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:

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 and on 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 You can also find the Council on Facebook at

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?

MCWC and Cross Watershed Network Riparian Restoration Tour in the News!

Our June 21st Riparian Restoration workshop with Cross Watershed Network has popped up in the news from a few of our attendees recently. Learn and live vicariously through these two articles:


The Grand Junction Sentinel - Study: River means big business for GarCo

Check out this article from The Grand Junction Sentinel on our economic impact report for recreation in the watershed, and take a moment to look into the full report yourself to fully understand the complex modeling and admitted shortfalls of conducting such a report. Earth Economics has a large number of published reports on their website that are worth perusing to understand the interest and diversity in attempting to put a dollar sign on our natural resources.

Your Watershed: How to begin to understand 'dry'

The weekend of May 12 brought a flurry of articles claiming the Colorado River would be reaching its peak stream flow that weekend, nearly a month sooner than normal. With the abundance of early fire restrictions, voluntary water restrictions, and drought in the news, it should come as no surprise that this year is ranking as the fourth driest of over eighty years on record.

The world of water is complex and multi-faceted. There are a lot of different types of measurements within water and snow. Translating statistics into tangible effects can be difficult. So, let's take a look at the holistic process of stream flow and see what we come up with.

The accumulation of our snowpack serves as a reservoir, and once snowmelt begins that reservoir melts into creeks and rivers providing water to the agricultural industry, riverine environments, and white water runs. Hot temperatures drive the thaw of snow that fills our streams and ditches, and the temperatures we've been having in late May have been hot. Snowpack this year was lackluster at best, and at a certain point of the summer there won't be anymore snow to melt away.

The average date for peak stream flow on the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs is June 7. Runoff really ramps up when temperatures remain above-freezing overnight at higher elevations, resulting in around-the-clock melting of the thick snowpack. Peak flows are reached when low elevation melting is joined by high elevation melting. Afterwards, high elevation melting continues to contribute to flows as long as the snowpack persists.

This year, the Colorado River at the Glenwood gauge did have a small bump on May 12, and then hit its highest peak on May 26 at 6,640 cubic feet per second (cfs). "And you have to look at the numbers too," said Wendy Ryan of Colorado River Engineering. "We are in a period where river flows are hanging around the 5,000 cfs mark, but that flow is drastically lower than our average for this timeframe." That average would be a little over 8,000 cfs on May 26, and topping 10,000 cfs for the average peak flow that typically hits on June 7.

So, we're starting to get to the point of how dry this year really is. But how does this affect our local economies? "The Shoshone Power Plant really saves the Glenwood rafting scene and the environment," said Ryan. When the plant is operating, it commands a certain flow down the river through Glenwood Canyon, even in the driest of times. It's enough for boat-able flows, but it's not enough for the great white water that draws tourists to the region. In the world of agriculture, the Cameo Diversion Dam by Palisade has a similar ability to the Shoshone: to force junior water users in our region to curtail their diversions and send water downstream for its use.

That's as complex as we'll get for now, but we didn't even get into reservoir levels, water rights, augmentation flows, trans-mountain diversions, or the 1922 Colorado River Compact. How might a citizen not tied into the water world feel impacted by all of this? "I think people have their pulse on the river," said Ryan. But if you happen to feel a little disconnected, check out the fire restrictions implemented for Garfield County. Read the voluntary water restrictions of Aspen that could easily occur in the down valley communities, or read the eight provisions installed in Telluride's May 4th mandatory water restrictions to get a sampling of what municipal conservation looks like, and go a step further by voluntarily taking one provision up yourself to begin conserving now.

Your Watershed: The new Regulation 43 — septic systems and your water

Check our our May opinion piece in the Post Independent! 

"An onsite wastewater treatment system, more commonly known as a septic system, consists of an intentionally designed chamber with inlets and outlets, utilizing settling and anaerobic bacteria to decompose solid and organic waste. Septic systems are common in rural and even some suburban areas where it isn't realistic or affordable to connect to the nearest municipality's sewage system. All water and other material that goes down the sink or shower drain, through the laundry outlet, or down the toilet goes into the septic system."