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Throughout the history of the American West, water issues have shown their ability to both unite and divide communities. As an imbalance between water supplies and demands grows in the region, KUNC is committed to covering the stories that emerge.

A Kremmling rancher is heading to the State of the Union

Paul Bruchez on ranch
Courtesy of Joshua Duplechian
Trout Unlimited
Paul Bruchez, who operates Reeder Creek Ranch near Kremmling, is Senator Michael Bennet's guest to the State of the Union address. Bennet is bringing Bruchez to highlight the role of agriculture in solving the West's growing water crisis.

Lawmakers from coast to coast will convene at the nation’s capital to hear President Joe Biden deliver his annual State of the Union address. Reeder Creek Ranch owner, Paul Bruchez, will be among them

Each member of congress is allowed to bring one guest and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet will bring Bruchez as his one allotted guest.

“I am honored,” said Bruchez, who operates his ranch near Kremmling. “I am very excited. A little bit terrified with some of the obligations, because I recognize what it means, but I think it's terrified in a good way.”

Bennet said he chose Bruchez as his guest to highlight the region’s water issues and the role of agriculture in discussions about the future of the West’s strained rivers.

The Colorado River is shrinking due to climate change, causing its most important reservoirs to dip to historic lows. Meanwhile, the seven states that use the river’s water have been caught in a standoff over how to reduce demand. The river supplies 40 million people from Wyoming to Mexico, and nearly 80% of its water is used for agriculture.

“We’re facing a five-alarm crisis in the American West. In the months and years ahead, the entire Colorado River Basin is going to look to Colorado’s family farmers, ranchers, and water users for their leadership and example of how to do more with less,” wrote Bennet in a statement.

Bennet said Bruchez “leads by example” through his restoration work on a 12-mile section of the Colorado River. Bruchez is also on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s top water agency.

“As the people on the ground, on the front line, we live with it every day,” Bruchez said. “We've watched this happen for a long time. We need to have a seat at the table because I think that we are some of the best at understanding how to adapt.”

Colorado River Kremmling
Nick Cote for KUNC
The Colorado River runs near Kremmling, Colorado. Nearly 80% of the river's water is used for agriculture, putting the sector under pressure as the region tries to reduce demand.

As states along the Colorado River discuss its future, the role of agriculture has been in the spotlight. Given the large proportion of water used by the sector, experts say cutting back on the amount flowing to farms and ranches will be a big part of tempering the region’s demand.

Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has already given the federal government a role in helping encourage cut back on agricultural use. After designating $4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act for Colorado River matters, the Department of the Interior announced in October that $500 million would go to efficiency upgrades in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Another chunk of IRA money would be set aside for direct payments to farmers and ranchers to forgo water deliveries from Lake Mead in the river’s Lower Basin, primarily in Arizona and California.

Then, in December, those Upper Basin states pitched a similar plan, using $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act for payouts to farmers – an effort “mitigate the impacts of long-term drought and depleted storage.”

Bruchez represents growers who are focused on more efficient techniques.

“Innovation within agriculture and thinking about how we can do things in a different way is critical for all of us,” Bruchez said.

Bruchez’s appearance in Washington, D.C. comes just after states made headlines with their responses to a federal ask for water conservation plans. Six states agreed on a proposal to keep more water in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. California, the lone holdout, pitched a counter proposal that would conserve less water.

This story is part of ongoing coverage of water in the West, produced by KUNC in Colorado and supported by the Walton Family Foundation. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial coverage.

Trout Unlimited, which provided a photo for this story, also receives some of its funding from the Walton Family foundation.

Alex is KUNC's reporter covering the Colorado River Basin. He spent two years at Aspen Public Radio, mainly reporting on the resort economy, the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he covered the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery for KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska.
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