The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, (UVWUA) was created in 1902 to organize a plan to divert water from the Gunnison River into the Uncompahgre Valley. The Uncompahgre Project was created one year later and resulted in the drilling of the Gunnison Tunnel, a 5.8 mile tunnel through Vernal Mesa. The project was completed in 1909 and in 1927 the Bureau of Reclamation turned the project over to the UVWUA as the managing agent.
The UVWUA system is the largest irrigation system on the Western Slope of Colorado irrigating some 83,000 agricultural and domestic acres and includes over 700 miles of canals, laterals, and ditches. The project diverts a total of over 500,000-acre feet annually. Approximately 9,000-acre feet of that are used for municipal water supply. The UVWUA serves over 3,500 shareholder/members who utilize the water for production of small grains, onions, corn, dry beans, forage crops, and other fruits and vegetables.
In 2014 when the State of Colorado legalized marijuana, the production of industrial hemp also became legal. UVWUA was the leading water district in the State that allowed producers to use irrigation water to raise hemp even though the water flows through Federal water projects. In 2019, an estimated 13,000 acres of hemp were planted in the valley.
UVWUA has 44 full time employees and the Association contributes over $7M to our local economy through operations. The USDA Census shows a total of $83.6M in Market Value of products sold and other farm related income within Montrose County alone. These are new dollars coming into our community.
Steve Anderson has been the Association’s Manager since 2016 and he works with a nine member Board of Directors. In 2018, Steve was appointed by the Governor to the board of directors for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) representing the Gunnison/Uncompahgre Basin. UVWUA continues to develop and manage conservation programs such as piping and lining of their ditches to promote efficiencies and reduce waste. In addition, the board continually works to protect our water rights both on a State and Federal level in order to keep agriculture strong in our valley.
UVWUA has proven to be an innovative and forward thinking organization. Over the past seven years through partnerships with both Delta Montrose Electric Association and private developers, UVWUA has added five clean energy hydroelectric generation plants to the system. These plants generate an average of 70 million kilowatt hours of electricity in a season which is enough to supply the power needs of 8300 average homes. In addition, UVWUA and Gunnison County Electric Association have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a hydroelectric plant at Taylor Park dam. These projects not only produce renewable energy, but they also greatly reduce carbon emissions.
Agriculture is the largest industry in our Region. The quality leadership and innovative planning and conservation efforts of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will enable us to sustain agriculture in our valley and thereby maintain our open green spaces and protect our quality of life.