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Colorado River Day Draws Focus to State's Water Plan

Colorado River. Credit: Donna Boley/Wikimedia Commons.
Colorado River. Credit: Donna Boley/Wikimedia Commons.
July 24, 2015

DENVER - Saturday is Colorado River Day, marking the date in 1921 when the river was officially renamed from the Grand River to the Colorado. The future of the river is uncertain because of water shortages and increasing demand, and it features prominently in an emerging Colorado water plan.

Steve Ela, a fourth-generation organic fruit farmer on the Western Slope, said the river is a critical part of the state's heritage and way of life.

"Whether it's the mountains and the recreational opportunities there, whitewater rafting or the fruit that I grow and we all eat, Colorado as a state and especially with it being the headwaters to the Colorado River, we use that water in so many ways," he said.

A celebration on Saturday in Denver will focus on urban conservation measures outlined in the plan and the need for state leaders to do more. Ela said that in the plan's second draft, delivered earlier this month, the chapter on actions the state would take was heavy on goals but light on specifics.

According to the industry group Protect the Flows, keeping the Colorado River healthy means protecting $1.4 trillion in economic activity, $800 billion in wages and 16 million jobs. Ela said Colorado's farmers and ranchers already have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in water-saving practices - including drip irrigation, micro-sprinklers, stock tanks and isolating cattle.

"The economy of the Western Slope is really dependent on that water," he said. "The longstanding concern of the Western Slope is that we're able to use that water and use it well to support our local communities and our economies."

Ela said he is hopeful the plan will produce viable solutions for the state's water needs, noting that cities, rural communities, farmers and ranchers are all in it together. Final comments on the plan are due by Sept. 17. The final draft is expected in December.

The plan is online at coloradowaterplan.com. The report is at protectflows.com.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO