REASONS FOR HOPE!
FROM THE GENERAL MANAGER
I’m happy to report that it’s still snowing this year as I turned the calendar to another week in February! In fact, as of mid-February, our snowpack in the Upper Gunnison River Basin is averaging just over 120 percent of normal for this time of year. If you’ll recall last year, during the last two weeks of December 2021, the Upper Gunnison Basin received over 100 inches of snow in much of the mountains! And then, sadly, it just stopped, and the 2022 snowpack melted fast with warm spring weather and dust on snow events. If the long-term weather forecast is correct for 2023, it looks like we have some pretty good chances for more snow pretty regularly into April. Wouldn’t that be a nice change!
A good snowpack will benefit our basin and help Blue Mesa Reservoir. Right now, the Bureau of Reclamation is predicting Blue Mesa Reservoir will fill to 71 percent at its peak in 2023 and finish the year at 55 percent of capacity, nearly double of year-end 2022. Three weeks of snow storms in California, specifically in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which provide 1/3 of the overall water supply for the state, have helped ease drought conditions Unfortunately, Lake Powell and Lake Mead have not been the benefactors of most of that.
When we talk about climate change and water shortages, it is easy to be overcome by a sense of hopelessness. I am here to tell you that there are many reasons for hope as you will read in this newsletter. The Board Member Profile on Rosemary Carroll highlights the significant research on hydrology being conducted in our basin. The article about the District grant program, where we are poised to award up to $300,000 on water projects that help improve efficiency, resiliency, and water quality provides something to get excited about. And as Director Carroll notes in her comments, it is going to take EVERYONE getting involved on some level, whether that be by practicing or improving on your own water conservation, getting involved in critical water initiatives within our county, state and country, or volunteering with our District’s Wet Meadows program to carry out restoration projects. Most importantly, it is crucial that everyone keeps abreast of the latest policy changes and legislation and educates themselves on the science behind our watershed and climate change and what current data is fueling the need for change.
Part of the District’s mission is to be a leader in acquiring and assimilating the latest data to share both with our Board of Directors and stakeholders. One way we do this is through financial support of research being carried out by partners. Another is by commissioning or leading studies of specific importance to our constituents or that help with our water management. As an example, because there are so many concerns about wildfires and their effect on watershed health and public safety, the District elected to fund an assessment conducted by J W Associates, Inc. titled “Wildfire Watershed Hazard Assessment” and an accompanying document titled “Zones of Concern.” This assessment was conducted right here in the Upper Gunnison Basin and provides a wealth of data already being accessed and utilized by a wide variety of government entities, in the basin. We encourage you to read the reports in full. You can access via our website homepage at www.ugrwcd.org. In addition, you can find a lot of information about our watershed by reading other articles on the website and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Pivoting to state news, on January 23, 2023, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) finalized the 2023 Colorado Water Plan. The Water Plan provides a comprehensive framework to guide collaborative action from water partners, agencies, and Coloradans. From securing supplies that provide safe drinking water to improving farm irrigation to rehabilitating streams, this new version includes key actions to contribute to a stronger, more water-resilient Colorado. Colorado Governor Jared Polis advocated for approval of $17 million this year to kick-start local-level implementation of the Water Plan and is proposing $25.2 million in the 2023-24 budget for grants, which support statewide water projects. The District will be assisting a variety of partners in acquiring these grant funds. (For more on the 2023 Colorado Water Plan, please use this link: https://cwcb.colorado.gov/colorado-water-plan)
Finally, I am sure you have seen in the news recently that the US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) called on the seven states that use water from the Colorado River and its tributaries to conserve two to four million acre-feet of water to protect levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. So far, it has been challenging to get the seven states to come to a consensus on how best to meet BOR’s call. However, it should give everyone comfort that the Upper Gunnison District’s General Counsel, John McClow, is actively involved in these discussions and will ensure that the interests of our state and our Upper Gunnison basin constituents are considered. As those working on this effort come up with a plan, you will begin to hear more about system water conservation and demand management pilot programs. On March 7, 2023 at 5:30 p.m. at the Fred Field Center, the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance will be hosting a meeting to discuss ag water issues, including projects in the basin to improve infrastructure and irrigation efficiency; switching forage types or breaking up the sod layer for better production; and, managing nutrients to improve production and water quality. Anyone interested in attending should registering here:
In closing, our door is always open and our staff is here to help. We encourage all our District constituents to be a part of the conversation. Your input helps to shape water policy that’s actively being developed throughout our state. Our job is to listen and to make sure that your voices and input are heard. Stop by the office, come to a board meeting, or make recommendations for water topics you’d like to learn more about. If there is more your Upper Gunnison District can be doing for you, please feel free to provide us with your suggestions or if you’d like to speak to a staff member or board member about a water issue, we can be reached at email@example.com or 641-6065.
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