CWCB: Front Range water suppliers asking for top-down planning (and modification of environmental protections)

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Large Front Range water suppliers wrote a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 15 asking for a review of regional water planning to date. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A July 15 letter from the major importers of Western Slope water – Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Southeastern and Northern water conservancy districts – outlines the concerns about water planning in the state. The letter was to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Interbasin Compact Committee. It included a review of regional cooperative water planning to date and a “white paper” of suggested future actions.

“A major (although not exclusive) water supply challenge facing Colorado is the projected gap in water supply needed for the growing population in the Front Range urban corridor from Fort Collins to Pueblo,” the letter signed by managers of the six water providers states. “Unfortunately, the ability of Front Range water supply agencies to meet this water supply gap is complicated by a variety of political, institutional and regulatory factors that significantly hamper the ability to pursue new supply alternatives.”

However, each of the six water suppliers currently are moving their own projects forward, including the Southern Delivery System by Colorado Springs, Bessemer Ditch purchases by the Pueblo water board and the Arkansas Valley Conduit by the Southeastern district in the Arkansas Valley alone. [ed. Add the Windy Gap Firming Project, Northern Integrated Supply Project, Moffat System expansion, Colorado-Wyoming Coalition.]

“The prospects for arriving at a statewide consensus on the right timing and mix of water supply and demand management alternatives is further hampered by Colorado’s balkanized water supply and development framework,” the letter states. The letter goes on to call for CWCB and IBCC leadership to confront the political or legal obstacles to develop water projects in an “efficient and cost-effective manner.”

While commending the Front Range providers for taking a “positive step” toward resolution of problems, Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River District, said it is important to continue addressing the underlying conflicts, in a letter he wrote on July 17. “I believe without airing . . . underlying conflicts on (identified) projects, reaching a consensus on longer term projects is going to be impossible,” Kuhn wrote. “Without a resolution of the issues and inherent conflicts among (identified projects), how can there possibly be a consensus on the next generation of projects.” There is a “cultural divide” between the Front Range and the rest of the state which places the water needs of outlying areas as subordinate to those of the Front Range, Kuhn said. “Overcoming this cultural gap is very critical to establishing a positive environment that will open the door for the roundtable to succeed,” Kuhn wrote…

The list of “obstacles” the water providers included in their white paper included the Endangered Species Act, wild and scenic designation, wilderness designation, the National Environmental Policy Act, the need for “reform” of county land reviews under 1974’s HB1041, clean water certification, reuse regulations, water court decrees, recreational in-channel diversions and use of water in energy development.

Meanwhile, here’s a report on the current state of the roundtable process, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Meeting over the past four years, the IBCC and nine basin roundtables have yet to produce any agreements that would lead to a new transbasin water project. In fact, there are as often comments that such projects are no longer possible suggestions about how to move them forward. [Harris Sherman, Department of Natural Resources director], taking over the job as Gov. Bill Ritter’s appointee in 2007, redirected the IBCC to think in terms of a 50-year vision, looking toward the best possible future for all. “As we double our population in the next 50 years, it’s not a question of if we grow, but how we grow,” Sherman said. “The 2005 HB1177 (which set up the IBCC and roundtables) was a way to look at a future not as destructive to agricultural communities.”

The need for Front Range growth is frequently questioned, but big water interests counter they are merely preparing for an inevitable surge of urban population growth. The Western Slope has revived the specter of oil shale, which could drink up the remaining allocation of water to Colorado under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Many are skeptical because the energy and water costs of producing oil shale are so high, no matter what price is set by the world market. Without a new transmountain project using unclaimed flows, agriculture would be dried up. There are studies about how to make the transfer of water easier, and what happens to local economies if all the water is taken from one area. It appears to be taboo to suggest that any Western Slope agriculture be diminished, however. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this group to write the death knell for agriculture,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a northwestern Colorado rancher…

The lines of the problem have been clearly drawn and haven’t changed in the last four years. The IBCC and roundtables were created in 2005 after the worst annual drought in state history in 2002, a failed ballot measure to build unspecified big water projects in 2003 and a study revealing a gap in municipal water needs in 2004. The state has between 445,000 and 1.438 million acre-feet of water to develop from the Colorado River basin under the Colorado River Compact, although prolonged drought or climate change could affect the amount. The state demographer says the state’s population will double to 10 million people by 2050, with most of the growth occurring in the Pueblo-Fort Collins corridor. Right now, the state uses 1.2 million acre-feet for treated water supplies, and will need at least 2 million acre-feet by 2050. Only about one-third of the new supply will be developed under identified projects such as Colorado Springs Southern Delivery System, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Aurora’s Prairie Waters or the Windy Gap water supply firming project. Oil shale development could require as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water, if it ever happens.

“There are no single or simple solutions. It’s all about trade-offs,” Kuhn said. “The more water we develop, the greater the risk. This is as much about risk management as water development.”

More Coyote Gulch Colorado water coverage here.

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