What my move to Colorado has taught me about water

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Water is a huge issue in Colorado and the Western states. Over the last month, I’ve taken a free online course from Colorado University in Boulder (via Coursera) to learn a little more about the environment I now live in. For my capstone project, I opted to write a blog post detailing what I know and have learned and how my knowledge has shaped certain aspects of my lifestyle. There’s a lot more to it than I’ve included in this lengthy blurb, but hopefully my words inspire others to learn more about water issues and even make changes themselves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my views on water (it’s definitely becoming a high interest of mine).

For 23 years, I never gave water a second thought. It was a refreshing dip in the beach, a quenching savior after a run and an annoying deterrent for an outdoor party. Having spent nearly a quarter of my life on the wet shores of the eastern coast, water issues never seemed relevant to me. The only time I found myself concerned was when I forgot to pay the utility bill each month.

All those bad habits of leaving the faucet running, taking lengthy showers and even eating certain foods disappeared two years ago when I moved to the Western Slope of Colorado, where life is still a distant glimpse of the wild, wild west.

It was the first complaint I heard when I moved to the mountains: there’s never enough water. I remember my brain trying to comprehend what all the hub-bub was over this “prior appropriation” madness — what do you mean people have priority and claims to water?

Interestingly enough, I moved to an area of the state that relies on water for agricultural, municipal and even recreational purposes.

The City of Ouray has about 1,000 people it needs to serve water to, as well as water needed to handle very important infrastructure around town. Having dirt roads, dust can get pretty bad during the hot summer months, so City crews take a tank full of water and spray down the roads for health and safety purposes. Likewise, the City’s pride and joy — it’s hot springs pool — is a major income generator that keeps the community going; I can’t imagine what would happen if there was not enough water to support the pool.

Another huge issue in Ouray is the effect of bark beetles on the surrounding forest. Each year, more and more shades of brown are popping up among the trees, which can be scary when you consider the possibility of a forest fire. And the city is fairly secluded. One major fire might definitely do some damage.

In the Town of Ridgway, a majority of the land surrounding is grazing fields for cattle. If serious calls are placed on water and ranchers get cut from their share, fields dry up, livestock go hungry and food supply dwindles. Thankfully, I haven’t seen that happen, but the way some of the local ranchers talk, it’s a worry that haunts them each year.

There’s a state park and reservoir nearby where I usually take Berkely for a swim. It’s a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, but in the warm and dry seasons, it can be tough to enjoy when water levels are too low. My coworker is an avid fisherman and low flows means a bad day on the boat.

Currently, I hear warnings of another really warm and dangerously dry summer. It’s been raining seemingly nonstop for the last week or two, but with less than hoped for snow fall this past winter, the river might not see the runoff it needs to support everyone’s needs.

That’s something else I’ve learned living out here: the importance of snow. A Florida girl like me would obviously never understand it otherwise.

So what’s my story? How am I reducing my impact on water in the area?

For starters, I’m continually learning. In these last couple of years of talking water, I am nowhere near close to completely understanding the depth of the situation.

Small things I do to reduce my water footprint include being conscious of normal water uses around the house, such as washing the dishes, doing laundry, taking showers — there’s no need to do them all at once. Even cutting the lights when I’m not in a room saves water (and money on the electric bill). And while it might sound weird, cutting back on some food products is another way to reduce my impact.

Meats are probably the biggest water suckers at the supermarket. I’m definitely not a vegetarian — been there, done that, didn’t care for it — but I realize I don’t need a steak every other night. I also try to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables in season, which cuts back on out of season crops that drain water supply or products that are shipped overseas and burn up fuel (which, hey, also consumes water).

I know it sounds minuscule on my part, but at least I’m making an attempt. Where I live in the San Juans is too beautiful and I’m terrified that somewhere down the road the gorgeous environment might turn into a wasteland.

I believe in nature’s cycle and that the environment can take care of itself and its inhabitants. But if we humans don’t take care of this world we’ve been given, how will it take care of us? I urge you to consider how your lifestyle might affect water and see where you can possibly make a change. Even if it’s a small thing like turning off the sprinklers, I believe a little bit goes a long way.


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