Day 9. Max and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation System

I get a call from Zach at Kokopelli in the morning again, this time with bad news. I-70, the highway they would need to take to come over here, is closed. There was an accident and there are cold raging storms with 40 inches of predicted snowfall in the next 48 hours, so no way they can come out. This is really not the river-season up there, I do know that by now… But I want to get on the river, with of without them.

However, I don’t mind spending another day with Kate and Bill instead of getting out there in seriously nasty weather. They have already invited me to stay as long as I like. And I like.

This day gives me the chance to meet with Max Schmidt, the director of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation Company in Palisades. He agrees to show me around his water plants, the dam and the connecting canals. It is impressive to see the over 100 year old machinery still working. And all of it is powered by water, no additional electricity needed. Again, I am impressed by the local engineering skills back in the day and how efficient and smart everything was done. Max is a very active advocate of protecting the river and its adjacent systems for the challenges of the future. Like many others, he is against building more pipelines, that take water from the western slope of the Rocky Mountains to the eastern side, where Denver and other growing cities are located. First, they need to find ways to better manage the supplies they get, and to not use the valuable resource of water for making golf-courses and front lawns look greener.

When we pass a solar park, I am impressed. Max scoffs and quotes the slogan on their truck „responsible by nature“. He does not like them and I come to understand why. The solar park is owned by Exxon, the company with the largest lobby in Colorado (according to Max). „I generate power with my hydro plant and I sell it to them. They take their renewable energy credit and they pay me 3 cents a kilowatt. They sell it for 11 cents. My hydropower is green energy. But I don’t get any out of it, other than feeling good because I do it. But Exxon has been given a monopoly.“

I really enjoy the power and passion this man has, when it comes to his cause. „I’m not real shy“ he says and winks. And I wouldn’t want to be in Exxon’s shoes when I have someone like Max as an opponent…

But again, even though Max cares deeply for the environment he lives in, like many others I have recently talked to, Max says „I believe in climate change, in global warming… not so much“. According to him „we had drier times then this over 100 years ago“. I don’t argue, it is not my job here. But I can’t help thinking about the fact that, human behaviors impact on climate change has not been around as much 100 years ago, and even if there had been dry times back then, the current rate at which the climate is changing (globally warming up) is unprecedented. I am not a scientist, I can not describe this to you in detail. But if you look at the scientific facts, (and I will find a link in English and add it here), this has been proven time and again and is a widely understood fact in most other parts of the world. Like many others here, Max also seems not to „believe“ those scientific facts. Unfortunately facts are nothing one can choose to believe in or not. Even more unfortunate is that time is running out to understand and act on this, especially for anybody who is dependent on water…

When asked what he would do, if there was no more Colorado River, like almost everyone I have talked to before him, and who has been passionate about the river, he says that he would move away…

I am tired when I come “home” to Kate and Bill. Conversations like today make me happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because it is great to meet smart people like Max, who have innovative ideas for protecting the river and the environment and who implement them with great effectiveness. Sad, because again, the topic of our responsibility regarding climate change and its consequences and necessary action seems absolutely separate from that. I am looking forward to sitting down at dinner with Kate and Bill and to talk about other things.

Before we eat, one of us says a prayer, which is not necessarily a religious act, but a way to show gratitude for what we have. It’s much like what we do at my parents house. Bill commences his prayer by saying “great spirit…” and he never forgets to mention the “leaders of our world”, hoping for them to take who wise decisions.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is grim. Rain, snow, rain… And it is cold and windy. Kate and Bill have offered „no pressure“ for me to stay for another night and wait for the good weather that is supposed to come the day after tomorrow. I am tempted.

As I lay in bed, the rain is pummeling on the roof. I am happy to be inside. What an evening this was with Kate and Bill. I don’t think I’ve ever had an evening like this one before in my life. A lot like the the ones with my parents, where we sit for hours and have enriching, emotional and honest conversations. But then, Bill and Kate don’t feel like parents at all. They are friends, and the kind of friends where communication is easy from the start, due to an honest approach and a lot of good feelings for one another. It has clicked, I guess that’s how one could put it. We laugh, we smile, we even cry and it never feels uncomfortable because all comes natural. I feel close to them, even though we have only known each other for a ew days. And it is certainly reassuring to know, that with them I have a place to come back to, that they are here and if anything goes sideways further along my trip I can call them, and they will help me out.

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