunnison Valley OHV Alliance of Trailriders (GOATS), National Forest Foundation and High Country Conservation Advocates. The vault toilet would be installed near the Cottonwood Pass summit in the headwaters of the Taylor River basin. Cottonwood Pass Road is scheduled to be completed in 2019, resulting in a continuously paved road from Almont to Buena Vista. Traffic in this area is expected to increase dramatically, and without a toilet near the summit, increased E. coli levels from human waste would adversely affect water quality in the Taylor River watershed. Signage recognizing the UGRWCD contribution will be installed at the project site.

Food for the Future

Food for thought: Water is lifeWater connects us to each other, to our natural surroundings, and to life. The beautiful Upper Gunnison River Valley boasts numerous rivers, creeks, lakes and more that support this basin’s community and beyond. This piece on ranching continues a series of stories on our local people, their connection to water, and how we can be good stewards to protect it.

Swells and folds of sagebrush mounts stretch on mile after mile. Nearby Signal Peak rises to keep watch over the Gunnison River valley, looking out across to the ragged Anthracite range and solitary Carbon Peak that shimmer white in the northwestern distance. From the base of these shrubbed arid hills, rich, green fields of hay reach out towards the Gunnison River. Furry brown bodies, furry black ones, some solid, some their faces splotched with white, dot the land as they nibble down the hay. Here sits Cranor Ranch, home to Hannah Cranor, a third-generation rancher.

Hannah grew up here in Gunnison, helping her family on the ranch, falling in love with both the land and animals. She was a 4-H member for 11 years, showing chickens, steers and more. You can almost feel the warmth as Hannah glowingly talks about her work, “I love working with the animals. I also love that everyone is so willing to help each other. You can’t find people more willing to help than fellow ranchers!”

In 2016, Hannah was the Gunnison Cattlemen’s Days Queen, with hardworking spirit and love for the ranching community, it’s easy to see why. It is a strong tie between Hannah and the land she grew up on. After receiving a degree in Farm and Ranch Management from the University of Wyoming, Hannah returned to Gunnison to continue working on her family’s ranch, explaining “Staying in agriculture was a natural choice for me.” This is the case for many ranchers in the Upper Gunnison River Valley; they grew up here, their fathers and grandmothers bled and thrived here. They understand the land, they understand the forces that act upon it: rain, snow, erosion, drought and more. Ranchers, farmers are invested in the land, not just monetarily, but generationally and relationally.

In the late 1800s, gold mining and the resulting railroads in Gunnison gave rise to white settlements, which relied on European agricultural practices, but the short growing season and limited rainfall were bad for farming. The climate was (and is) cold as Gunnison sits in the mountains in just such a way that keeps the valley one of the coldest areas in Colorado. This leads to more snowfall than rainfall, about 90% of annual precipitation arrives in the form of snowfall. Cattle and haying became the crops of choice, and ranching in the Gunnison River Valley took hold. Ditches were dug to bring water from the snowmelt-rich Gunnison River to the surrounding hay fields to support the cattle crop.

Today, ranching remains one of the major forms of industry in the valley. As in the days of old, the Cranor Ranch raises cattle and hay. Hannah explains, “We raise cattle and hay, so to me, water is everything. We used it all summer to produce both our cattle and our hay. The water we have in this valley is what makes it amazing and helps us keep the wide-open views that attract so many visitors.” Ranchers have become a common-sense kind of people, they have to be with the way the land has taught them. They know the value of water, what it can do, and what the lack of it will also do.

Agriculture is a contentious topic in water policy and conservation, almost dangerous to bring up around one group or another. Of consumptive use, Upper Gunnison agriculture soaks up 92% of water resources, whereas agriculture statewide uses 85%. When it comes to talking about reducing water use, it is easy to see why farming and ranching might ‘have a target on their back.” Yet it is apparently easy to forget where our food comes from as well.

For a rancher like Hannah, it is clear to see what is truly important: “I think there needs to be a focus on truly considering the water use between municipalities and agriculture. It is important to consider how our water can best be used – especially in a drought situation. We need to bring our focus to what is truly important – do we focus on green lawns in a municipality or do we focus on producing food for our neighbors. It is hard to limit anyone’s water, but I think we need to fully look at the big picture in years with limited water, or even in areas with limited water.”

