From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
That question, or something close to it (I wish I’d taken better notes), was posed on Oct. 7 following a presentation by American Whitewater staffer Chris Menges to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the results of a survey of flow needs for whitewater recreation in the Gunnison Basin. That’s the kind of values question that will be hovering in the background as Colorado’s water leaders struggle to develop a plan that can stretch the state’s limited water supplies to meet its growing needs…
Water managers have long been accustomed to assessing water needs for crop irrigation and household use and factored that into their long-term planning. It’s only in recent decades that flow needs to keep streams healthy have begun to be taken into consideration, and an even more recent development to consider the flows needed to keep boaters happy.
Whitewater recreation has become a big business in Colorado, as well as an icon of the “Colorado lifestyle.” In the Gunnison Basin, commercial float trips were estimated to have added more than $6 million to the economy in 2011. The Colorado River Outfitters Association estimated that statewide, whitewater boating accounted for $155 million tourist dollars spent in that same year.
And so whitewater recreation advocates are now taking their place among other stakeholders wrestling with how to guide Colorado’s water future. According to an American Whitewater announcement promoting participation in their survey, it was designed to “help American Whitewater inform future management of the Gunnison River Basin, and build support for healthy river flows threatened by drought, development, and management policies.”
Generally speaking, the survey found that the lowest flows survey respondents considered worth a repeat trip were in the range of 400-800 cubic feet per second (cfs), while flows considered “optimal” ranged between 500-10,000cfs. Respondents tended to prefer higher flows on stream segments farther downstream in the basin.
Menges pointed out that these “acceptable” flows do tend to be achieved seasonally on most of the segments considered in the survey, and that maintaining these seasonal flows also helps serve environmental needs on these streams.
Roundtable members expressed some irritation with how the whitewater boating community has interfered with other land and water users in certain instances, but also expressed appreciation for data that could help bolster the case for the need to keep adequate water on the Western Slope. They made no immediate decision on what to do with the data from the survey…
What remains to be seen is how Colorado’s water plan will make choices between consumptive and nonconsumptive demands when there’s not enough water to satisfy all of them.
More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.