Steamboat Springs Earlier this summer, George Wendt — founder and president of Angels Camp, Calif.-based OARS, one of the largest river outfitters in the country — floated the Yampa River through Dinosaur National Monument in Moffat County as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project organized by Steamboat Springs nonprofit Friends of the Yampa. In October, he was back in Colorado further protecting the resource.
The day after the government shutdown ended, enabling Wendt’s company to resume raft trips on the Grand Canyon and other closed waterways after 12 days of lost revenue, he was in Denver’s Grand Hyatt to help ensure something even more important is available for his company in the future: water.
Wendt was a panelist at the first Business of Water Summit, hosted by nonprofit Protect the Flows, which focused on water sustainability and responsible water consumption policies in the Colorado River basin. The nonprofit has an office in Steamboat.
"As the last free-flowing major tributary, the Yampa is the crown jewel of the Colorado River system,” local Protect the Flows representative Emily Beyer said. “Rivers like the Yampa contribute to a robust recreation economy that depends on healthy, thriving waterways. Communities across the Southwest should take note of Steamboat's adoption of flexible, new approaches to water management, such as the recent Colorado Water Trust collaboration. These types of solutions deal with water shortages in a way that addresses a variety of diverse stakeholder needs while supporting a local economy that depends on water flowing in the river."
Protect the Flows co-founder Craig Mackey said the purpose of the summit was threefold.
“It’s to build a forum for business leaders to network and engage on water sustainability, share business best practices, case studies and tools to promote water efficiency and conservation, and create a strong business voice and platform to advance water policy to incentivize water innovation, efficiency and conservation.”
The Colorado River recently was named the most endangered river in America, Mackey said.
The Colorado River, he added, is a major economic driver in the country. If it were a company, he said, it would rank at No. 155 on Fortune 500 list and be the country’s 19th largest employer. It supports nearly 250,000 jobs in six states, produces $26 billion in economic output, contributes $3.2 billion in annual taxes and creates $10.4 billion in annual earnings, salaries and wages.
The recently completed Colorado River Basin Study shows that water conservation efforts can yield at least 3 million acre feet of water — the deficit estimated to occur by the year 2030 — and is the most cost-effective and easily implementable way to bring water supply and demand on the Colorado back into balance.
Keynoting the conference was Sen. Mark Udall, whose constituents have a vested interest in its preservation. Saying that “no one want to see a river like the Yampa dammed,” he championed conservation as the best means to increase supply.
“The strategies proposed here, which include reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply, will help us prepare for the future and reduce the river basin’s vulnerabilities,” said Udall, who recently chaired a hearing on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Study and is a member of the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. “We need to make every drop count.”
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-870-1376, or email ebuchanan@SteamboatToday.com.