Then there’s the water: The Rio Grande Basin

By Christi Bode

May, 1999. Driving westward, Dad gingerly sips from a mega-sized coffee cup as we approach our tenth hour on Interstate 70. Leaving the hometown familiarity of the Connecticut River valley, along with its lush rolling green hills and plentiful fresh waters, the flat expanses of the west looked naked to my East Coast eyes. I felt betrayed by the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” signage we saw several miles ago.  Low and behold, there they were – my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. The landscape grew on me, filling the void of salty waters and enveloping hardwood forests. I liked the breathing space and the drama of visible distance. The land presents itself in particulars and is alluring to the curious mind.

Then there’s the water.

The West comes with its own set of vocabulary: drought, wildfires, snowpack, aquifers, water rights. Observing the Front Range’s rapidly changing landscape over the past 15 years has left me wondering how we’re all going to fit into this environment, rather than how it will fit around us. The beige and tan hues of new suburban developments reminded me of my first monotonous views of the plains. Where is Colorful Colorado going?

I found my answer along a drive down 285 South a few years ago, during the height of growing season. Bounded by the jagged peaks of two mighty mountain ranges in south-central Colorado lies the San Luis Valley, a fertile high plain desert that had been a blank canvas to me until that August day. Some days I’m not so sure if I found it or it found me.

The grandeur of the valley’s landscape is what originally captivated my attention, but the fierce integrity of those who live here is why I’ve kept coming back. From the passenger’s seat of a potato truck to surveying fields of fallowed land, basin roundtable meetings to phone conversations about the latest water meeting; over time I’ve learned why people here are able to accomplish something remarkable. This proactive community is rallying together, creating internal solutions to formidable challenges that faces this region, along with the rest of Colorado and American West, in years to come.

The West is thick with stories and disputes are brewing globally as water is becoming the new oil.  Water, a seemingly pure element, must be one of the most complex and opinionated topics to tell of. Someone recently told me you don’t go into the water business if you don’t have hope for the road ahead. Colorado and its nine river basins are strategically planning for the future and laying the brickwork for a comprehensive state water plan. Over the next several months, I will be exploring these collaborative efforts as they address current and future challenges ahead, as outlined in the Rio Grande Basin’s implementation plan. Please follow my video series on my website and through a series of blog posts here as I explore this unique region, its conservation and renewal efforts, innovative water business practices and the implementation of a water plan during a critical time in state history.

ChristiBode headshotChristi Bode, Denver-based film producer and photographer, finds her favorite stories in the some of the most unsuspecting places. From editorial assignments involving unicyclists on Independence Pass to documentary work in the headwaters of the Rio Grande, Bode is inspired by how people are shaped by their surrounding environment. Part documentarian, part producer – a contrast that lends her work a sharp point of view with an approachable feel full of context and story.

Christi always enjoys a good drive to the Middle of Nowhere that tends to evolve into Absolutely Somewhere. email: website: IG: @christi_b

Read more about the Rio Grande Basin in the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Valley With a View issue of Headwaters magazine. 

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