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economic importance, and a number of local fly shops and guide services do brisk business on the Upper Colorado and tributary streams, such as the Blue and Fraser rivers. Of course, it’s the ski industry that paces the economy of the Upper Colorado counties. A 2001 Colorado State University report found that 25 percent of Summit County’s total income comes from ski tourism, and 37 percent of the county’s jobs are related to skiing. “It’s very clear the ski areas are the economic driver of both Summit and Eagle counties,” says Tom Allender, director of resort planning for Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas. Skier turnout might fluctuate based on daily snow reports, but the ski areas depend on the annual flows of the Colorado and its tributaries to operate. “We rely completely on our water rights for snowmaking,” Allender says. Like most other ski areas, Vail Resorts stores a multi-year supply of water in several reservoirs to protect against drought and ensure it can make snow during dry winter periods. Protecting a flourishing industry

Tom Kleinschnitz grew up outside of Denver, and he drew his first paycheck as a raft guide for Adventure Bound River Expeditions forty years ago. “I knew from the first moment I jumped on the water in June of ’71 that it was going to be incredibly important in my life,” Kleinschnitz recalls. Fifteen years later, he bought the Grand Junction-based rafting company, which guides trips through the tranquil waters of Ruby and Horsethief Canyons and the wild rapids of Westwater Canyon on the Colorado near the state border with Utah. Since then, he has watched business flourish as people’s appreciation

for the environment and outdoor experiences has swelled. A majority of his clients now come from out of state, and Kleinschnitz partly attributes this to the boating industry’s success. He figures that former seasonal guides and past clients get hooked on boating, and they are among numerous boaters who have settled down locally or on the Front Range and now organize their own floats. “From when I bought the company 25 years ago, the state population has gone up quite a bit, and a lot of the reason people come to this area to live is simply because of all the wonderful opportunities, and not only rafting,” says Kleinschnitz, who recently served for three years on the Colorado Tourism Office’s board of directors. The commercial boating season through Westwater Canyon lasts from April through September. However, Kleinschnitz says local boaters hit the rapids year round. Like the Shoshone run, the flows aren’t entirely natural: Westwater is downstream of the Colorado’s confluence with the Gunnison River, which adds stable flows from the Aspinall Unit of dams, including Blue Mesa Reservoir, in order to help endangered fish downstream. It’s another case of recreation on the Colorado inadvertently benefiting from a separate legal priority for water. Kleinschnitz and others recognize it’s a precarious situation given the water-development interests for the Colorado River Basin from Front Range communities and the oil shale industry, not to mention the looming threats of downstream calls through the seven-state Colorado River Compact and climate change impacts. Some communities have sought to protect flows through rec-

How Much Water for the Streams? By Joshua Zaffos

Along the Colorado River, farmers in the Grand Valley hold senior water rights, ensuring they will get their legal shares to use, or consume, water for their fields and pastures. Relatively junior rights for instream flows and recreational in-channel diversions (RICDs) can maintain river flows to uphold recreational and environmental purposes, although typically such nonconsumptive uses must rely on whatever water passes downstream— someone else’s eventual consumptive flows—rather than legal protections. Still, because RICDs and instream flow rights can serve to protect existing flows from future changes, the question is whether more of these decrees are necessary to maintain a variety of nonconsumptive values. A subcommittee of the Colorado Basin Roundtable has been studying regional nonconsumptive needs and trying to determine how future water development could affect the river’s ecological health and recreational economy. Subcommittee members worked with consultants and scientists from Colorado State University and The Nature Conservancy to develop the Watershed Flow Evaluation Tool. The tool will be used to model how changes to flows could impact aquatic and riparian environments and recreational river use as part of a $315,000 project, funded through Water Supply Reserve Account grant funds. The Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable is also utilizing the tool for the same purposes. “It’s a tool that could really change the way we, in Colorado, look at how water is used for nonconsumptive needs and recreation,” says Lane Wyatt, a subcommittee member who works for the water quality and quantity committee of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “And like anything that’s new and different, it’s controversial because it’s trying to put numbers on this and people get nervous about numbers.” While the tool itself calculates the range of environmental risk 34

linked to flow, pointing to stream segments in need of a closer look, it is no substitute for site-specific flow evaluations. Initially, some stakeholders, including Front Range water interests, questioned the tool’s application, not only because of its inability to measure sitespecific conditions, but because they wondered how results would be applied to management scenarios, says Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water. After all, the optimal flows for boating recreation along one reach can differ from ideal environmental conditions in another, and protecting nonconsumptive flows might interfere with development of the state’s last, unused share of water from the Colorado River. Open discussions among the different parties and subsequent changes to the program have alleviated many of those concerns and garnered wide support. After a few pilot projects, the tool may be deployed this summer. Site-specific quantification, completed from Kremmling to Glenwood Canyon, was also supported by the WSRA-funded study. The data has helped with calibration of the Watershed Flow Evaluation Tool for accuracy and could also inform measurements of peak flows needed to flush sediment, generate new cottonwood stands and create fish habitat. The site-specific data is also serving as the basis for recommending a minimum instream flow right, on approximately 70 miles of the river, to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency authorized to hold such water rights for flows to be left in the stream. Just under 58 miles of streams are currently protected by instream flow rights in the mainstem Colorado River Basin. Colorado River Basin water users, such as Grand Valley agricultural interests, and Front Range entities including Aurora Water are backing the tool and its purpose. Roundtable members realize the nonconsumptive needs assessment isn’t going to take away water rights, Wyatt says, but could help preserve Western Slope values and the regional economy built around hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. q

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Headwaters Summer 2011: The Mighty Colorado  

As the Colorado River flows through its seven-state, canyon carving traverse, it is tapped and retapped-- supporting acres of irrigated agri...

Headwaters Summer 2011: The Mighty Colorado  

As the Colorado River flows through its seven-state, canyon carving traverse, it is tapped and retapped-- supporting acres of irrigated agri...

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