Draft Colorado water plan eyes west slope rivers

Conservation groups concerned about impacts

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A map included in a draft version of a water plan is reason for alarm, according river activist Gary Wockner, with Save the Poudre, who says Front Range providers are targeting additional diversions from West Slope streams.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Front Range alternative for a statewide water plan ordered by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is drawing fire, as watchdog groups charge that the draft version puts too much emphasis upping diversions from Western Slope rivers.

“Just laying out this scheme of diversions and pipelines on a map enflames the political chaos around the Colorado River water supply crisis,” said river activist Gary Wockner director, of Save the Poudre.

According to Wockner, the draft plan being developed by the South Platte, Arkansas and Metro Roundtable could be an effort steer the state water plan toward more dams and diversions, at the expense of losing sight of the need for much more robust conservation measures.

“This water developer plan openly and publicly defies Governor Hickenlooper’s directive to ‘start every discussion about water with conservation’ and would basically ignite the next water war in the Southwest,” Wockner said.

Hickenlooper last May issued an executive order calling for the new plan. Water roundtables around the state are in the process of developing draft alternatives that could be blended together in the final version. The draft causing Wockner’s consternation reflects the long-held Front Range viewpoint that, since the region represents 80 percent of Colorado’s population and economic activity, it is entitled to use water from the West Slope.

That concept may fly with old-school water buffaloes but won’t win much favor from conservation groups and advocates for the recreation-based economy on the Western Slope.

The draft alternative points out that Front Range water providers are struggling to get permits even for modest projects, and charges that the “default” state water plan envisions drying up “hundreds of thousands of acres” of Colorado’s most productive agricultural land.”

The Front Range Roundtable says its vision for meeting the east slope municipal supply gap includes:

  • 1. Reaching enhanced levels of municipal conservation and reuse.
  • 2. Successful permitting and development of planned municipal supply projects.
  • 3. Continued research, testing, and use of agricultural and municipal water-sharing partnerships.
  • 4. New water storage on the east slope using environmentally beneficial methods.
    5. Preserving the ability to develop Colorado’s allocation of Colorado River water.
  • 6. When it is needed, development of state water project(s) using Colorado River water for
    municipal uses on the east and west slopes.

The draft plan puts conservation measures at the top of the list, but says those won’t be enough to balance the equation. As a result the Front Rage stakeholders say future development of supplies in the Colorado River are integral to any statewide plan and must:

1. Identify locations and conceptual configurations of state water projects on the Green, Yampa, and Gunnison rivers using SWSI information as a starting point.

2. Identify the amounts, locations, and timing of east and west slope supply gaps
that will remain after construction of the planned supply projects.

3. Preserve the option to build projects on the Green, Yampa and Gunnison rivers including securing water rights and land easements or ownership.

4. Establish a trigger for determining when the project(s) would be needed and establish legislative and financial support for the project.

5. Require an allowance for identified projects in relevant recreational in-channel diversion project and Wild and Scenic process and alternative protection plans.

6. An objective and creative investigation of how to operate Colorado River Storage Project Act reservoirs in the state to reduce the risk of curtailment under the Colorado River compact and how to operate the reservoirs to benefit help meet the municipal supply gap.

The proposal is out of step with an emerging public consensus on water, Wockner said.

“The Roundtable members simply don’t represent the public,” Wockner said. “Further, they have proposed massive new dams, diversions, and pipelines, but have not addressed the impact on the environment or restoring healthy flows to the public’s rivers at all.”

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5 Responses

  1. Bob, do you know a site that shows the rainfall for Summit County in August? It seems to have rained a ton…trying to figure out where it stacks up to average.

  2. Until or unless Western governors work together in the understanding that the future of primarily arid regions in the West (think west of the 100th meridian) will depend on wise use of whatever waters there are and will be in our rivers and understand that doubling down on conservation is crucial, they will continue on past the tipping point
    on the whole complex issue of water.
    95 % of water use in much of the west is from agriculture. It is time to consider what crops should be grown that are less water demanding.

    • Correct. As much as I love the smell and look of alfalfa, you really have to wonder whether it’s the right thing to grow. Not to pick on alfalfa — but the whole question of ag water use is one of the biggest pieces of this equation.

  3. Back in the day, after the first big dam projects were built, when Denver wanted more water we more or less successfully held it off by arguing it was better to leave the water on the West Slope and let Grand Junction grow instead of more Front Range congestion. Not a bad argument to use now. But the real problem west of the 100th Meridian is too many people for a dry region. Desert Cadillac made the argument that we should stop growing cows and alfalfa so as to leave more water for people. I think cows and alfalfa are the better choice. In times of drought–one can stop having them within a year, but people are more or less forever. Any water saved by giving up agriculture is going to end up allowing more development somewhere. It is time for the western governors to get together on this, and hire some really good, imaginative economists to figure out how to have a more or less steady state economy, I think, with marginal population growth and comfortable livings for all.

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