Arkansas Basin Roundtable public outreach meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The meeting, attended by about 50 people, was the first of three planned this year to share roundtable accomplishments and concerns with the community. Others will be in Salida and La Junta. “We’re not sure what is going to happen, but it’s not going to be like it was,” [Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable] said.

The roundtable’s essential purpose is to apply the prior appropriation doctrine to a changing set of circumstances that incorporates new needs, such as recreation and the environment, with traditional water uses, such as municipal and agriculture, he explained. Barber used the analogy of a house with one bathroom to illustrate how prior appropriation has changed. It works well if only a couple of people live in the house. When 20 people move in, life gets more complicated. “It’s at the point where we have to do something about it,” Barber said.

Roundtables were created in each of the state’s eight river basins, along with the Denver metro area, in 2005 after top-down approaches were rejected by the state’s voters. Referendum A, which proposed $2 billion for unspecified water projects, was defeated by voters in every county in the state in 2003. Progress has been slow because members were asked to organize themselves. In addition, the ideas from the roundtables have been directed largely at problems within the basins. “We began to hear each others’ stories,” Barber said…

Barber said it is important to develop solutions that are sustainable over time, rather than easy fixes. One model for success during the first five years of the roundtables has been the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, and that collaborative approach is being applied to other issues, such as the current effort to study whether a task force should look at the Flaming Gorge project to bring water from Wyoming into Colorado’s Front Range, Barber said.

There have been many tangible successes. The roundtable also has been successful in bringing in $4 million for 21 projects — including three pending projects — and another $1 million in emergency funding for the zebra mussel threat in 2008. The group also has completed studies for consumptive needs such as cities, farms and industry, and nonconsumptive needs such as recreation and the environment.

Pat Wells, a Colorado Springs Utilities water resources engineer, worked with Roundtable members to develop the nonconsumptive needs study, which looked at the recreation and environmental values of every watershed in the Arkansas River basin. “From the start, we saw that nonconsumptive needs were important,” Wells said. “There is a lot of interplay between water supply and recreation needs. We really think this contributes to future water supply planning.”

Mike Applegate is a water consultant who developed the consumptive needs report. The 2008 study found that new projects will be needed to supply up to 32,000 acre-feet — possibly enough for more than 100,000 homes — to meet the basin’s needs in the next 40 years. However, the needs continue beyond that into the future as growth occurs, Applegate said. Most of the need, 22,600 acre-feet, is in El Paso County, and some of the needs are shifting. But every amount counts…

New projects could include the Super Ditch water leasing program and building more storage, he added. “Storage has a bad name, but now people are talking about it. To meet the future needs of our state, we need more buckets,” Applegate said. “The problem is here today. We need to do something about it now.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

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