From the DESK OF THE General mANaGER

The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District would like to welcome you to the first quarterly issue of our District newsletter!  We sincerely hope you enjoy it. Our goal is to have interesting and short educational pieces that both engage and inform you and create an opportunity for dialogue within our community around your water values.

Let us know what you think about our newsletter and articles and tell us if there are other water-related topics you’re interested in learning more about by contacting us at  Lastly, a reminder to our water users to complete our short water user survey(s).  We have multiple random prize drawings for gift certificates to local retailers to thank you for sharing your thoughts and values on water uses within the Upper Gunnison basin!

– Sonja Chavez, General Manager

photo by Greg Morin



The Gunnison River Festival is scheduled for August 21 and 22, 2020, and like so many other things this year, it will look a little different because of coronavirus. But, the pandemic will not put a stop to the 17th year of the Festival celebrating the rivers of the Upper Gunnison Basin.


The Festival was born out of a Western State College student project when the white water club organized the first event in 2004. Since then, the River Festival has taken lots of form, including a “Run for the River”, a triathlon, beer gardens, music venues,  and a film festival. Throughout its history, organizers have worked to find the perfect balance between recreating on the rivers and educating locals and visitors about the value of our basin’s rivers and waterways. 


This year, the organizers of the River Festival are committed to delivering a celebration with a local focus that will be a safe and healthy space for everyone involved. Joellen Fonken, Director of the Gunnison River Festival, noted that the constraints imposed by coronavirus may provide a real opportunity to strengthen ties with local partners and focus on the educational mission of the Festival as well as the river events. Traditions like the Taylor River Race will happen like it has for years and River Festival partners like HCCA and the Coal Creek Water Coalition will offer educational events at their own sites to minimize crowding. While the details will all depend on Gunnison County public health orders, some of the ideas in the works include beaver diversion hikes, water safety workshops for kids, and SUP workshops on the Curecanti. 

“The Upper Gunnison District has been a proud sponsor of the Gunnison River Festival since it’s early days. We believe that it is an important annual tradition to celebrate, appreciate, and educate our public about all the benefits our rivers provide to our community.”

Beverly Richards, Water Resource Specialist​

Regardless of the challenges posed by a pandemic, Fonken summed up her feelings about the festival like this, “A group of dedicated people put this festival together to celebrate our rivers. We live at the headwaters of the Colorado River. We have a big responsibility in our stewardship of the rivers in this basin. The festival is a chance to appreciate and enjoy them,  and learn to take care of this precious resource.”  Follow all the details of the Gunnison River Festival at

Photo courtesy, Julie Nania, HCCA
An eroding road (foreground) that has captured a significant portion of the natural creek’s flow (background).



Did you know that 86 percent of the sub-watersheds in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre & Gunnison National Forest (GMUG) are rated in either fair or poor condition with regard to trail and road proximity to water?  Illegal roads in the Taylor River Watershed are impacting watershed health by degrading riparian areas, fragmenting hillsides, increasing erosion, and impacting streams and aquatic dependent habitat.  For a valley that is highly dependent upon tourism supported by the vast amount of public lands that surround us, the health of our watersheds is of critical importance to our community and economy.

That’s why the Upper Gunnison District is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, National Forest Foundation (NFF), and High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) to support the first phase of the Taylor Park Erosion Control and Riparian Restoration Project.  The project includes decommissioning illegal routes by placing boulders, fencing and signage to discourage future use of these areas and educating the public about which routes are open for public use.  “We’re excited to work with the USFS and Upper Gunnison District to start restoring some of the areas in Taylor Park that have been impacted by illegal routes. By ripping and seeding roads and stabilizing eroded crossings we’ll be able to keep more water in the stream and reduce sediment eroding into the stream channel. This makes for happier fish and downstream water users,” says Julie Nania, Water Program Director for HCCA.

So, please stay on designated trails and roads and obey signage and thank you!

gothic field raw water project

The Upper Gunnison District is pleased to announce that we have awarded a $50,000 grant to the Town of Crested Butte for the Gothic Field Raw Water Irrigation Project which will bring untreated water from Coal Creek via the McCormick Ditch to irrigate Gothic Field, a multi-use athletic field located in the Town of Crested Butte.  Gothic Field is currently the only Town athletic field that is irrigated with domestic treated water from the Town’s municipal supply system.  This project will reduce the impact on the Town’s water treatment plant, create healthier grass, and provide annual cost savings by not treating water for irrigation purposes.  During peak times in the summer, the water treatment plant is at maximum capacity and this project will help preserve treated water for consumptive uses. The Town in partnership with Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) hopes to complete the project summer of 2021.  

“The Town has been working with HCCA and WRA since 2015 on multiple projects to protect in-stream flows in Coal Creek.  These projects include piping open sections of the McCormick Ditch, conducting a system-wide irrigation audit, and now bringing raw water to Gothic Field.  We are excited for the culmination of this important work through the Gothic Field Raw Water Irrigation Project.  We are so grateful to the District for helping make this possible” says Janna Hansen, Town of Crested Butte, Parks & Recreation Director


The Upper Gunnison District would like to extend a warm welcome to our new interns! We’re very happy to have Jesse Bryan and Chris Medary, both Master of Environmental Management (MEM) graduate students at Western Colorado University.  Both individuals bring unique skill sets and great energy and will be helping complete many activities of the District including watershed management planning, data gathering, field monitoring and research, and riparian, aquatic, terrestrial, and agricultural irrigation infrastructure assessments.

Jesse Bryan came to Gunnison from the Salt Lake City where he studied at the University of Utah.  He spent many years working with food and wine and has now shifted his focus to natural resource education and helping the environment.  Jesse is a second year MEM student who spent his first year helping Colorado Parks and Wildlife track endangered river fish migration patterns in the Colorado River Basin.  His interests lie in aquatic restoration and his graduate work will likely take place at Coldharbour where he will perform a stream assessment to better understand the hydraulic characteristics of the creek so that future management decisions are restorative and sustainable.  He is also interested in looking at the effects of wetland easements on the macroinvertebrate populations surrounding the ranch.  He currently teaches the River Watch volunteer program on Tomichi Creek.  In his spare time, he loves to backcountry ski, mountain bike, and rock climb, and hopes to continue his graduate studies after Western in watershed sciences.

Originally from Florida, Chris Medary spent the past seven years in Montreal pursuing an education in applied ecology and environmental engineering. He now attends Western Colorado University as an Masters of Environmental Management student with a focus on global sustainability. As a researcher and professional, Chris aims to find integrated solutions to shared environmental problems such as food security, waste, and resource management. Chris brings energy and compassion to all his interactions and genuinely cares about the needs of the communities he serves. He will work on UGRWCD’s watershed management team throughout the summer and into the fall collecting data and collaborating to build a resilient future for our water. 


LEGISLATIVE UPDATE  The General Assembly has now adjourned the 2020 Regular Session, having reconvened after an interrupted session due to coronavirus concerns. CLICK HERE to review the bills supported by the District that were passed and signed into law in this session. 

Job Announcement

Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District

General Manager

Start date December 1, 2019