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Koontz stepping down from Gunnison Basin Roundtable

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Wendell Koontz

Delta County has put out a call for citizens interested in joining the Gunnison Basin Roundtable as a municipal representative after Wendell Koontz recently announced he is stepping down.

Koontz, who also serves as mayor of Hotchkiss, was first appointed to the roundtable in 2009. After becoming mayor of Hotchkiss, he said he didn't believe he would be able to make the five-year commitment and give enough time to the group and stepped down. He returned after giving it some serious consideration and deciding the issues the roundtable deals with were worth his time and effort.

Koontz, whose background is in geology, has worked for Arch Coal since 1996 as a senior mine geologist. He believes his background in and knowledge of geology and on-the-job training in hydrology -- the science of water -- and geo-chemical engineering made for a good fit because it is all technical by nature.

The Gunnison Basin covers 8,000 square miles in western Colorado. Navigating the multiple layers of the system is indeed technical, and the people involved are "very smart and dedicated," said Koontz. "Once I got there I learned quickly that I have a lot to learn" about the administration and politics behind water in western Colorado. "It's quite a subject to get your arms around."

The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is one of nine in the state representing Colorado's eight major river basins and the Denver-metro area. The roundtables were created in 2005 under the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act to "facilitate continued discussion within and between basins on water management issues," and to seek cooperative solutions to water supply challenges. The Gunnison Basin's 32 members represent Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and Saguache counties, municipalities within those counties, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and numerous water conservancy districts, and 10 state and federal agencies.

While he doesn't serve on any special committees, Koontz has worked on special projects, including the draft of the Gunnison Basin Implementation Plan, which is being incorporated into Colorado's Water Plan. Developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the plan creates a framework for meeting the water needs of a growing population under the act.

Some of his biggest challenges have been in educating the public on the region's water issues, understanding water needs in both consumptive (irrigation, municipal use) and non-consumptive (mandated stream flows, recreation, etc.) uses, and learning how water actually moves through the system.

"It's been very rewarding, personally," said Koontz.

The time commitment includes attending monthly meetings in Montrose the first Monday of each month except January, July and September. Attendance at special meetings is also recommended, and members can serve on subcommittees. The next scheduled meeting is Oct. 5.

Interested parties should submit a letter of interest to the Delta County Board of County Commissioners.

Koontz, whose term as mayor expires in 2016, said he believes it's important to remain involved with water issues, but that it's time for new ideas and perspectives. "It has been a real honor" to work with roundtable members, said Koontz, whose replacement will be named as early as in October. "I hope I served the people well."

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North Fork
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Gunnison Basin Roundtable, Hotchkiss
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