Municipal water use is not as demanding as agriculture, yet many municipal uses can be ascribed to aesthetic purposes such as green lawns. Lawns seem like folly during a period of prolonged drought. The key is getting different users together to understand each other better and make better long-term choices, something that Hannah deeply hopes for, “I believe all water users need to sit down and talk! It is so important to understand the other side of anything and to sit down and discuss the pros and cons. I think it would help all water users understand other users.”

In 2018, the Cranor family decided to protect their land through a conservation easement with the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy. A conservation easement preserves land, water and/or other resources to specified conservation objectives, such as maintaining water quality, improving wildlife habitat, ensuring the prospect for sustainable agriculture and more. Most often if prohibits land development for real estate or subdivision. Once designated, the easement remains with the land, regardless of change of title. It does not restrain current of future landowners from land-use, though practices must be kept within the conservation objectives. The Cranor Ranch is still a working ranch, their easement protects that work, while at the same time protecting for Gunnison Sage-grouse habitat.

The Cranor family is intimately aware of environmental issues on their ranch and challenges that face the watershed with prolonged drought and climate change. “My dad and I work together to ensure that our irrigating does the most good possible. Flood irrigating is so beneficial to the watershed, and ensuring we move sets and use that water as efficiently as possible is one of our biggest concerns.”

Hannah Cranor and her family know this land, have lived here many generations, and are concerned for its well-being. Whether environmentalist, farmer, recreationist, tourist, or rancher, we all want to see this landscape preserved into the future. All we have to do it talk, listen, and respect another’s point of view. Agriculture doesn’t have to be contentious, it is an opportunity to work together for a better future.


Cheryl Cwelich

Class C Agreement Packet

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Glossary of Terms

The loss of all or part of a water right due to non-use or the failure to prove diligence on a conditional water right resulting in the loss of the right and its placeholder status relative to other water rights.

A water right that is granted permanent status when water has been physically diverted or controlled and put to beneficial use.

A volume of water equal to one foot in depth covering an area of one acre, or 43,560 cubic feet. This is equal to approximately 325,851 gallons.

A judicial process through which the existence of a water right is confirmed by court decree.

The action taken by the State Engineer’s Office when there is not enough water physically available to meet the demands of all water rights holders within a river basin.

The right to take water from a natural stream or aquifer for beneficial use at a specified rate of flow, either for immediate use or to store for late use.

An underground layer of sand, gravel or rock through which water can pass and is stored. These supply the water for wells and springs and may be alluvial or nontributary in nature.

A court-approved plan that allows a water user to divert water out of priority so long as adequate replacement is made to the affected stream system and water right in quantities and at times so as to prevent injury to the water rights of other users.

Lawful and prudent use of water that has been diverted from a stream or aquifer for human or natural benefit.

The exercise by a senior water right holder of “calling” for his water rights, requiring junior water right holders to allow water to pass to the senior right holder.

This is a contract between Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California that was authorized by Congress in 1922 which controls the division of water from the Colorado River.

The CWCB was created by the Colorado legislature in 1937. This board is comprised of 10 voting member who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate as well as 5 non-voting members. The CWCB’s mission is to “conserve, develop, protect, and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generation.”

The legal preservation of a priority date that provides a water user time to develop a water right while reserving a more senior date. This becomes an absolute right when the water is actually put to beneficial use.

Any use of water that permanently removes it from a natural stream system.

This documents the physical diversion and consumptive use of a water right over a period of time.

One cubic foot of water passing by a single point for one second. This is a standard unit of measure for water flowing in rivers and streams.

An official document issued by the court defining the priority, amount, use and location of a water right.

Reductions of water usage, accomplished either through temporary measures such as restrictions during a drought, or through long-term conservation programs.

This is the effort accomplished by a conditional water right holder to physically use water for a beneficial purpose, thereby perfecting the water right and making it absolute. Diligence must be proven to the court every six years in order for the conditional water right to remain active and secure its decree date.

Water diverted from a river or stream for use without interruption between diversion and use except for incidental purposes.

The removal or controlling of water from its natural course or location by means of a ditch, canal, flume, reservoir, bypass, pipeline, conduit, well, pump or other device.

A long-period of below-average precipitation.

The amount of water that through careful management and use is reasonably required to be applied to a tract of land for a length of time that is adequate to produce the maximum amount of the crops that are ordinarily grown there.

