River district earns award

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RBC | The Colorado River District has been named the 2019 J. Evan Goulding District of the Year by the Special District Association of Colorado.   

The J. Evan Goulding District of the Year Award was established by the Special District Association of Colorado (SDA) to single out a district that demonstrates exceptional leadership and community spirit. This award recognizes a district’s major accomplishments, series of outstanding efforts, and a steady determination to serve their constituency. This year’s winner, the Colorado River District, truly exemplifies these qualities.   

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s made it clear that water in Colorado was an invaluable resource and necessary for the economic well-being of the state. In 1937, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was authorized for the first time to assist with water projects that would move water across basins to augment existing water supplies. The first major project to take Western Colorado water to the Front Range was the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which was developed to provide much-needed water for agriculture in northeastern Colorado. Over time, much of that irrigation water has moved into municipal use. In response, that same year far-sighted legislators passed legislation creating the Colorado River Water Conservation District, commonly known as the Colorado River District, to be “the appropriate agency for the conservation, use, and development of the water resources of the Colorado River and its principal tributaries in Colorado.”

Covering approximately 29,000 square miles, or roughly 28% of the land area of the state, the River District is composed of 15 Western Slope counties in which a majority of the Colorado River Basin exists. The District serves approximately 500,000 citizens and is governed by a Board of Directors made up of one appointed representative from each of the 15 counties. Charged with protecting and developing the water resources of the Colorado River mainstem and tributaries of the Yampa, White, and Gunnison Basins, the District works to protect 70% of the water resources of the state of Colorado.

One way the River District fulfills its mission is through water storage and operational solutions that ensure the economic, agricultural, and environmental health of Western Colorado. Wolford Mountain Reservoir is owned and operated by the District in conjunction with Denver Water, and it provides much needed water storage for the Colorado River Basin as well as a number of recreational opportunities. Elkhead Reservoir was originally built for industrial and recreational use and has since been enlarged for increased supply and additional storage for endangered fish flow management and future use in the Yampa River Basin. The River District controls water in various other reservoirs as well to support the Western Slope’s environment and economy.   

The River District also protects Colorado water interests through legislative and regulatory advocacy, both at the state and federal level. The River District continues to protect water rights and streamflows, balancing the need for development against the threat of overuse. The River District also represents the entire state in matters regarding the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which divides the Colorado River among seven states.    

The work of the District includes a number of other innovative programs, all of which are undertaken as they balance the ongoing needs of the River and all those who rely on it. As an important element of drought contingency planning, the District has managed a cooperative, regional cloud-seeding program to help augment snowfall, which ultimately increases water flow in the River. They are also working with farmers to modernize irrigation practices to reduce salinity and selenium concentrations while sustaining agricultural productivity. Furthermore, the District operates a water marketing program to help water providers meet local demands.   

The River District is spearheading creative outreach efforts as well, such as annual States of the River meetings in every subbasin of the District and a robust social media and electronic presence. They also host periodic webinars for the interested public and an annual water seminar where citizens and water leaders come together to learn about trends in water use and evolving agreements regarding the Colorado River.

The J. Evan Goulding District of the Year award is presented annually, and this year’s presentation took place during the SDA Annual Awards Luncheon as part of the SDA Annual Conference which was held September 18-20 in Keystone, Colorado.

Ann Terry, SDA’s Executive Director, was pleased to recognize the exceptional work of the District. “Throughout their long history of serving Western Colorado, the Colorado River District has maintained a determined commitment to the best interest of its citizens. From its advocacy and legislative efforts to its water storage projects and creative community programs, the River District is truly living its mission and fulfilling the purpose that was envisioned for it over 80 years ago.”

Special to the Herald Times