No more trans-mountain diversions without consent
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposed new agreement between Denver Water and dozens of West Slope communities gives both sides some assurance as to how Colorado River water will be allocated in the coming decades, Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager Eric Kuhn said this week at the annual state of the River meeting.
Kuhn sat on a panel with Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead and Summit County manager Gary Martinez, as well as the Summit County commissioners, together outlining the give and take of the deal that clears the way for Denver Water’s proposed expansion of its Moffat Tunnel collection system in Grand County — a project still under scrutiny by federal and state agencies, including the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The Moffat Tunnel project wouldn’t directly take any new water from Summit County, but because of the complex plumbing involved, it would result in increased diversions from the Blue River Basin — 5,000 acre feet, taken during spring runoff in wet and average years.
Denver Water also promises not to pursue any new trans-mountain diversion projects without cooperation from the West Slope, and commits to more conservation and re-use, as well as a cap on its service area.
“We needed to find a way to fully re-use our supplies … we have an obligation to re-use our supplies under the Blue River Decree,” Lochhead said, referring to a landmark 1955 agreement that essentially divvies up the water from one of the key Colorado River headwaters streams. Disagreements over the language of that decree heated up as the demand for water exploded on both sides of the Divide, with both sides considering legal action to clear up the different interpretations.
But instead of choosing litigation, the two sides went down the path of mediated negotiations.
“Long-time disputes were resolved,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, adding that Denver Water will impose a West Slope surcharge on certain types of water sales, potentially providing an ongoing source of funding for environmental projects, including forest health work.
At one point, Lochhead was asked by an audience member how much of Denver Water’s total usage — about half — goes to outdoor landscape irrigation. For perspective, Kuhn said a similar percentage is used for outdoor irrigation on the West Slope.
“We’re not going to dry up all the bluegrass lawns on the Front Range, we’re not going to get that,” said Commissioner Thomas Davidson. What you’ve got to understand is what we’re getting in this agreement is far more than what we could have gotten in water court from a judge,” Davidson concluded.
This is a summary of the agreement as posted on the Colorado River Water Conservation District website:
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