Academic journal article Material Culture

Water-Conveyance Technology and the Preservation of Agriculture in Colorado's Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

Academic journal article Material Culture

Water-Conveyance Technology and the Preservation of Agriculture in Colorado's Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

Article excerpt

Bob and Julie Commons grew up in Colorado on the Colorado Piedmont. They married and moved into the Rocky Mountains to Alma, a snowy place in Summit County high in the mountains. In 2007, they relocated to the west side of the Rocky Mountains, the Western Slope, a region carved by the erosional down-cutting of the Colorado River. Here, Bob and Judy could fulfill a longtime dream of staying in Colorado but living in a part of it with the best of both worlds - a more agreeable climate and not too far from snowmobiling country. Nowin their fifties, they are third generation Coloradans and are all too familiar with Colorado's water issues and the associated backdrop of old and new irrigation technologies. Julie recalls being aware of the constant pressures the Front Range's urban growth put on her family and their agricultural land, of which she still owns some acreage. Julie and Bob share a little different perspective now - in the Grand Valley agricultural region, their business supports agriculture/tourism even though their main use of irrigation water is for their lawn and not for agricultural purposes. Their neighbor across the street, Linda Lee, espouses a different perspective. Linda Lee Gubbini owns a vineyard and a winery. She is also a full-time nurse. Her front and back yards make up a well-manicured vineyard (Figure 1). She operates her winery out of her home. What she does or does not do on her side of the water system sometimes affects the water supply to the Commons property and vice versa albeit to a lesser degree. Bob and Julie did not fully understand their rights at first even though their real estate contract explained that irrigation water rights came with their property. Once they understood that the system flow to their land was controlled by the opening and closing of the gate on the cistern on Linda Lee's property, Bob and Julie approached Linda Lee. Here's how Julie remembered the story:

Julie: "Hi [Linda Lee], we just wanted to know when do you open the gate?"

Linda Lee: "I have to make repairs, so I'm not opening it for two weeks. "

Linda Lee's boyfriend: "That doesn't matter, you could open it up for these guys..."

Julie said the facial expression Linda Lee then directed at her boyfriend was the one that can cause a man's voice to fade away quickly - as Julie termed it, a "who-the-hell-are-you-to-decide-anything" look.

Julie: "That's OK; just let us know so we can flush the system."

According to Julie, Linda Lee later realized she was in the wrong, because the repairs that she needed to make would not interfere with the Commons' ability to get water. Linda Lee's property backs up to Orchard Mesa Canal #2. Gravity pipes water to Bob and Julie's property and to a couple other families on the same headgate. Bob and Julie have a drainage ditch that borders the eastern edge of their land and returns unused!overflow water from Canal #2 to Orchard Mesa Canal #1. While Linda Lee maintains the headgate, Bob and Julie are responsible for cleaning the silt and debris from the waste ditch, while the other owners reap benefits with minimalparticipation. Julie and Bob explained that their end of the process is very expensive and dirty and that they would soon be looking for more space to spread the accumulating muck. Luckily, Bob works as a low-boy driver for a heavy equipment tool rental company that services primarily the nearby pad sites of the various oil and gas companies in the region, meaning he gets a discount and knows how to operate the machinery used to clean the ditch of debris. After six years of being neighbors, Linda Lee and Bob and Julie have a better understanding of the complicated colossus that is Colorado water law and of the operation of their district's water delivery system. (J. and B. Commons, pers. comm., Sept. 2012, Sept. 2013; L. Gubbini, pers. comm., Aug. 2012).

This account given by Julie and Bob Commons1, the owners of Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast in Palisade, Colorado, desc35ribes water issues faced by three landowners who live in the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District (OMID). …

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