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Water Use at Forefront of National Western

The CSU Spur Hydro building at the National Western Complex officially opened on January 6, to educate the public on water, conservation and agriculture.  Attending the event, were U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, Governor Jared Polis, and Mayor Michael Hancock. They spoke highly of the new building and the CSU Spur project as a whole.

“This complex behind me, the stock show, and the city not only understand the challenges that we face and the significance of food and agriculture to all of us,” said Vilsack. “More importantly they understand there’s a way to transform agriculture so it’s not just profitable for some, but profitable for all, productive for all, and sustainable for all.”

The Hydro building is a new addition to the CSU Spur complex which also includes the Vida and Terra buildings. Hydro contains art exhibits, educational demonstrations, as well as a lab dedicated to testing the water and soil quality for anyone worried about what is in our drinking water. Director of the Soil, Water, and Plant testing lab at CSU, Wilma Trujillo, tests thousands of samples from across Colorado and knows that the new lab will help provide a vital service to the public.

“We still use this research done at CSU to improve our work and methods of testing, but also to educate the community,” said Trujillo. “We interact with people, and they can come to us to find answers, and we give them easy access.”

Denver Water partnered with CSU and was instrumental in its construction of CSU Spur. According to Manager of Demand Planning Greg Fisher, Denver’s water is of high quality thanks to Colorado’s snow melt and reservoirs. However, issues such as water scarcity and contamination still affect Denverites, along with the challenges from climate change.

Denver Water is combating these issues, as well as planning long term by replacing old lead pipes around Denver and monitoring harmful chemicals in in our water that comes from everyday items that are thrown away. Educating the public about these threats to water is vital to the future of safe and clean water, according to Fisher.

“I run our conservation program, and not only is it important our customers understand where our water comes from, from a quality and safety standpoint, but also the importance of using it efficiently,” Fisher said. “More so in the future, we will need to partner with our customers, and that starts with everyone understanding our water issues.”

The balance between urban and agricultural water usage is delicate, and CSU partnered with the National Western Stock Show to help ensure the content, exhibits, and curriculum reflected that. Ranchers from all across the country attend the National Western Stock Show in Denver every January, and have noticed a misconception when it comes to their use of the land and water.

“We really don’t need a lot of people telling us what to do, we’re the ones making a living off the land, and we’re not there to rape it. It’s our responsibility to take care of it,” said Brian Ratzburg, owner of Bobcat Angus in Montana. “Our family has been on the land since 1880, if we didn’t know how to take care of our land, we wouldn’t be in business.”

Ratzburg goes to great lengths to follow state protocol to avoid water contamination and over-usage of the resource. His friend and fellow rancher, Jake Scott of Krebs Ranch in Nebraska, also feels that most do not understand ranchers’ dedication to the environment.

“We were conservationists before conservationists were cool,” said Scott. “It’s not a new thing, it’s something that’s in our DNA, and we have to do it to be successful.”

Jeff Creamer, owner of Lazy J.B. Angus in Montrose, thinks that the Stock Show is another useful tool to inform the public about the work they do. Though Creamer has not dealt with much water scarcity in the 25 years he’s been operating his ranch, the issue persists further down the Colorado River. Urban cities and suburbs downstream require more and more water, limiting the amount that can be used for agriculture in Colorado. 

“They require more water than what they’re allowed, and they want us to give up ours. It comes down to whether we’ll have the water for people to build houses or to grow food, and we’re coming to that point quickly,” Creamer said.

The misconception that ranchers over-use water without care for the environment or cities is unfounded, according to Creamer. In part, it helps contribute to a skew in the balance between agricultural and urban water usage when it comes to policy.

“It’s skewing more towards the cities because of the tax revenue. In agriculture, we’re not going to give them the tax revenue that a subdivision will,” said Creamer. “They need to understand what we go through, to provide them what they want.”

It is the goal of the CSU Spur project and the Stock Show to dismantle that misconception, and hopefully find the balance between both urban and rural water-usage. Though water scarcity is set to rise over the coming years because of Climate Change, the ranchers were far less worried than most; knowing that it’s just another challenge like the ones they face every day.

“There’s always concerns and hardships and difficulties,” said Scott. “We’re accustomed to those kinds of things, so it doesn’t scare us or worry us. It’s just part of our lifestyle and a part of our business.”

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