State of the River: important, underutilized

Panel at annual conference urges greater leveraging of key asset

The Colorado River is a still largely unrecognized asset that could flood the Grand Valley with economic opportunities, speakers said at a State of the River conference Monday.

“We’re not maximizing use of the river from a commercial perspective,” Sam Williams, general manager of Powderhorn Mountain Resort, told about 50 people at the conference at the Avalon Theatre in downtown Grand Junction.

Williams spoke on a panel with Palisade-area fruitgrower Bruce Talbott, Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Kristi Pollard, Alpine Bank Senior Vice President David Miller and Sarah Shrader, owner of Bonsai Design in Grand Junction and a founder of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition.

“We sell lifestyle” when trying to attract businesses to the Grand Valley, and a large part of that is the presence of “this amazing asset we have,” the Colorado River, Pollard said.

Shrader, whose company is developing an outdoor-recreation business park along the river, noted that other cities that have taken advantage of the river through town to use as an attraction have seen a turnaround in the business climate to one of optimism and activity.

“This community is poised to do something really fantastic,” Shrader said.

Involving businesses and people in the river can aid with the recovery of the four endangered fish species in the Colorado River Basin, as well as others, such as the Western yellow-billed cuckoo, by encouraging an ethic of stewardship, Shrader said.

All of Alpine Bank’s branches sit on or near the banks of the Colorado or one of its many tributaries, Miller said.

That has served as a reminder that the health of the river is directly tied to the health of the businesses along it, Miller said.

Alpine Bank has moved to reduce its water use by 40 percent and has saved $12,000 annually in doing so, he noted.

Agriculture in the east end of the Grand Valley — peaches and grapes specifically — has served to make his family business “the darling of the valley,” Talbott said.

It’s been successful on the financial score, as the 2,500 acres of fruit lands generate some $60 million in ultimate retail sales, Talbott noted.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that fruitgrowers and others are well served to look out for their water supplies because, “We farm at the consent of the public,” Talbott said.

“We have to grow (crops) as inexpensively as possible” while looking to assure long-term water supplies, Talbott said.

The meeting was sponsored by The Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and the Business for Water Stewardship. Alpine Bank, the Tamarisk Coalition and Club 20 also supported the conference.


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