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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

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Water Education Colorado

An Interview with Ralph Curtis

Recently retired as manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Ralph Curtis spent 25 years shepherding the district through water grabs, droughts and aquifer declines. A native of the San Luis Valley and a life-long resident of Saguache, Curtis agreed to be interviewed by the Foundation in September 2005.

CFWE: Over the years, there have been serious attempts to pump San Luis Valley groundwater to other regions. In the early 1990s, American Water Development Inc. tried to get permission to suck millions of gallons of water from beneath the valley, and was defeated. What did you learn from that battle?
CURTIS: I guess what I learned, most importantly, was how the valley as a whole came together. They all could see it as a threat from one end of the valley to the other. And it was just amazing the response the local citizens gave. We were all reading from the same book, from the same page.

CFWE: Then several years later local rancher Gary Boyce and Stockman's Water attempted a similar scheme. He even took two ballot initiatives to the voters seriously challenging the basic operation of your district. It looked like you were outgunned by high-paid lobbyists and deep-pocketed financiers. What made your strategy to defeat these Goliaths successful?
CURTIS: We had a lot of people working for us. People would go up to Denver from the valley, or go to Kiwanis Club or other civic meetings [around the state]. These were people from the valley, they lived there. We had great support from the League of Women Voters. And of course Dick MacRavey and Wally Stealey and the [Colorado Water Congress] put together a good campaign. And [its proponents] just couldn't get the people of the State of Colorado to buy it. But I still thought, 'This thing's going to go.' I couldn't believe when it came out 75 percent against it. I thought, 'the people of the State of Colorado really aren't that naïve about what's going on.'

CFWE: Looking back over your 25-year tenure at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, how do you think state water management strategies have changed?
CURTIS: State water management strategies did change some. But they did not change that much until the drought. And that's when all this leasing water for fisheries, leasing water from the Arkansas Valley to Aurora, or what they call these 'dry year leases' started to happen. That was going on before, but it wasn't institutionalized. It was not codified in law. And it is my understanding that there will be a bill coming out this legislative session that will try to carry that a little bit further. I think we have seen some real drastic changes in the way we are trying to make water available for everybody, and—unfortunately—support the growing population of the metro area, just through these innovative ways of doing business.

CFWE: Is there any one big issue that you are most concerned about for the valley's future?
CURTIS: Living within our means, as far as water supply is concerned. For those people who only have surface rights, when there isn't any water in the stream for their priority, they don't irrigate. But people who have wells, they continue to irrigate. And what we have found out, particularly in that intensively farmed area north of the Rio Grande—they've pumped the bottom out of the barrel. And we are trying to get a groundwater management sub-district up there, and it is like pulling teeth…In other areas, people are very interested in trying to put something together...A lot of people will say, 'Oh, the State Engineer will never come in here and regulate wells.' And Hal Simpson has told them several times, 'If you don't do something, I'm going to be here.'

CFWE: What is your hope for future generations of water managers around the state?
CURTIS: I guess the best way to say it, is to go back to the philosophy that manager Chips Barry has for the Denver Water Board…that Denver Water is kinder and gentler than it used to be. It's no longer, 'I don't care what you say. I am going to come over here and take your water, and you aren't big enough to fight me.'
I think the future water managers are beginning to realize that, and you are going to start seeing a lot more cooperation, a lot more dialogue. I think people are realizing today that it is just too costly to have litigation to fight these things. But it's going to get tougher, because there are more non-traditional uses of water coming onboard…How do we accommodate them all and bring them into the system? Because we are a recreational state in a lot of ways.

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