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President's Reception

Dick Bratton, 2009 President's Award Winner

Dick Bratton

It's July, and you're going to the Gunnison Water Workshop at Western State College. Rolling off Marshall Pass on the western side, you'll glide along the mountain hay meadows of Tomichi Creek, along the riffles, the pools and the lovely curving bends of dancing light into Gunnison.


This is the water conference all of Colorado comes to. Dick Bratton and Duane Vandenbusche started it up in the mid-1970s, hoping to center Coloradans on the virtues of Gunnison, Western State College and water. Vandenbusche, historian, teacher and writer; Bratton, lawyer, entrepreneur and member of the college board of trustees; both seeing an opportunity for open dialogue with other people engaged with water.

A multitude of water topics have been discussed and debated at the workshop during the past four decades. State and federal legislators, county commissioners, city councilpersons, water utility directors, lawyers, Indians, environmentalists, representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies, paleo-hydrologists and other citizens interested in their neighboring watersheds all confabulating inside the meeting hall and outside on the courtyard for after-hours barbeques, beers in hand. The idea, said Bratton, ‘all responsible positions fairly represented.’


Bratton, 2009's recipient of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education's President's Award, in recognition of his leadership and contribution to water education in Colorado, grew up in Salida, on the opposite side of the pass from Gunnison. His mother, Mary, was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on the east side of Marshall Pass, in Monarch, when the Great Depression hit in 1930. Lyle Bratton, Dick's father, was working as a miner at the Colorado Fuel and Iron limestone quarry at Monarch. His parents met, married in 1931, and welcomed Dick in 1932.


During summer vacation from Western State College in the early 1950s, Bratton worked as a miner in the same Monarch quarry his Dad had. During the school year, he played football, wrestled, ran track, and majored in accounting and economics, graduating in 1954. Prior to graduating, he married Donna Howard, daughter of a third generation ranching family from outside Lake City. Now they have two daughters, Susan and Sara, and three grandchildren. They have a beautiful home overlooking Tomichi Creek, where Bratton loves to fish.


Community Mentor

Bratton benefited from a fine mentor in leadership, education and the law, Ed Dutcher, who brought the young University of Colorado law graduate of 1957 back to Gunnison in 1958 after a short stint in Denver practice. ‘Dutcher was the legal and political brains for Dan Thornton, the Colorado governor from 1950 to 1954,’ says Bratton. ‘Thornton put Dutcher on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission. When Dutcher became a Grand Junction District Judge in 1961, I inherited his law practice.’


In April 1963, Republican Gov. John Love appointed Bratton to the board of trustees of the State Colleges of Colorado that include Colorado State, Adams State, and Western State colleges. Bratton was 31 at the time. Others on the board called him the ‘teenage trustee.’ He served 12 years in that office. Dutcher had preceded Bratton on the same board. When Dutcher went to the bench, Bratton succeeded him as chief counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District.


Bratton worked to build his real estate, business, and water law practice; invested in Gunnison Valley property, particularly along Tomichi Creek; and actively pursued local and statewide politics as a Republican—Gunnison's counterpart to Durango water lawyer and community leader, Sam Maynes, a Democrat. In October 1983, Gov. Richard Lamm, also a Democrat, appointed Bratton to the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, which he chaired between 1989 and 1990.


Bratton attributes much of his success in the law practice to fine colleagues. In addition to Dutcher, he mentions Tom Whittington, Chuck Alexander, Jim Richards, John McClow and John Hill. And he credits his wife Donna with a business sense and graceful manner that has helped the firm enjoy a good practice and leading presence in the community.


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.’


Water Educator

Being an educator flows in his lineage. Characteristically, Bratton stepped forward in 1991 when a broad-based coalition of Colorado water, environmental and civic interests formed the Colorado Water Education Foundation, CWEF. The first of its kind, the non-profit had a 33-member board of trustees and described its mission as ‘to provide a wide range of water-related information from various viewpoints with no advocacy position taken on any issues in order to foster a broader understanding of water challenges among the general population and aid in the informed and timely discussion of water issues.’


Bratton served from the start as a member of the executive committee, as by-laws chair and later as president. Carmine Iadarola, co-founder of CWEF, described Bratton as bringing ‘credibility, stature, knowledge, and expertise’ to the foundation during its six years of existence. In 1996, CWEF suspended meetings due to a lack of an executive director and stable funding.


In the horrendous drought year of 2002, some former CWEF trustees, the Colorado Water Congress, and other organizations and interested persons met to plan for the new Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Rep. Diane Hoppe and Sen. Lew Entz had successfully carried House Bill 1152 in the just-concluded 2002 Colorado legislative session, which included a provision to establish a water education foundation ‘to promote a better understanding of water issues through educational opportunities and resources so Colorado citizens will understand water as a limited resource and will make informed decisions.’ The General Assembly appropriated a start-up grant and annual monies from the Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund that, paired with other grants and contributions, funds the foundation and its ongoing educational programs.


As a result, the water education legacy of Dick Bratton and so many others lives on in the CFWE.

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