An indicator of the well-being and natural condition of ecosystems and their functions. These indicators are influenced by natural changes in environmental conditions. Increasingly ecosystems are being affected by environmental stressors associated with human activities.

A process by which water, under certain conditions, may be diverted out of priority at one point by replacing a like amount of water at a downstream location.

A sloped channel that is utilized to convey water and is commonly constructed of wood or concrete.

Relating to the form of the landscape and other natural features of the earth’s surface.

Any water that exists beneath the Earth’s surface

A structure that controls the amount of water entering a diversion

The act of depriving a senior water right holder of their full water right.

Water flowing in a natural stream bed or water required for maintaining stream flow or riparian habitat.

Water rights that were obtained more recently and therefore are junior in priority to older or more senior rights.

A needs assessment is a systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions.

The water demand that is expected to occur in the future after reductions for natural replacement and conservation.

Water draw for use that is not consumed, such as water diverted for hydroelectric generation.

Underground water in an aquifer that neither draws from nor contributes to a natural surface stream in any measurable degree.

A stream or a river is over-appropriated when it does not have enough water to meet the needs of all the water rights holders.

This is water that does not contain pollution, contamination, objectionable minerals or infective agents and is considered safe for domestic consumption.

The water law doctrine that confers priority to use water from natural streams based upon when the water rights were acquired.

The right of a senior water rights holder to divert from a natural stream before junior water rights holders.

The date a water right is established and is assigned by the water court.

A quantified amount of water is permitted to remain in the stream for recreational uses and will be protected from other uses that would diminish the decreed flow under the priority system. Kayak and other whitewater recreation course are the most popular forms of RICDs.

An impoundment to collect and store water.

Water that returns to a stream after it has been used.

Any portion of land that borders a natural water course. These areas can be sensitive ecosystems hosting species of plants and animals that are dependent upon this type of environment.

Water that flows on the surface of the Earth into streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

The process by which an organization involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes or can influence the implementation of its decisions.

The voluntary relinquishment of a water right’s priority to selected or all junior water rights.

Water located on the Earth’s surface.

A decision-making concept describing development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations.

The amount of water lost as it flows from one place to another. This can occur from evaporation, seepage into the streambed, and uptake by vegetation in the riparian area, among other things.

The removal and transport of water across the Continental Divide. These diversions are 100% consumptive use as no water is returned to the basin of origin as return flow.

A stream or river that flows into a larger stream or river.

The area from which water drains by gravity into a water course.

Water that is below the Earth’s surface that is physically or hydrologically connected to natural stream water so as to affect its flow whether in movement to or from that stream.

A property right to make beneficial use of a particular amount of water with a specified priority date.

Areas of standing water or a high-water table that under normal circumstances support vegetation typically adapted to saturated soil conditions. These generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and areas with vegetation that grows in or around water.

Is the percentage of water supplied to the plant that is effectively taken up by the plant that was not lost to drainage, bare soil evaporation or interception.

A systematic approach for monitoring and protecting the ecological health of a river’s watershed.

The land area, or catchment, that contributes water to a specific water body. All the rain or snow that falls within this area flows to the water bodies as surface runoff, in tributary streams, or as groundwater.

We value our Valley’s ranching and recreational community that thrives in an incredible natural setting which contributes to our spiritual wellbeing and promotes a commitment to environmental stewardship.

Ag Venture Day

Ag Venture Day

Spring is the time that the grass begins to grow, and the cows start calving. In Gunnison, Colo., spring is also the time to teach local students about agriculture firsthand. Through the small animal show and Ag Venture Day, students got to learn first hand what agriculture is all about.

The small animal show was held on April 16, and was put together by the Gunnison Valley Cattlewomen. The Gunnison FFA chapter volunteered at the event, and nearly 600 students attended the event.

“The purpose of this event was to get kids to appreciate the animals they are around. A lot of kids don’t know what these animals are for. We had one young man that said when this animal turns into meat, will it be chicken, pork or fish? That’s the kind of stuff we are dealing with. People don’t realize cows have to be milked in order to have milk for them to drink,” said LaDonna McLain, the organizer for the show.

The show has been an annual event in Gunnison since the 1960s, and McLain has organized it since the 1980s.

