Ute Water is celebrating 65 years of serving the Grand Valley community with clean and safe drinking water, and owes its existence to a bunch of visionary farmers who wouldn’t take no for an answer. The towns of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as the community of Clifton, all had municipal water sources by the mid-twentieth century, and were able to deliver convenient, safe water directly to their faucets.
There were, however, plenty of Grand Valley residents who didn’t live in Clifton, or the municipalities of Palisade, Fruita or Grand Junction. Most of them were farmers or involved in agriculture, and most of them didn’t just use irrigation water to water their fields, but they had to also use it to fill their cisterns for household use, as well, and then hope that the chlorine they added to it protected their health. If they didn’t pull water from irrigation canals, they got it from the Colorado River, or had to contract with a water service delivery company to come and fill their cisterns.
When the Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be water available from the reservoirs on Grand Mesa as a result of the Collbran project’s two hydroelectric plants in Molina, and that water would be enough to supply the needs of the entire Grand Valley, those farmers decided they were ready to abandon their cisterns. The city of Grand Junction was involved in early discussions, but ultimately decided not to expand its service area, and to stick with its water source on Kannah Creek.
Undeterred, the farmers formed a water conservancy district, elected a board of directors and raised money to build the necessary infrastructure to bring water from Grand Mesa into the rural homes in the valley.
When Ute Water started, it had just 1,800 water taps to serve. Today, the upstart water district serves more than 85,000 people with 35,000 water taps, serving an area that’s larger than 250 square miles, with more than 900 miles of distribution pipe.
“We serve about 70% of the valley,” said Larry Clever, general manager for Ute Water.
Ute Water began servicing the city of Fruita several decades ago when Fruita’s original system that brought water from the Uncompahgre Plateau through Colorado National Monument couldn’t be upgraded and brought to modern standards.
Although the Western Slope is in a severe drought, and many of Grand Mesa’s reservoirs won’t fill to capacity this year, Ute Water has been steadily diversifying its portfolio of water sources, and isn’t solely reliant on water from the Collbran project. In addition to its stake in 31 Grand Mesa reservoirs, Ute Water bought water rights from Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt almost a decade ago, and also has rights to pull from the Colorado River, although that’s not its first choice.
“The best water comes out of the Collbran power plant,” Clever said.
No matter where the water comes from, it all gets treated and tested to make sure it’s safe for consumption. Ute Water has won the Partnership for Safe Drinking Water award for its treatment plant from the American Water Works Association for 15 years, and is proactive in maintaining all aspects of its infrastructure and processes.
“People feel like we’re always doing construction work, and that’s partially true,” said Andrea Lopez, external affairs manager for Ute Water. As the largest water provider on the Western Slope, Ute Water is committed to continuing to serve and grow with excellence and delicious drinking water.