George Sibley will speak about the history of the Colorado River District, focusing on Eagle County, in the second installment of the High Country Speaker Series on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Walking Mountains Science Center.
The Colorado River District commissioned Sibley, a freelance writer and editor, to write its history on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. The end result was Sibley's book, "Water Wranglers: The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District."
"I have long been interested in the Colorado River and the human culture that has so aggressively developed it," Sibley said. "I'd long had in mind a book about the development of Colorado's share of the Colorado River and the tensions between the urban-industrial society growing on both sides of the river's headwaters region."
Created in 1937 by the Colorado General Assembly, the Colorado River District was born out of conflict between Colorado's Eastern and Western slopes. It was established to protect the interests of the state of Colorado and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado. In the 1930s, a coalition of Eastern Slope interests pressed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to construct a massive diversion, Colorado-Big Thompson Project, to drain the headwaters of the Colorado River and divert it to northeastern Colorado to provide water for agriculture. This concerned the Western Slope, since the diversion would diminish the Colorado River flow and affect Western Slope farmers.
Sibley's story of the Colorado River District is the story of the embattled Colorado River and the growth of the West. He also establishes that today's issues, an arid climate and an imbalanced population, were issues of 1937. The Colorado River continues to be a target for water development.
"Every physical water development - dam, ditch, what have you - had a huge infrastructure of legal, political, economic and even cultural activity," Sibley said. "Working out that infrastructure for, say, something like the Colorado River Storage Project, was a huge, multi-year process involving many compromises among cultural beliefs, legal interpretations, political factions and, of course, economic costs, with every belief system and political faction coming to a different bottom line."
Sibley moved to Crested Butte in 1966 to work ski patrol, quickly moved to the newspaper there and then worked his way through various mountain jobs before settling into a teaching career at Western State College for 19 years. While at the college, he taught journalism and some interdisciplinary courses and also took charge of various special projects, including the annual water workshop.
This year, the High Country Speaker Series, a partnership between the Eagle Valley Library District and Walking Mountains Science Center, is collaborating with Eagle River Watershed Council to bring environmental speakers focusing on water issues to our community.
Other speakers in this series on water include:
Feb. 27: Zak Podmore will present his documentary film "Down the Colorado."
March 11: Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer-manager for Denver Water, will discuss the delicate balance of water issues between Western Slope and Front Range residents.
The High Country Speaker Series is free and open to the public. For more information, call Walking Mountains Science Center at 970-827-9725.