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Colorado

Yampa River Director Makes a Splash

“I’m committed to the Yampa River. I know the people who depend on it. I care about them, and I care about preserving this river that contributes to our rich quality of life."

-Geoff Blakeslee
Yampa River Program Director,
The Nature Conservancy

Geoff Blakeslee has water on his mind.

As The Nature Conservancy in Colorado’s Director of the Yampa River Program his days are filled with reviewing research, developing conservation strategies and spending time with partners, especially ranchers along one of Colorado’s last free flowing rivers. It’s a comfortable place for Geoff after spending twenty years in the ranching business.

Another big focus for Geoff has been advocating for nature as a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the most important forum for policy and funding as it concerns Colorado’s water future.

Geoff was appointed by Governor Bill Ritter in 2007. As his second and final term came to a close, he became the center of attention for his many accomplishments during a reception in his honor.

One by one CWCB board members spoke words of praise and gratitude about the father of three. “It was an emotional and heartfelt evening,” says Geoff.

“Geoff embodies the characteristics that we aspire to in all of the Conservancy’s work: he is thoughtful and listens well, he respects other points of view, and he is firmly committed to solutions that work for both nature and people,” says John Sanderson, the Conservancy in Colorado’s director of conservation science. “At the reception, it was gratifying to hear Geoff described by his peers in exactly these terms.”

When Geoff joined the ranks of the board, he was the only conservationist. Most of the board members were water providers. In the name of nature, Geoff faced an uphill battle.

“I was a bit skeptical about the ‘environmentalist’ on the board,” admits John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. “We didn’t always agree, but he helped influence our thinking about environmental needs in a non-confrontational and meaningful way. We all appreciated Geoff’s smart, balanced and science-driven approach.”

Geoff played a role in many key decisions impacting the state’s water.

One he’s most proud of centers around instream flows, the amount of water needed to protect the environment including fish and plants. In 2013, he supported a change in state law that would make funding available to acquire water for instream flow purposes under expanded criteria.

This change would make funding available for water to be acquired to improve the environment rather than simply preserve the environment. “The law had required the bare minimum for the environment,” says Geoff. “This change gives fish, plant communities (and other wildlife) a better chance to thrive rather than just survive.”

Geoff’s term on the Board may be over, but there’s a whole lot of work to do in the Yampa River Valley. The Yampa River is the economic driver in northwest Colorado, supporting recreation, agriculture and communities.

"I’m committed to the Yampa River,” affirms Geoff. “I know the people who depend on it. I care about them, and I care about preserving this river that contributes to our rich quality of life."

His commitment is evident. Geoff is working with partners to develop a water sharing program with ranchers. The program is intended to use market-based approaches to sustaining ranching while creating healthier rivers.

Additionally, Geoff guided a collaborative research project that answers the question, “how much water does it take to keep a fish alive?” This information is being used to develop conservation strategies throughout the Valley.

Rivers are at the heart of everything we love in Colorado: stunning landscapes, a rich agricultural heritage, and thriving cities,” adds Sanderson. “There are many competing demands for water in Colorado, so smart planning that includes river protection is critically important. With science and collaboration we can meet the needs of cities, farms, and ranches, while still maintaining the healthy rivers we cherish. Geoff’s work on the Yampa and with the Board is helping us get there.”

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