Cary Denison is the Gunnison Basin Project Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. In this role Cary works with agricultural producers on agricultural efficiency projects that result in improving streamflow while solving problems that irrigators face. Cary has lived in the Gunnison Basin his entire life and has worked in the water world as a Water Commissioner for the State and as a private water consultant.
This interview was published on August 28, 2018.
Did you grow up around water? Where? What are your fondest early memories of rivers, lakes, or streams?
I grew up in a water family. My dad was a water commissioner for the state of Colorado and he also managed a ditch company in the North Fork, and we lived on a small ranch. I remember buying my first fishing rod when I was 10 years old with money I’d earned bucking bales. Water was an important part of my life from a young age. I learned to love water and understand the value of it, particularly in the West.
Was your experience fly fishing the transformative experience that made you realize that you wanted to stand up for clean water?
Fishing gave me a better understanding of the give and take in the water world. The same water we fished in would be used to irrigate our fields the next day. I recall seeing this connection between the river I loved, where I fished, and the connection in sending water to irrigate the farms in the region.
Why is protecting water important to you now?
I worked privately in the water world for 6 years. I owned a consulting business, working with landowners and developers to perfect water rights and develop the land. I eventually started working for a nonprofit in Delta, Colorado, where I worked on restoring the Gunnison River by replacing the Heartland Dam with a fish- and boater-friendly passage. This was an eye-opening experience to learn that you can make a living while also doing good work for rivers and streams. In contrast to consulting work, this work on the Gunnison River was helping landowners, fish, boaters, and other stakeholders. To me, this work is the measure of how we can be good stewards and do what’s best for a lot of folks.
What has been your experience working with River Network and how has River Network supported your work or what you do?
River Network has been a great venue for meeting other people in the NGO world who are working on similar projects across different landscapes. This network has helped me learn different ways of approaching my work. The network helps me broaden aspects of my work and knowledge base.
What water related accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I recently worked on the Big Cimarron River in collaboration with the Bostwick Park Conservancy District and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to maintain base flow this summer to keep the river from running dry. In a year like this, that is no small feat. Having the ability to work with a wide variety of stakeholders, often those who don’t have the river’s best interest in mind, has been a rewarding accomplishment.
What positive changes would you like to see for water in your community in the next 10 years?
I would like to see us better prepared to handle water shortage in a way that incentivizes reduction in consumptive use for agricultural and municipal water users in a manner that works for them and protects their water rights. This preparedness would ideally help protect all users from negative impacts and risks of shortage.