100th Colorado River Day reminds Grand of waterway’s history
As a child, Donald Dailey would help fill 12 ounce plastic bottles from the Colorado River and send them in an aluminum case to Denver.
His parents, Hot Sulphur Springs residents Buck and Shirley Dailey, spent 20 years taking daily water samples for the United States Geological Survey.
Grand sits at the headwaters of a river that nearly 40 million Americans rely on. The Colorado River travels 1,400 miles across a watershed that includes seven US states, two states in Mexico and carves the Grand Canyon.
Sunday marks the 100th Colorado River Day, recognizing the anniversary of the day the river got its name.
Dailey’s family ties to the Colorado River reach far back. Ute Bill Creek, which feeds into the river, was named for his great grandfather, Ute Bill Thompson. His great, great grandfather was Preston Smith, for whom another Colorado River tributary, Smith Creek, was named.
“Grand County’s the headwaters and, rightfully so, we take the lead in telling the stories,” Dailey said.
The story of the Colorado River is an interesting one.
Until July 25, 1921, the Colorado River did not begin in Colorado. Instead, it was the Grand River that began in Grand County, flowing to Utah where the Grand River met the Green River and became the Colorado.
Colorado Congressman Edward Taylor didn’t think that made any sense. He spent the better part of a decade trying to change the name of the Grand River to Colorado River, something that ultimately took an act of Congress to finalize.
“The renaming of the Grand River to the Colorado River is a prime example of the success that results from perseverance to honor our great state and its many natural landscapes,” Grand County Historical Association representatives said about Taylor’s work.
Utah and Wyoming politicians at the time argued that the Green River was the longer tributary with a larger drainage area and that the Grand River therefor had no right to be named the Colorado River.
Taylor’s retort was that the Grand River contributed a larger volume of water. Additionally, the congressman pointed out that the Grand River originates in Colorado and so should be known as the Colorado River.
“We have in Colorado no state pride in the name ‘Grand,’” Taylor said in a 1921 committee hearing on renaming the Grand River. “That name is merely an adjective, and does not mean anything but large or great, and might be applied to any large or beautiful stream. Practically everything in Colorado is grand, and as applied to a river it is a very commonplace name …
“For the past 60 years, ‘Colorado’ has meant the heart of the Golden West, the actual top of the world, the land of sunshine, good health, and gorgeous scenery, the summer playground of the nation, the Switzerland of America, the bright jewel set in the crest of this continent, where it shines as the Kohinoor of all the gems of this union; the sublime Centennial State.”
On July 25, 1921, Taylor got his wish. That meant that the Grand River would no longer flow through Grand Lake and Grand County, but the river would be eponymous with the state it starts in.
The river continues to play a major part in Grand, which is why Dailey has been trying to spread the word about the 100th Colorado River Day.
“I think it’s more important now than ever because the river’s drying up,” Dailey said.
Dailey explained that the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among the seven states in the Colorado River Basin governing the allocation of water rights, is a key issue right now. Facing unprecedented drought, the future of the Colorado River remains a pressing issue for the 40 million people that rely on it.
Grand has seen those impacts firsthand in a community that depends on the Colorado River for both agriculture and tourism. Nearly 100 years after the name change, its past and future echoes through the county.
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