Yelling at storm clouds

By Cary Denison

A few days ago, I found myself standing in my yard yelling “Yeah, c’mon!?” while shaking my fist at a rather feeble-looking storm cloud. Now, I normally reserve this type of a pointless weekend lunacy for Broncos games and the like, but considering the dire state of the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, including my home watershed of the Uncompahgre basin—the reaction seemed appropriate.

Beyond the obvious lack of snow in my front yard, I'm seeing a seemingly endless chain of news stories highlighting lack of snow, record low river flows and, perhaps worst of all, dire projections that long-term weather trends won’t provide respite—all serving to fuel my anxiety about the summer to come.

Droughts of years past have taken a serious toll on important fisheries and inflicted economic pain and hardship on water users of all stripes who depend on diverting water for their livelihoods and quality of life. These periods of shortage have also taught us valuable lessons about reacting to and preparing for drought in the West.

One of those lessons is about the importance of working together on our water challenges.

Throughout the basin, Trout Unlimited and water users are partnering on innovative strategies to address water supply shortfalls while protecting rivers and streams. For instance, TU is helping irrigation districts and the water users they serve in the Gunnison Basin improve irrigation infrastructure on and off the farm to reduce system losses, thereby improving stream flows on important tributaries like the Cimarron River.

TU has also been at the forefront of water planning efforts in Colorado that identify needs of both the environment and water users and establish watershed-specific approaches to reducing the impacts of drought.

In another innovative approach, TU is working closely with agricultural producers in the Upper Colorado River Basin through a pilot project that reimburses water users who voluntarily reduce consumptive water use through fallowing, partial fallowing or switching from high to low water-use crops. The program, known as the System Conservation Pilot Program, or SCPP, aims to improve flows on Upper Basin tributaries in a manner that not only helps reduce supply gaps at Lake Powell but also improves important fisheries.

With all the water uncertainty, there’s one thing we can be certain of—this drought period won’t be the last. In fact, scientists say it’s likely that the Colorado River Basin will be facing a drier and more variable climate—all the more reason why scaling up collaborative conservation and efficiency efforts now, regardless of the snowpack levels, is critical to preparing for future drought and protecting our valuable watersheds and all that they support.

Working together, we are finding solutions that can help buffer the impacts of drought years and keep our rivers and fisheries healthy.

And that’s surely more effective than yelling at clouds.

Cary Denison is TU’s project coordinator in the Gunnison Basin.


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