Water, water, everywhere
November 5, 2009
One might find them on a list of life lessons learned in Kindergarten.
“First Come, First Serve.”
“Don’t be Greedy.”
But fifth-graders throughout Grand County learned on Wednesday these simple lessons are at the core of Colorado’s water law.
During the annual Grand Water Festival at Granby’s SilverCreek Convention Center, put on by a West and East Slope partnership of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District, Vincent Magee of the Winter Park Christian School learned the hard reality of being on the short end of supply.
During an activity entitled “The Water Rights Game,” presented by Colorado River District employees, fifth-grader Magee sat at the end of a long table, at the so-called headwaters of a depicted river that snaked its way to the other end.
In the activity, Magee was a rancher with 1930s water rights, giving him access to 30 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. But prior appropriation to his classmates on the river meant on this particular day, water ran out before he could use it.
He worried about his ranch.
“But I’m at the headwaters!” he protested.
He and his brother Patrick Magee, a mayor in the scenario, were two of about four students left without water.
Eyeing senior rights
Everyone eyed the student whose orchard had an 1887 right to 100 cfs of water, or the miner student who had an 1885 right to 50 cfs.
Water referee Hannah Herzog, also of Winter Park Christian, had doled out the proper allocations to classmates, but didn’t have enough for everyone.
Prompted by the activity’s facilitators Martha Moore and Kem Davidson of the Colorado River District, “Mayor” Magee thought of ways he might acquire some water for his residents.
“I’ll go over there and steal it,” he said pointing to the orchard farmer across the table, but then promptly changed his course of action.
“I’ll pay him for it,” he said.
“I’ll tax them more!” he said of the thirsty citizens in his imaginary town.
But this plan had an unforeseen flaw. The orchard farmer, as well as the miners, the cattle ranchers and the other town mayor at his table, were not willing to sell.
It was at that moment Moore and Davidson introduced the concept of building a reservoir upriver, but they stressed such solutions are extremely difficult to come by.
“It’s why those of us who live in Colorado especially have an appreciation for our water,” Moore said.
“You can only use and drink what you can take.”
The day’s worth of water classes were filled with similar reminders: That water is precious and should not be wasted.
Northern’s Water Festival “Water Wizard” Brian Werner grilled competing students on water trivia, such as three ways to conserve, or the percentage of Colorado’s water supply that comes from snow (answer: 80 percent).
His goal, he told them, was for them to know that that the source of water is beyond their kitchen faucet.
In another classroom, local water specialists Jane Tollett of the Grand County Water Information Network and Katherine Morris of Grand County gave presentations about how pollution can affect waterways.
Jon Ewart of the Colorado Division of Wildlife showed students the spawning process of live salmon and the importance of lake and river health for fish; Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District had students “draw the perfect river town”; and Dick Batura of Search and Rescue showed students how to perform a Swift Water Rescue.
In another room, Ali “Atom” Goosens of Mad Science featured demonstrations on fire, ice and wind.
Similar festivals are held on the Front Range to engage students on the importance of the resource. Werner calls it a “trickle up” theory of education.
“It takes a couple of generations before every kid in Colorado understands we have to conserve every drop,” he said.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.