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Study explores way to protect Colorado River water

MOAB — Sarah Sidwell turned off her faucets and started hauling her own water three years ago as an exercise in conservation: She wanted to see how much water she used for daily activities such as showering and washing the dishes.

Although she could have stopped long ago, the manager of a river-running business in Moab said she figured if she's going to preach conservation, she better live it.

Sidwell's Tag-A-Long Expeditions is one of 370 businesses that are part of the Protect the Flows coalition, which is offering up options to be weighed in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Study.

The study is part of an exhaustive effort by the Bureau of Reclamation examining current and future imbalances in the Colorado River system over the next 50 years and ways to restore balance.

After an evaluation period anticipated to last through June, the study will provide a road map of strategies that can be undertaken to help ensure the river system remains a viable water resource for the next 50 years.

Sidwell is keenly aware of how much her way of life and her community depends on the waters of the Colorado.

"If we don't have water in the river, there are hundreds of towns that are now desolate. The river is our lifeline; it is how we make our money down here," Sidwell said. "If I don't have a river to boat on, or the beautiful views or vistas to share with people — if that river is gone — this town pretty much crumbles, dries up and blows away."

Protect the Flows, of which Sidwell is a Utah delegate, is endorsing the care-taking of the water resources through options such as enhanced urban conservation, improvements in agricultural efficiency and water banking — relying on the market to move water to where users need it.

The group said historical data complied by the U.S. Geological Survey with its streamflow monitoring system should be relied on extensively for determining a practical calculation of how much water actually exists in the system — not what is predicted through widely-varying snowpack seasons.

"There is actual empirical evidence that shows how much water we can expect to have in the river," Sidwell said.

The coalition was in Washington, D.C., earlier this year to present its ideas, which include establishing guidelines for new "water-smart" landscape designs, encouraging pool cover usage and providing incentives to farmers for incorporating more water-efficient irrigation technologies.

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