Arkansas, Metro and South Platte roundtables combined meeting: Conserved consumptive use?

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At a recent combined roundtable meeting Jennifer Gimbel — Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board — poured a little cold water on the idea of a pipeline from Flaming Gorge (either Aaron Million’s or the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition) as the “silver bullet” that would solve Front Range water needs without drying up agriculture. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“I don’t believe a project from Flaming Gorge to bring in 250,000 acre-feet is going to cut it. It’s going to take a combination of proposals,” Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told a meeting of Front Range water interests Wednesday. “There’s no silver bullet.”

The meeting combined state basin roundtables for the Arkansas River, South Platte River and Denver Metro areas. It was the second time the three groups have met jointly. In 2007, the roundtables learned about potential strategies. This time, the objective was to put “meat on the bones” of those plans, said Alex Davis of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Gimbel’s statement drew immediate fire from Rod Kuharich, chairman of the Metro Roundtable. Kuharich is director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which is looking at a Flaming Gorge Project similar to an idea first proposed by Aaron Million. Up until 2007, he was the CWCB director as well. “I am real disappointed to see a large project dismissed carte blanche, regardless of who does it,” Kuharich said, adding that other projects like Blue Mesa pumpback should be examined as well. Kuharich said conservation and lease-fallowing options also discussed at Wednesday’s meeting are only partial strategies that do not give municipal water suppliers certainty. Conservation should not be relied on to provide water for future growth, because the sources of water will dry up, Kuharich said. He described the terms of lease-fallowing programs, such as Super Ditch in the Arkansas Valley, as “draconian.”

“How are you so sure it’s draconian when you twice failed to respond to an invitation to meet with Super Ditch?” said Peter Nichols, who is a Metro roundtable member and attorney for the Super Ditch…

“Conservation alone is not the answer,” [Keith Yahn, Sterling farmer and water manager who chairs the South Platte Roundtable] said. “It appears agriculture is going to bear the brunt of the state’s water gap. That water is reused six or seven times by the time it reaches the state line.” Don Shawcroft, president of the Colorado Agriculture Water Users Alliance, echoed that concern. “We’re concerned about the public’s perception of agriculture’s needs,” Shawcroft said. “What are the economic incentives to conserve water?”

The alliance is arguing for a new category of water in Colorado’s hierarchy, called conserved consumptive use, that would allow farmers to market water.

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