A River’s Reckoning

The story of a 5th generation ranching family working to sustain their agricultural legacy while bringing back a healthy Colorado River. 

Ranch life is a hard life, especially when ranching in a closed mountain valley where the lowest mountain road to the outside world is over 10,000ft in elevation. Short, cold seasons and harsh conditions challenge even the toughest lot. For the Bruchez family, ranching is literally in their blood. Working with the land to grow food and carry on a legacy of agriculture, this 5th generation Colorado ranching family has faced plenty of challenges, and are determined to carry on. But when the intense Colorado drought of 2000 – 2002 struck, stretching the Colorado River to its limit, the Bruchez family realized they needed to strike a new balance working with the river to keep their agricultural production sustainable.

Join us, as we get a glimpse into the lifestyle, and tough choices, that confronted the Bruchez family in this critical moment for both them and the Colorado River.

Paul Bruchez leads a coalition of ranchers known as the Irrigators of the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK). The ILVK consists of a dozen ranches over a 12-mile reach of the Upper Colorado River and 1 ½ miles of the Blue River. As flows in the Upper Colorado have diminished over time due to diversions that pipe and pump water to Front Range cities such as Denver and Fort Collins, ranchers have increasingly experienced challenges for their irrigation systems. Most use pumps to pull water from the river and the low flows have left their pump intakes high and dry during certain times of the irrigation season.

The ILVK component of the Colorado River Headwaters Project is a collaborative effort to address these irrigation issues while enhancing riparian and aquatic habitat, improving water quality and important river functions like sediment transport, and modernizing irrigation infrastructure. The project takes a system-wide approach and will recreate more than 2 dozen historic riffles throughout the 12-mile reach to elevate water levels in the river to support irrigation operations, while improving aquatic and riparian habitat. Project success depends on participation from each of the ILVK ranchers, and is supported and funded by a diverse group of partners including federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and municipal water providers, demonstrating that healthy and productive ranches need healthy rivers to thrive.

This film was produced by American Rivers and Trout Unlimited, with generous support from River Network and Nite Ize, Inc.