Wet reminder’s of last summer’s drought | VailDaily.com

Wet reminder’s of last summer’s drought

Tom Boyd

Last year we had a dry, smoky, dull Fourth of July. The fireworks were in the forests, where aging trees exploded from forest-fire heat, and our entire county seemed on edge because we were waiting for our own valley to go down in a blaze of crimson flames.Now we’re green again, the rivers are full, the fireworks are on, and some of the valley’s fine traditions can get under way again.A quick trip to Michigan has given me a good sense of what a Colorado drought is really about. What we call a river only qualifies as a “stream” in the Midwest. A deluge of rain that would flood our whole valley is merely an, “afternoon sprinkle”. Surrounded by bogs, frogs, and massive tracts of wetlands, I’m told that Michigan is in a “drought”. The damp air that filters through my t-shirt is “a bit dry” according to the locals here. And lake after lake after lake assures me that even though they call it a “drought” out here there’s really no such thing as a water crisis in the eastern portion of America’s heartland.Out West, however, we battle over every last drop of water, a substance more rare than gold almost literally. Water rights are front-page news because water, as much as any other commodity in the West, determines the health and direction of our economy.People who move out to Colorado from Michigan, Ohio, New York, Florida, or anywhere else where water is in abundance, tend to bring their old watering habits with them. Even though our drought seems to be subsiding, it’s important to remember that watering the lawn is a luxury, not a necessity, and that taking care of rivers and streams is a No. 1 priority out here.But the overwhelming majority of water usage in Colorado is for agriculture. And the only way to regulate that kind of water use is through the law.Unfortunately, Colorado’s water laws are convoluted and outdated. Water laws that date back more than a hundred years declare that consumers must, “use it or lose it”, which means that everybody who has an ounce of water rights is pumping water from our rivers, lakes and streams even if they don’t need it. It’s a water law left over from the days of Manifest Destiny, but now that we’ve covered the West with people, the old laws are destined to manifest themselves in the form of a crippled water system.If you’re looking to figure out exactly what’s behind the water situation, check out a book by Marc Reisner called “Cadillac Desert.” It was voted one of the 100 most influential nonfiction books of the century, and it will give you a sense of how and why our water laws have become so politicized and counter-intuitive.

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