A warrior in irrigation boots
Tuesday, September 1, 2015 10:00 AM
Ruth Hutchins understood the value of water in the West, and she also knew the importance of supporting her community. Her son Will Hutchins said she believed that if you made a living in a community, you had to give something back to it.
Ruth eventually combined those two ideas, and until her death in 1997, she was known as a water activist. She was unafraid to challenge federal agencies and local authorities or to enlist the aid of elected officials to protect small farmers and other water users.
Hutchins also helped found the Mesa County Water Association to encourage discussion and seek solutions to water issues. Her legacy will be enshrined when the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University becomes the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center on Oct. 1. The naming ceremony will take place at 1pm on the Dominguez Hall terrace.
“She was always so active in the Mesa County Water Association,” said her son Tad Hutchins. “She believed that the more people know about water and Colorado water law, the better off we are.” When the Water Association morphed into the Water Center at CMU, the four Hutchins siblings decided an endowment for the center would be a great way to honor their mother, he added.
The naming is entirely appropriate, said CMU President Tim Foster. “We’re talking about someone who really cared about water and about making the system work better.”
Foster became acquainted with Ruth when he was a state representative in the 1980s. Through all the water rights-related legislation they worked on together, Ruth pushed to get things done without seeking the limelight. “Ruth didn’t want to be the leader of the parade, but she wanted to make sure the parade was moving,” Foster said.
Tad now operates his parents’ Fruita farm, while Will has his own farm near Delta. Their sister, Judith Hutchins, lives in Montana, while another brother, Thomas, is in Virginia. All four have found some outlet for the community activism model their mother taught them.
“She was definitely driven,” Tad said. “She was a voice for a lot of people” who didn’t understand details of water law but felt their interests weren’t adequately represented.
Locally, Ruth often attended meetings in blue jeans and irrigation boots. She was more stylish when she went to Denver to testify on a bill, but people often dismissed her initially. “You underestimated Ruth at your own risk,” Foster said. “She was sort of unassuming, but once she opened her mouth it was clear she knew what she was talking about.”
The Mesa County Water Association went dormant after her death but was resurrected in 2008. With the help of former CMU political science professor John Redifer, it became the Water Center at CMU in 2011.
The center’s mission is “to perform and facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative research, education, outreach and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.” As part of that mission, the center hopes to support regional water research by CMU students and faculty, center coordinator Hannah Holm said. The Hutchins family’s endowment will help meet that goal. Nearly 20 years after her death, Ruth Hutchins and her family are still giving back to their community.
By Bob Silbernagel
Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations