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Watershed planning underway for North Fork

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A project that will analyze water demands and create a planning framework for future infrastructure improvements on the North Fork of the Gunnison River is now underway.

This undertaking is the result of collaboration between Trout Unlimited, North Fork Water Conservancy District and Western Slope Conservation Center. All of these groups hope to produce a planning document that can help guide water projects on the North Fork in the years to come.

Project partners were awarded $84,500 in funding by the Colorado Water Conservation Board's Stream Management Plan and Water Supply Reserve Account grants. This effort will complete two "tier one" projects identified by the Gunnison Basin Roundtable: Inventory of Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Needs for North Fork and Environmental/Recreation Project Identification and Inventory for the North Fork. Funds from the three cooperating groups will match the grant funds.

The project was recently awarded to Olsson and Associates, an engineering firm from Grand Junction, led by Luke Gingerich. Olsson expects to gather information about water use and needs in the North Fork Valley from Paonia Reservoir to the confluence with the Gunnison River throughout the irrigation season. This information will be used to create the final plan that will include specific recommendations about infrastructure improvements.

In the recent past many of the irrigation ditches in the North Fork Valley have been improved by the Basin Salinity Program which has allowed some water users to implement irrigation efficiency improvements.

"These opportunities may not exist for all the ditches and water users in the area," said Tom Alvey, president of the North Fork Water Conservancy District. "We need to identify all major needs and find a way to address those."

By involving all water users who depend on or use the North Fork, the collaborating group hopes to create a list of win-win projects that improve the health of the river while building resiliency to drought and meeting the needs of all users.

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