At the show, students from the ages of pre-school through second graders got to see and learn about draft horses, full size horses and a foal, miniature horses, dairy cows, beef cows and a calf, pigs, chickens, rabbits, ducks, goats, sheep, puppies and kittens.

The students were broken into groups and went to each station to learn about each animal, and how they are used on the farm. FFA members were stationed at each booth to teach the children about the differences in the animals.

“We put one FFA kid with each of the animals to explain to the kids what they are and show and tell what they are and what they do,” said McLain.

The event also had a station with a local rancher, Lee Spann. Spann talked about what it is like to be a rancher. “One of the things he highlighted was at one time we had 30,000 head in this area, and now we are down to 6,000. He also talked about managing the cattle, and what he does for them every day. He was very down to earth and he related to the kids,” she said.

Each student was given a bag with information on beef, a cookie, a gummy worm, which is a beef byproduct, and coloring books that talked about agriculture.

“We are really promoting beef, but we want them to have experience with everything. People don’t know where eggs come from. They think it comes from the grocery store. If you work with the little kids, they will be better adults when they get there. You have to show them where their food comes from,” explained McLain.

One of the students to help with the event was Tyler Haas, a junior at Gunnison High School and a FFA member.

“We scattered around the livestock and went over all different things with the kids. We really enjoy working with the cattlewomen on this. It’s a highlight community service project that we do each year. We are just going over the basics with the kids. One of the questions I was asked was what kind of a milk comes out of a colored cow. We had to explain to the kids that there’s a difference, but we won’t get chocolate milk. We also helped to explain the difference between a dairy and a beef cow,” Haas said.

He added, “I helped with the beef stage. I went over the differences phases of the cattle industry including branding, calving, and summer grazing on pasture. It’s a big deal for the FFA and we look forward to it each year.”

The beef cattle that were at the event belonged to Haas, who started his own business called Haas Show Cattle. He currently has 13 head of cattle, and hopes to continue raising cattle, even after high school.

Haas also helped at the Ag Venture Day which was help on April 17 at the W-Mountain ranch near Gunnison. A total of 550 students and their teachers arrived at the ranch, where they unloaded into a set of cattle pens.

“Ag Venture day for Gunnison County kids is an annual affair, but this year they had no idea they were going to be educated by walking the actual footsteps of a rancher, or rather the footsteps of a cow,” said Eric McPhail, Gunnison County Director for Colorado State University Extension.

“CSU Extension has always been a leader in agricultural education, from agents teaching kids about 4-H livestock projects to teaching the producers about land management. However, this day was different, and it was evident from the smiles on all the kids’ faces,” he said.

On Ag Venture day, students were again broken down into groups, where they traveled from station to station, learning about the different parts of a live, working ranch.

One of the stations was taught by McPhail, who talked about cattle marketing and transportation. The kids went through the system as if they were the calves. The girls and boys were separated into pens of steers and heifers, and then weighed on a large cattle scale.

“Then it was through the rickety gates and manure to the ring, where the kids were auctioned off to the highest bidder and heard the actual sounds of a livestock auctioneer,” he said.

Through this process, McPhail talked about the educational side of how they are marketed. “Cattle are sold by the pound by either public or private treaties. If a calf brings a dollar, that doesn’t mean that it only brings a dollar. Scales have to be certified and a state policeman checks to make sure. The boys enjoyed learning that they typically bring more money than the girls; however, their boasting was short, as they learned they typically don’t live as long as the girls,” he explained.

After that, the students were brought up the chute into a semi cattle trailer, where they got to see how the inside works and how the cattle are transported. “Truly, it was an experience for the kids, but also for their teachers, as very few had ever been that close to a cattle trailer, much less inside of one,” he said.

Stations like this one helped the students to get a first hand experience of what it is like for a cow. “The kids had fun and learned a tremendous amount about our local cattle ranchers, how their life isn’t all glamour, and everyone came away with a bit more respect for the rancher and his love for animals,” McPhail said.

Other stations included branding, taught by a local brand inspector; cattle grazing for land conservation, taught by a local USFS manager; rancher equipment and working lifestyles, taught by local ranchers; and food, taught by extension 4-H agent Nadine Henry.

