Gunnison Country Times
Bryan Hess, Vice President, Gunnison Angling Society, Trout Unlimited
Gunnison County is a headwaters community where the waters from the Upper Gunnison River are critical to life in the West. After a winter with a massive amount of snowfall, the rivers were swift earlier this summer. The gauges at the Gunnison River near the white water park west of Gunnison read more than 5,000 cubic feet per second in mid-June, which was double the average for that time of year. After a relatively dry August and September, flows in many tributaries are now hovering just below average.
As a headwaters community, the water that melts from the snowpack passes through the upper reaches and through town ultimately ending up in the Colorado River. This water provides for domestic, agricultural and recreational opportunities throughout the American West, which is why it must be managed well and protected.
According to the state demographer, the Gunnison Basin's population is expected to increase by 50 percent midcentury, putting more pressure on land and water resources. A compounding challenge to watershed health is increasing temperatures. According to watershed management planning by the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, these increasing temperatures will lead to more evaporation, transpiration and sublimation, which may reduce available water by 20 percent. These challenges will require thoughtful land and water management to ensure clean and ample water into the future.
Land use is closely correlated with the water quality and quantity in our rivers and streams. In Gunnison County where federal public lands account for 72 percent of the land ownership, healthy public lands are critical for sustaining watershed health and in turn our rural economy. There are many efforts underway in the community to think about how to be good stewards of our natural resources, the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI) is one of them.
The GPLI is a citizen-led, community-based partnership working to permanently protect over 500,000 acres of public lands In Gunnison County for their wilderness, wildlife, agricultural, water and recreation values. This unique and diverse coalition includes representatives from the ranching, water resources, motorized recreation, conservation, mountain biking, hunting and angling communities.
As a board member of the Gunnison Angling Society, I appreciate responsible land management and the associated benefits for healthy streams and access for quality fishing opportunities. Responsible land management requires careful planning, and GPLI has put in the work to find consensus amongst the coalition to recommend places for protection that strike the appropriate balance to ensure we can pass our natural resources on to the next generation.
I encourage everyone to visit gunnisonpubliclands.org to review their work and support their efforts as they work with Colorado's members of Congress to protect our public lands and waters.