By DAVID DRAGOO

A recent study completed by economists Southwick Associates shows nearly $18 billion in annual economic impact from people recreating on or near Colorado’s rivers. In the Gunnison River Basin alone, nearly $880 million was funnelled into the economy last year from river related recreation by nearly one million people.

These figures are staggering.

At Mayfly Outdoors, we see the impact that recreation and engagement has on our communities on the Western Slope and across the state. We think it’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways. Protecting river resources is even more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic as outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of Colorado’s economy and way of life.

Despite some good snow years, the West has actually been in a sustained drought for nearly two decades. Some scientists are calling it a “megadrought.” With many communities dependent on our rivers for both water supply and recreation, we must do all we can to support conservation and efficiency measures at every level. This includes important agricultural uses and in cities and rural areas alike.

Our state leaders understand these dynamics and that’s why they are implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. But the recent economic downturn has put a significant strain on our state economy — and the water plan stands to lose ground in funding. We can and should look to federal funding to support our state’s water conservation and efficiency plans, including water infrastructure projects that can put people to work and enhance river health.

We are in unparalleled times as we navigate the pandemic and look around the bend to see what’s next. Many businesses are struggling to catch up after several months of closure and new safety protocols. The outdoor industry is vital to Colorado’s economy, just as securing a plan for our water future.

Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.

David Dragoo is the founder of Mayfly Outdoors, based in Montrose.