Haas also volunteer at Ag Venture day, and taught a station about grazing. “We were trying to get out the message that we are here on the high mountain pastures, so we need to protect them so we can use it every year. Sometimes it hard because it’s human instinct for people to think something and just go with it, so events like this are really important because it teaches people what really happens,” Haas said.

McPhail agrees that teaching students is vitally important. He said, “Agriculture is the oldest and debatably the most important industry in America, but yet kids today know nothing about it. Honestly, most adults are so far removed from ag, that they need educating also. However, our kids are the ones going to be feeding the world in a few years. Kids need to know where our food comes from, and this is one industry that needs to be shown to kids, not just told from a story book, so that they can make their own informed decisions in the future.”

Water is Life: Recreation on the River

“Water is Life: Recreation on the River”

Cheryl Cwelich

22 January 2019

Snow crunches underfoot, as we follow the trail around the riverbanks of Gunnison’s Whitewater Park, just west of Gunnison off Highway 50. Layla, a playful black lab bounces around through the mounds of white, occasionally venturing too close to the ice and water’s edge for her human companion, Paul Raymond, as he talks about his love of water and boating. “Water is unique in that it is one of the few liquids that expands when frozen,” Paul explains as we make our way through slender winter willows. “I love natural science, I’m kind of a nerd.”

Paul Raymond’s sandy beard matches his deep voice and big paddler shoulders – a rough and ready kind of guy, not a typical “nerd.” Wearing a pair of Western’s red and black shades, he fits the position as President of Western Colorado University’s Whitewater Club well. Since he was a youngster, Raymond has been in love with water, learning to kayak at ten years old at a summer camp, instructing at fifteen, and competing as a class V boater at sixteen. “As I always say, water is life.” Our conversation meanders through the challenges and highlights of boating, with him nearly even drowning once, though he has never let that hold him back from being on the water. Boating, like any recreational activity, has the potential to push you or even be scary. Paul keeps going. 

We continue to follow Layla tracks in the snow at the Whitewater Park; thinking of waves, boats and paddles. A Western Recreation and Outdoor Education student in 2002, saw the potential for a play area for boaters, and in 2003 the Whitewater Park was developed. The first drop feature in the Whitewater Park, one of the newest water rights on the Gunnison River, also raises the level of the water to the headgate of the ‘75 Ditch,’ the oldest water right on the Gunnison River, ending the necessity to put a bulldozer in the river every summer to create a partial dam to raise the level. That new water right held by the upper Gunnison District, is a Recreational In-Channel Diversion (RICD), which allows for a certain amount of flow in the river for recreational purposes. This makes the Whitewater Park, site of the annual Gunnison River Festival in June, possible. It has become a hub for people looking to get outside, surf a wave, sunbathe in the autumn sun or walk their inquisitive and frisky dog in the crisp of January.

Boating for Paul Raymond goes far beyond the Whitewater Park, something he uses mostly for meeting up with buddies and instructing. When the spring runoff comes, he is up paddling in the mountain creeks. The Gunnison Basin is unique for its array of boatable creeks and streams, a testament to its usually enviable snowpack. Passionate and excited, Paul talks about different creeks, particularly the Slate River and the Oh Be Joyful Race, which brought him to Colorado in 2012. An avid kayaker then and now, he saw a video that had been posted online of some dudes sending it on the Oh Be Joyful waterfall during the race and Paul knew that he had to experience it for himself. “OBJ is a classic, and classic meaning that it’s the best of its kind.” For Raymond, it’s the kind of boating worth sticking around for. These days he is the Coordinator of the Oh Be Joyful Race, which help to educate the public on water issues and donates to a local non-profit conservation group.

At the end of this semester, Paul will be graduating from Western Colorado University with a degree in Recreation and Outdoor Education. He is looking forward to graduation, and he is hopeful for good water flows for the OBJ race this year. Last year, there was not a race due to low flows. Paul doesn’t worry too much about the future of water, trusting water managers to do what they do best, though it does concern him that water users can become too divided rather than work together. He also hopes to see science help in the development of reclamation and conversation efforts, especially for agricultural uses, which has the highest use of water. Considering how to bring water users together, Paul offers, “I think well organized and open discussion about water science, use, management, and planning are crucial to making sure that every group is represented and has their needs met.” Entering DU’s Sturm College for Law this upcoming fall, Paul will be facilitating many of those kind of conversations. For now, walking around the snowy banks of the Gunnison Whitewater Park, we, and a very happy black dog, hope that the snow keeps falling.

