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President's Reception

Dick Bratton, 2009 President's Award Winner

Water Worker

Under Dutcher, Bratton worked with the Colorado River Water Conservation District to transfer the Blue Mesa, Crystal, and Morrow Point water rights from the River District to the United States for construction of what is now the Aspinall Unit on the Gunnison River. In the ensuing decades, Bratton has worked to preserve the interests of Upper Gunnison and Uncompahgre Valley water users and to develop Colorado's share of the 1922 Colorado River Compact and 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact.


Along the way, he has participated as an attorney in some of the most important Colorado Supreme Court cases of his day. For example, in the 1992 Arapahoe County case, he strategized and secured a refill right for the Taylor Reservoir upstream of the Blue Mesa Reservoir. He then obtained a pioneering Supreme Court opinion authorizing use of reservoir releases to enhance fish habitat and rafting flows down a long stretch of stream to Blue Mesa. This showed that water rights could be obtained by others than the Colorado Water Conservation Board to produce instream benefits.


In subsequent cases, Bratton helped ranchers, the River District and the United States prove that only 15,700 acre feet of unappropriated water was available annually for Arapahoe County's proposed Union Park transmountain diversion upstream of Blue Mesa Reservoir, rendering that proposed project infeasible and protecting water appropriations in the Gunnison River Basin. On behalf of the Upper Gunnison District, Bratton joined with lawyers for the River District, the State of Colorado, and the United States in arguing that the Aspinall water rights had been subordinated to 60,000 acre feet of in-basin Gunnison use above Blue Mesa Reservoir, and up to 240,000 acre feet of Blue Mesa storage water might be used through USBR contracts to benefit both the West and the East Slope as part of Colorado's compact entitlements. Coming full circle on his early collaboration with Dutcher, Bratton helped through this work to solidfy the local, state and federal partnership that built the Aspinall Unit for Colorado and the United States.


Bratton's knowledge of Colorado River matters, his focused analytical ability, and his reputation as a listener and a learner led President George W. Bush to appoint him as the federal representative and chair of the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission in July 2002. This commission plays an essential role in preserving the 1922 Colorado River Compact entitlements of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Bratton and the commission were instrumental in forging a seven-state Colorado River water shortage agreement, approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in December 2007, which includes annual coordination of Lake Powell and Lake Mead operations. The shortage plan also includes cloud seeding, agricultural to municipal leases, desalination, conservation, and water importation into the Colorado River Basin to cope with drought and climate change. As federal representative, Bratton has acted as a facilitator, mediator and senior counselor on Colorado River matters.


In the midst of everything, Bratton has never forgotten the ranching roots of the Gunnison Valley. In the pits of the 2002 drought he counseled a newcomer, who had bought up one of the old ranches and its water rights, to let his water pass to the neighbors. Why? Because ‘helping those who helped make this place is a good thing to do.’


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Denver, CO 80218