CMU: Water Center renamed Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center to honor west slope water rights activist

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Several members of the community came together Thursday at Colorado Mesa University to celebrate the renaming of the school’s water center in honor of Ruth Powell Hutchins, a longtime proponent of the preservation of water rights on the Western Slope.

The newly named Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at CMU performs and facilitates interdisciplinary and collaborative research, education, outreach and dialogue to address water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Hutchins, who died in 1997, worked to protect the water rights of small farmers and other water users, according to the university. She was one of the founders of the Mesa County Water Association, which evolved into the Water Center at CMU.

Hutchins’ children recently established an endowment for the center in honor of their mother.

The unveiling of the center’s new name was held on the third floor terrace of Dominguez Hall to a full crowd, including three generations of the Hutchins family, members of the Colorado Mesa University Board of Trustees and CMU President Tim Foster.

Her son, Will Hutchins, spoke at the event about his mother’s work.

“I want to thank CMU for honoring our mother,” Will Hutchins said. “With respect to my mother, there are two things to keep in mind — she was a straight-laced Vermonter and her dream.”

He said his mother grew up in a community where the traditional New England town meeting was a way for people to get involved in their town government.

“Public service meant exactly that — not a way for a person to financially better themselves at the public trough,” he said.

He said his mother and father, John, met at a dude ranch and had a dream to own a “farm to raise their family on.”

In 1955, the Hutchinses bought a farm in Fruita, he said. There, Ruth Hutchins began to get involved in the community through volunteer work.

“Any time you have money in the public sector, there are a lot of people trying to get their hands on (it),” Will Hutchins said, referring to water rights issues. And, he added, the result was not necessarily for the benefit of the public.

He said his mother studied water rights issues and eventually was able to “go to the water buffaloes — people like politicians, prestigious lawyers, lobbyists, engineers — and talk to them on her own terms” about these issues and her concerns.

Foster said the university “gets to name” a number of its facilities after people in the community, but “few as iconic as Ruth.”

“Ruth Hutchins was one of my very favorite people. She was a combination of Annie Oakley, Margaret Thatcher and Mary Poppins,” Foster said in a news release issued by the university. “She truly cared about water issues, not only in the Grand Valley but statewide and nationally. She was committed to making the system work better and to the importance of meeting agricultural water needs. We are honored to have the water center carry her name and are deeply appreciative of her family’s generosity.”

Hutchins’ son, Tad, said he was honored to be at the naming.

“(It shows) that the good deeds you do will outlive you as an issue,” he said.

“I’d like to think Mom would be proud of this (center)” that provides information to anyone interested in water issues.

CMU spokeswoman Dana Nunn said the renaming of the center was not a condition of the endowment.

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