From the chilly banks of the Whitewater Park, I find myself inside the warm, wood cabin-style boathouse on West Tomichi Avenue, Carollyn Cherry, a kind-hearted and perceptive owner and manager of Scenic River Tours, smiles at me brightly. This boathouse sings of the countless visitors who have had the privilege of floating down the Gunnison River, SUPPing Blue Mesa… or experienced the thrill and rapids of Taylor Canyon. Old canoes from the Gunnison Gorge and maps from years previous speak to the depth of knowledge and skill of her and the SRT guides. Faces smiling and surprised in photos speak of guides, friends and companions here and gone with love, affection and nostalgia. As her surroundings show, Carollyn works in the recreation industry because she deeply loves outdoor recreation. Listing off her different favorites, she recounts: “Skiing, rafting, fishing, hunting, sailing, hiking, biking, climbing – Whatever you can name. I mean, where do you stop?!” she asks, laughing merrily.

Carollyn has lived and worked in the Upper Gunnison Valley for thirty years. After graduating from North Dakota State University, Carollyn saw an ad for CBMR’s former student program and decided to come out and ski for a winter. Like countless others in this area, that one winter turned into many and she never left. “I realized I could work outside and make a living.” Recreation has become her way of life; she and her co-owners, Ches Russel and Dustin Brown, have followed and made their passion for the outdoors their livelihood.

As the owner of a rafting business, water is a way of life. Giggling gleefully, she talks about how much she enjoys being on the river in her ducky “The river takes you places you can’t get otherwise.” As a lover of nature, water is life, flowing through everything, from the faucet, to the ditch, through the animals, such as bear, bobcat and elk, Carollyn loves to watch out her back door, and through to the river on which she plays and makes a living. For her, “water is a powerful thing, “it is all-encompassing, in every aspect of life.”

Looking into the future of water is unsettling. Climate change projections show a 10-25% decrease in average annual runoff. This is something that worries Carollyn, wishing we could prevent climate change. Hopeful with the snowy winter, Carollyn wonders if Mother Nature will be gracious and give us more water for the season ahead. She knows we need to listen to the Earth -“We are seeing weird things in the woods. There’s marmots in Almont and pika are at lower elevations that I’ve ever seen. We need to listen to the Earth.”

Being a business that relies on water flow, Scenic needs consistent water flows during the rafting season to stay in business. That could change with both climate and those in power. In order to deal with the effects of climate change on water patterns and a growing population, a demand management program on our rivers are being considered by seven Colorado River states. Demand management could mean reductions, voluntary or mandatory for consumptive users; the recreation community will benefit from the program, since it will leave water in the streams. Carollyn is very aware of the DCP, having attending many Water Congress meetings, outdoor recreation conventions and seeing articles in the local newspaper. With a state that is already “plumbed,” she sees the need for more, and intuitive water management. In a water-hungry world and future, her worry is, “the influence of power and money in decision-making.”

Carrolyn deeply appreciates the way the District manages water flow and works with every entity, including Scenic and the overall boating community, in the watershed management conversation. In her mind, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District is doing a great job juggling different interests. “They are making a difference in how water is managed.”

Water is life. It makes us, sustains us; it connects us to one another and to our home. We play in it, are challenged by it and use it in one way or another to making a living. Recreation isn’t just something the young kids and tourists do; we all do it in one form or another. Like water, recreating and playing are necessary to life. People like Carollyn re-create their lives around water in the upper Gunnison Valley. Fortunately, we have water managers in the Gunnison Basin that have made recreation apart of the water management conversation. Let’s keep that conversation going.

Get involved in water conservation by clicking here! We want to talk to you.

Strategic Management Plan

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RICD Decree 2006

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Consumptive Use Worksheet

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Gunnison River Festival


Due to our amazing snowpack, the 16th Annual Gunnison River Festival will take place over 2 weekends!  All Whitewater Park events have been rescheduled for Saturday, August 24.  I Bar Pearl Jam concert, Taylor River Downriver races, I Bar/World Tour Paddling Filmfest and South Main Block Party are on!  

For more information contact Joellen, 970-275-3516.  

Celebrating our rivers in Gunnison County.  Education-Participation-Competitions.