MONTROSE–For years, Montrose residents have heard Marc Catlin speak about the importance of sustaining water for agriculture. Now, Catlin would like you to know that in the end, conservation of our most precious resource is important not only to farmers, but to us all–especially as the state continues work on the proposed Colorado Water Plan.
“It’s not just about agriculture in this day and age,” Catlin told a healthy crowd at the Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli Forum on Sept. 24. “Now, I talk about Grandma’s supper and the baby’s bottle too.”
As water rights development coordinator for Montrose County, Catlin finds himself on a bigger stage than the one he had when he served as Manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) for close to a decade.
The real subject is conservation, and awareness of water as a finite resource. Joining Catlin at the Heidi’s Forum as speaker was Adam Turner of Project 7 Water Authority, which supplies the region with clean water for domestic use.
“We are a water-based community,” Catlin told listeners. “We see water running in the canal, we see it in the river, and we know it’s our water. Here in Montrose County, more than any other county, we developed our water at the first shot with the Gunnison Tunnel. Our main water shed is Monarch Pass, and that water flows into the Gunnison River Basin. The Gunnison Tunnel (which brings water from the Upper Gunnison for use in the Uncompahgre Valley) carries on average 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs)–imagine that going by!”
Catlin noted that two cfs equals an acre foot, or enough water to meet the needs of a family of five for one year.
“There is an assumption that we have more water here than we need,” Catlin said. “But every drop of water in this valley is metered. Every day, we know how much is being used by every person. But in Southern California, there are 500,000 houses without water meters–does that anger you? Because it twists my rope hard–how can you tell you are out of water if you are not even measuring it?”
With golf courses, pools and houses that use as much as 938,000 per day, Southern California is “not talking conservation,” Catlin said.
“All they do is tell us, look at Lake Meade- we are short!” Catlin said. “It’s the best PR gimmick I have ever seen. Our farmers are being asked to step aside and fallow land–I suggest that they water their golf courses every other day out there in Southern California. Because when we stop irrigating fields here, that means money that doesn’t come to Main Street. The economic activity generated by one acre is far more than what the farmer was paid.
“Everybody is going to have to conserve,” he added, and urged listeners to read and understand the work being done on the proposed statewide plan. The state’s longtime Prior Appropriations water doctrine, “First in Time, First in Right,” was modeled on the mining industry and its system of prior claims, he said.
Following Catlin’s presentation, Adam Turner of Project 7 Water Authority spoke about the evolution of the local domestic water system, a cooperative system created in the 1970’s by seven local water entities.
“There were a lot of water shortage issues at the time,” Turner said, “so they got together, bought facilities from the City of Montrose, and started construction of Project 7 on the old, 1934 water plant site.”
Today, the system handles 450 gallons a minute he said, and average per capita use per day is 165 gallons. Because agricultural users here can access irrigation water through UVWUA, he noted, usage numbers remain far below those seen on the Front Range. Turner also noted that usage has dropped since the economic crash of 2008. And like Catlin, Turner urged locals to pay close attention to the work being done on the Colorado Water Plan.
“We are right in the crosshairs,” he said. “Denver and the Front Range want to grow, and the down river states are saying, ‘we need more.’”
While nobody likes to pay more for water than necessary, Turner also urged a greater respect for the resource.
“We don’t keep things in perspective,” he said. “We pay a cell phone bill of $100 a month and don’t think much of it, but if we pay a water bill of $100 we think it is a bad deal. However, if you don’t have water for a few days you would be in bad shape-while without a cell phone, your life might actually improve.”
The forward thinking that has been part of the Uncompahgre Valley’s water community from the beginning means that the region has enough water for the near future, he noted.
“We supply 49,000 people with drinking water every day,” he said, adding that the next goal of the Project Seven Water Authority will be to site a plant at the Ridgway Reservoir.
“A wildfire would be disastrous for our water treatment plant,” he said. “With two ways to supply water from two different water sheds, we would have a redundant system-the best of both worlds.”
Also key to future plans are the construction of strategic alluvial wells, to store water in the event of a tunnel collapse.
“The Gunnison Tunnel is a miracle, and it is 100 years old,” Turner said. “If it were to collapse, we would not have a lot of options right now.”
To learn more about the proposed Colorado Water Plan, visit www.coloradowaterplan.com.