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The pleasures and politics of water

Alan Braunholtz

One of the pleasant signs of spring is the growing power of the mountain streams and valley rivers. Whether it’s the foaming tumble of narrow cascades or the viscous swirling power of slower pools, there’s a magnetic attraction. It’s easy to watch water’s motion for many minutes. Part of the fascination is the small, easy to overlook details of life that steadily emerge every minute you wait.The trout laying her redds or the little brown bird that skims the surface and walks on the stream bottom between bouncing on a slippery rock. The water ouzel or American dipper is a sprite among birds. Shy ducks carefully watch while water shrews and beavers motor about and never-ending convoys of insects flitting about.The lotic ecosystems of moving water are an artery of life from the icy mountains thorough the dry valleys of the west. The Colorado Division of Wildlife estimates that 95 percent of our plants and animals depend on a lowland riparian ecosystem for at least one part of their life cycle. Streams and rivers are an important part of our economy and quality of life. The longer you consider them, the more you see what they do for us.Clean, plentiful water is something we take for granted. Anyone who’s turned on a faucet for only a few rumbling dry heaves can attest to how shocking “no water” is. Water and sanitation systems are a marvel of engineering and convenience. This Tuesday, we get a chance to elect new board members for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Typically few turn out for an election that has more effect on our personal future than any of those big national elections. This year, there are 11 candidates for five seats – a sign of healthy interest in something important to us all.Past water boards have been far-sighted, with both sanitizing capacity and acquiring sheer water quantity with storage, efficiency and acquisitions. Developers need water supplies before they can build. The water district determines if they have enough. Ways to increase available water are efficiency and storage. I’m a strong supporter of the current progressive rates for large or excessive users. I guess these wasteful individuals see it as a lifestyle tax. Maybe, but they’re disproportionately creating the need for more storage facilities sooner rather than later. Why shouldn’t they pay disproportionately for them?If developers looked ahead, they’d see that efficient water use and conservation would not only make current developments cheaper but allow them to keep on building as our water supplies will stretch further. Eventually growth will stop if there’s no guaranteed water available. Do we build until there’s no water in the rivers or stop earlier? What about non-consumptive water rights like kayak parks or fishing? People who favor economic growth can see these as wasteful while river users see them as essential to their quality of life.More immediately, where is the Ginn development going to get its water? Through Minturn and does Minturn have enough? Minturn lost some old water rights after it threatened to sell this excess off to the Front Range. This battle nearly bankrupted Minturn, which still feels hard done by, but that water is now in our rivers not Denver’s.A whole valley is connected by the river that runs through it and needs to work together. The upper valleys water supply is fragmented under different organizations, though the ERW + SD treats everyone’s sewage and wastewater. The whole valley from East Vail to Wolcott should be united as most of us work, play and live in different communities.The complexities of water become more apparent the longer you look at it, whether it’s a river or a sanitation district. This election is one definitely worth taking some time to find out how candidates feel. There’s information in letters and articles to the Daily, and the great thing about local elections is you can talk to the candidates in person. I’ve already decided on one candidate, Ian Anderson. He’s been in the valley many years and works for the VVTCB so is aware of the importance tourism has to our economy and is well informed on most issues in our county. He loves playing in the water so knows the benefits of living rivers (something economists easily overlook), and he’s bright enough to disagree with me and reasonable enough to still be a friend.Growth and future water use in this valley is important enough to select people who care about the realities and aren’t blinded by ideal world, morally sincere or ideological positions. Ask some awkward questions and conserve water.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado


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