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What’s happening on the ground with Southwestern water?

A panel highlights local achievements at the water district’s 40th seminar
Executive Director of Mancos Conservation District Gretchen Rank was one of several panelists to speak on local achievements and initiatives in Southwest Colorado at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 40th annual seminar Wednesday on the Southern Ute Reservation. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

SOUTHERN UTE RESERVATION – Soil conservation, stream restoration, rare apples, rafting – these are a few uses of water in Southwest Colorado celebrated by speakers on a panel discussing achievements and initiatives at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 40th annual water seminar Wednesday.

The final panel of the day was a fast-paced round-robin event during which program directors at organizations including San Juan Citizens Alliance, Mancos Conservation District, Montezuma Orchard Project and Mountain Studies Institute got to tout some of the water-related work they do.

It was an experimental sort of forum for SWCD, said seminar organizer Elaine Chick.

At an event that focuses largely on state- or river basin-scale matters, the hyperlocal focus was an opportunity to showcase what happens when rubber meets the road in Southwest Colorado.

The Montezuma Orchard Project is trying to preserve around 200 unique cultivars of rare apples, said Co-Founder Jude Schuenemeyer.

“Water, of course, has been our biggest hassle and our biggest problem,” Schuenemeyer said of the Gold Metal Orchard near Cortez in particular.

In Durango, SJCA Animas Riverkeeper Sara Burch highlighted her work to open and maintain access for recreation along the waterway. The 8 miles of river with public access in downtown Durango are filled with boaters in the summer, she said, which can lead to overuse problems, while the 17 miles upstream of Durango are surrounded by private property.

SJCA is looking at options for upstream access, Burch said.

Using piecemeal funding from the state and federal governments, as well as nonprofit donors, organizations across the Southwest have tens of millions of dollars worth of restoration and research projects underway.

The Southwest Colorado Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program has reduced hazardous fuels on nearly 28,000 acres of forest, improved 7,400 acres of wildlife habitat and over 8 miles of streams.

In Pagosa Springs, the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership has secured $1.8 million for two stakeholder-informed projects that will bolster the resiliency of the San Juan River.

SWCD Programs Coordinator Monika Rock said it was important to showcase the diversity of water-related work and uses within the district.

“At the end of the day, we’re all in community,” she said.


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