Marc Catlin Western Slope Water, CO

By: Liesl Greathouse.

(February 4, 20140)  Antennas have peaked up across the country since California has declared a drought.  For Colorado, we have had concerns over water for a long time, and this year may once again be tough.


Marc Catlin spoke at the Montrose High School Cafeteria on Jan. 23 on the impending water crisis.  Marc Catlin is the former Manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association as well as a member of other water related entities.  “I’m a farm kid, so water is near and dear to my heart,” he said.  “When I was growing up, I thought that Colorado was drought-proof.  But in 2002 that was proven not to be the case.  We had to manage the water to the max with the tools available to us.”


The water issues in our area are clearly visible to locals.  “The Blue Mesa bothers all of us,” Catlin said.  “It is 46% full and looks like heck.  The long term forecast is not good.  It will be tough this summer if we do not get snow quickly.”


Catlin talked about one of the problems this year with the snow pack.  “I’m not a subscriber to climate change, but I do believe that there is more dust on the snow, helping it so melt faster,” he said.  “The San Juans look like mud.  The dust is coming out of the deserts and we have even found plastic sacks from Las Vegas.”


The Western Slope faces a huge problem in the future.  It is projected that there will be a shortage of a 800,000 feed a year by 2030; a full Blue Mesa worth of water short every year, with an increasing population to add to the strain.  “Gone is gone, no mater if goes to the Eastern Slope or through the Black Canyon,” he said.


Catlin emphasized what the issue is truly all about.  “There is a myth that the Gunnison River has too much water in it,” he explained.  “People need to know that there is not too much water: the water is actually over appropriated.  There are more water rights filed than water to meet those demands.”


The important feature of the Colorado River is the ‘First in times, first in use’ water right system set up long ago.  It has worked well, but there is talk of taking that system out and replacing it with a ‘public use’ system, where everything would be stacked up and the public would vote on what is the most important use of the water.  The concern is that system would take the water away from agriculture and put it towards recreation.  “Here we have 80% of the water, but only 20% of the people,” Catlin said.  “There is an unspoken threat from Denver: ‘get along with us or we will vote the water out.’”


The Colorado River is also under the strain of having to meet its part of the Colorado Compact requirements, sending water to seven different states.

Looking to the future of water in the area, Catlin said that we will have to look at Las Vegas, the poster child of water conservation.  It grew by millions of people, but has cut their water use by 30%.  “We are doing our part by putting water back in the river,” Catlin said.  “”Sustainable agriculture needs the water its got.  But we need to be a lot smarter.  Agriculture that does good should be rewarded for doing good.”


The floor was then opened to questions from the audience.


One question was on the possibility of building more reservoirs in the state.  “There are currently no plans to build reservoirs on either side of the mountains,” Catlin said.  “In the future, we will not build 1-2 big reservoirs, more like dozens of smaller ones.  We don’t have the technology to build big reservoirs while leaving a small footprint on the environment.  Historically that was a  problem, but now environmental groups are seeing the use of reservoirs.  We have had to adapt to one another, but future reservoirs will take into account the elements of agriculture, the environment, recreation, and possibly hydro power.”

Catlin works to help people understand the issues surrounding water usage in the area.  “We were really lucky in having visionary leaders in Montrose concerning water,” he said.  “But once water leaves here, it’s never coming back.”