January Your Watershed Column

Now in the press!


Over the last three years, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council has been sampling and analyzing water quality in the Rifle Creek watershed. Rifle Creek is one of the major tributaries of the Colorado River along our stretch of the watershed, draining 200 square miles through 61 linear miles of perennial streams and rivers.

Future Leaders: 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit


Future Leaders: 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit

by Nate Higginson | Dec 19, 2018 | Colorado RiverEventsWater Education and Resources | 0 comments

People say that collaboration and innovative approaches are vital to securing a prosperous water future for the West. In Carbondale, Colorado, exactly this type of innovative collaboration is happening with students from middle school, high school, and community college on the forefront. Water challenges demand innovation. Some say that youth brings innovation. Add together youth and water challenges, and what do you have?

The Youth Water Leadership Program. The program held its second annual Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit this fall. Many water professionals attended and some volunteered their assistance in the event’s coordination and administration, myself included.

I am the Watershed Specialist for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. My work includes monitoring water quality with River Watchvolunteers ranging from middle-school age to retired citizens, as well as several other watershed improvement and monitoring projects. I work with several of the students who presented their projects at the summit.

Student presentations filled much of day during the summit. Topics ranged from plastic pollution to using art as a tool for activism. All of the students did well just by attempting a first for many of them: public speaking. Open space technology discussions happened after lunch. For many, this proved to be some of the most interesting time during the event. Inspired by presentations by motivational speakers, including their student peers, young faces listened intently as water professionals explained some of the challenges we face and what our future may hold in the Colorado River Basin.

In addition to helping the students prepare, I also assisted as a member of the Youth Water Leaders team, a group of students—8th grade to college age—and young natural resource professionals in their 30s like myself. I must admit that, at times, I had reservations about assisting with an event like the Youth Water Summit. I’ve never participated on a committee alongside middle-schoolers, nor have I assisted with such a large event. Nevertheless, these unfamiliar aspects of the program intrigued me. After all, getting out of my comfort zone and gaining professional development experience prompted me to participate in the first place.

For my part, I feel like I learned more than I know from this experience. Through interacting more closely with young people, I have benefited in many ways not easily described. I have gained perspective: perspective about how others approach the issues that we face. I have gained hope: hope that future water issues are resolvable.

Overall, I was awed by the aptitude and interest of the next generation. The 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit only further kindled my interest in river and water resources. Looking ahead, if there is anything that is certain in western water it is that many of the problems we face will only increase in difficulty in the future. Climate change and population increases threaten drought and conflict. In the future, we will need strong water leaders and undoubtedly, some of the young people present at the summit this year will be among them.

Nate Higginson is originally from Michigan, but is currently a resident of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. When he isn’t monitoring water quality with volunteers or working on some other watershed project, he can be found driving a school bus, floating on the river, or hiking with his

November Post Independent Column

Check out our November Post Independent Column Here: https://www.postindependent.com/news/local/your-watershed-column-a-story-of-ecological-restoration/

Butler Creek is located in the White River National Forest at the headwaters of Rifle Creek. It is directly north of Rifle by about 16 miles, and "if you look at pictures from decades ago, Butler Creek was a mess," said Clay Ramey of the U.S. Forest Service.

"The management practice back then was to actually spray herbicide down onto the willows along the stream so that there would be more water for grazing," he recalled.

Considering that "back then" refers to only the 1990s, Butler Creek deserves the little special attention it is getting.

Your Watershed Column: Our Natural Boundaries

Living near the Continental Divide, it's less of a pilgrimage and more of a common occurrence to drive over it. We readily take in the view, but don't typically think about this mountain ridge as a defining boundary. This divide had significance for indigenous populations and pioneers, for animals, weather patterns, and the subsequent precipitation that falls, either being directed towards the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic. At the top of the Continental Divide, mere inches make a difference as to where that raindrop will travel.

Read our full October column here: https://www.postindependent.com/news/local/your-watershed-column-our-natural-boundaries/.

Your Watershed Column: Integrated Water Management Planning - A Plan For All

Check out our September Post Independent Column here!

Recognizing Colorado's growing population trend and the increasing scarcity of water brought about by climate change, Gov. Hickenlooper issued a 2013 executive order for development of the Colorado Water Plan. From this process, the idea of stream management plans came to the forefront.

According to Water Education for Colorado, "Two primary types of plans are emerging across the state — stream management plans and integrated water management plans. Stream management plans address environmental needs and recreational goals. Using scientific assessments to measure the ecological health of a particular stretch of water, these plans help communities figure out where and how their waterways are impaired, with a focus on streamflows, so they can develop strategies to preserve or improve their environmental and recreational assets. Integrated water management plans go one step further to factor in consumptive uses from the municipal, agricultural and industrial sectors."

"Integrated water management plans are all about securing water into the future to satisfy the collective needs of our communities while considering climate change and population growth," said Laurie Rink, Project Manager for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, in collaboration with the Mount Sopris, Bookcliff and South Side Conservation Districts, is stepping forward to develop an integrated water management plan for the middle section of the Colorado River from Glenwood Springs to De Beque. The council will focus on supporting healthy native fish populations and sustaining high levels of water quality, as well as the needs for recreational uses, such as whitewater and flatwater boating. The conservation districts are working with local ranchers and farmers to determine what is needed to sustain agriculture in the valley, alongside meeting the water needs of industry and municipalities.

"There is a fear expressed by some that water may be taken from one use to serve another or that there could be unintended consequences of these plans, but these water management plans are project identifiers, not regulation modifiers," Rink said. "Where could money best be invested into voluntary projects and processes to improve watershed health or to increase water use efficiency or storage?"

The Colorado Water Plan sets forth a lofty goal for 80 percent of Colorado's high priority streams and rivers to have a stream management plan by the year 2030. With the Colorado River being one of the state's highest priority rivers, the integrated water management plan will be a step toward that statewide goal and one of the earlier plans developed in the state, meaning that the council and the conservation districts are moving into some uncharted territory.

"Evaluating water needs for the environment is difficult," conceded Rink, "but applying science and generally accepted models will allow us to quantify those needs. For river-related recreation, we intend to work with municipalities, government agencies and outdoor outfitters and guides to get an idea of how many folks use the river, for what purposes and where additional needs exist. The question we will eventually be posing to our communities is what do we value around water and where should our efforts be directed?" The initial evaluation and planning efforts of the council and conservation districts, slated to go to 2020, will provide the public with data to inform conversations on where to prioritize future efforts. "As an outcome of the initial planning phase, we intend to identify projects that can benefit more than one use of water, for example benefit both agriculture and recreation, and finding the money to do it."

The strong public process behind the integrated water management plan is designed to raise water awareness, and that process needs your input: two different three-minute surveys can be found on midcowatershed.org/iwmp and on http://www.mountsopriscd.org/colorado-river-water-planning. You can also sign up for project-specific news, and receive notifications about public meetings and informational announcements. "No water-using sector, whether it's environment, recreation, agriculture, industry or municipal, stands to lose anything through thoughtful water management planning," said Rink.

Jon Nicolodi writes a monthly column for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the middle Colorado River watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. Join us for our 5th Annual Alpine Bank River Clean Up on October 20th, and a special thank you to Alpine Bank for being our Title Sponsor. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the Council on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.

Your Watershed column: The ‘new normal’ for water

Check out our August column in the Post Independent: 



While hardships because of this drought are evident, the only reason why this historic drought isn't a crisis is because of the nearly-full reservoirs at the start of the drought in 2000. Drought is a prevalent term through news and media today, and its usage is beginning to come under scrutiny. The word "drought" implies a temporary condition. When does a trend of 19 years imply permanence?