Report: The Great Divide screening at the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at CMU

Great Divide
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Jim Spehar):

I suppose it could have been the free beer.

Why else would around 300 Mesa County residents show up at 6 p.m. last Saturday, catch the county’s slowest elevator and sit for an hour and a half on hard chairs in one of Colorado Mesa University’s ballrooms?

Perhaps that little red ticket for one can of Palisade Brewing Company’s finest was a stroke of genius on the part of CMU’s Water Center, which organized the showing of a new water film, “The Great Divide.”

Or perhaps it was concern about water issues along the Colorado River which filled the room. From headwaters high in the northern Colorado Rockies to its southernmost point, where most years there’s barely a trickle into the Sea of Cortez, water availability from the Colorado River has been the subject of much discussion as recent droughts compelled us to think about shortages.

Jim Havey’s film and the accompanying book by Havey and Stephen Grace offer a thorough history of water development in Colorado and a comprehensive analysis of issues that’ll impact those of us who rely on its water for years to come.

Let’s consider some thoughts from those interviewed for the film and book.

“I think a river would simply say: ‘What I want to be is healthy. I would like to be able to sustain you…but I can’t do it unless you all do what you do thoughtfully.”
— Amy Beatie, Colorado Water Trust

“We’re going to have to sustain ourselves, our grandchildren, and theirs with the same basic water supply, aggravated by the effects of climate change, that the Ancestral Pueblans had at their disposal. Now that’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?”
— Gregory Hobbs, former Colorado Supreme Court justice

What Beatie and Hobbs imply is a need to thoughtfully plan future water use in a state that’s expected to double in population by 2050. The CEO of Denver Water worries about that too.

“If we grow the next five million people in Colorado the way we grew the last five million people, that may not be a sustainable model. And we need to have a much deeper conversation about the connection between land use and water.”
— Jim Lochhead, Denver Water

One representative of outdoor interests agrees with Lochhead, a former Western Slope water lawyer and ex-head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

“…There might be enough water for everybody for a long time to come. But we can’t have unlimited growth and achieve that. There’s got to be a tipping point.”
— Kurt Klancke, Trout Unlimited

No one in the film or book argued against the idea that climate change will require adaptability and a sense of urgency on the part of nearly 40 million people in the southwest who depend on the Colorado River.

“If the computer models that our field really relies on give some sense of what the future is most likely to be, then 2012, as ugly as it was here, starts being statistically quite a common occurrence as soon as 30-45 years from now. And that’s just a generation. It’s not that far away.”
— Nolan Doesken,
 Colorado State Climatologist

The need to plan for the sort of svhortages Doesken and other anticipate ignores traditional battle lines. It also implies some give and take between sometimes competing uses.

“If we’re going to have a healthy river…if we’re going to have a quality of life along the river…we’re going to have to reduce our consumptive use of the river. That’s going to have to come from conservation by the cities. And it’s going to have to come from reductions in agricultural use.”
— Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District

“What we need to do is design our environment to reflect the desert environment and not try to re-create the eastern environment that came to Denver back in the 1800s and 1900s. And not just Denver, but Grand Junction as well,” he says.

One thing is certain. Sooner rather than later we’ll all be paying more, using less and wondering how to deal with inevitable shortfalls in our water supplies. That’s when we’ll find out if we can meet our looming water crisis head on, blessed with facts and a willingness to address the problem proactively and collaboratively.

Jim Spehar represented western Colorado municipalities for eight years on the Colorado Water Congress Board of Directors. Comments are welcome at

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