Basin Roundtable Summit

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The Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education hosted a summit for the basin roundtables yesterday in Westminster. Discussion centered around the IBCC strategy report drafted and sent to Governor-elect Hickenlooper last fall that identifies four approaches — conservation, alternative ag transfers, identified projects and new supplies — for solving Colorado’s anticipated water supply gap.

I didn’t make the morning sessions but Chris Woodka from The Pueblo Chieftain was there. Here’s his report. From the article:

[Governor Hickenlooper said], “The next four or five years . . . this is the point in Colorado history where we have a chance to get this done,” Hickenlooper told the Roundtable Summit. “We can find a long-term solution for the state’s water future.”

The summit is the first gathering of members from all nine basin roundtables formed as part of the Interbasin Compact Committee process in 2005. About 300 attended the meeting. Hickenlooper said the state should increase conservation, protect the environment, encourage agriculture and develop water supplies — all goals in an IBCC framework to deal with the state’s water. The state should cut red tape to allow water projects to move ahead and remain open to private investment.

The question of private investment was posed by Jeris Danielson, a member of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and a former state engineer. Danielson also is a consultant for Aaron Million, who has proposed building a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to serve Colorado’s Front Range. “To solve the state’s water problems takes money,” Danielson said, and noting that state and federal governments are running low on cash. “Are you willing to work with private developers?”

“We have to be careful bringing in private capital as part of the solution,” Hickenlooper said. “I don’t have a problem with bringing private capital into the picture, but we need to make sure their goals line up with the state’s goals.”

Hickenlooper pledged to keep water funds whole with the entire state picture in mind. Water funds in the past two years have been raided to balance other parts of the state budget.

The group then broke up for table discussions facilitated by the IBCC members to brainstorm implementation of the IBCC strategy document.

At the concluding session IBCC Director, John Stulp, summarized some of the themes that came out of the table discussions:

“We favor keeping people from dying from thirst, we do not support lawn watering.”

“Some think that conservation should be mandated” (Stulp quipped, ” We don’t always agree on everything.”)

“How do we develop a water market?”

“Is there a need to increase infrastructure for both agricultural and municipal systems to facilitate alternative ag transfers?”

Stulp, farmer and former director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, mentioned that he had recently read that civilization, “must produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 10,000 years.”

More coverage from The Denver Post (Bruce Finley). From the article:

“It doesn’t have to be a trade-off if we’re smart and figure out how to do this in an equitable manner,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher on the 27-member board charged with finding a statewide water solution. Thursday’s forum of the Inter basin Compact Committee marked the first time representatives from nine river basins have confronted their task together in a process state lawmakers launched in 2005…

“We can obtain a fair amount of water supply from conservation and re- use,” said Mark Pifher, Aurora Water’s director and chairman of the Front Range Water Council. “But as a state we need to look at water available in the Colorado River Basin and develop it to the extent of our (interstate) compact entitlement.”[…]

Rod Kuharich, director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 15 suburbs dependent on groundwater wells, said the goal would require “draconian” enforcement and said 300,000 acre- feet would be more realistic. “Is this really a role the state government should be playing? To control your water use? I fear trees dying,” Kuharich said. “When you start to limit the amount of lawn irrigation, the existing landscape is going to change. You’d need to provide a water source for those trees.”

During an afternoon session dealing with non-consumptive use a panel discussed successes that have been realized over the past few years. The big problem, according to Colorado Basin Roundtable member, Caroline Bradford, is quantifying the non-consumptive needs of wildlife and riparian environment. It will take time to do the science and there is not enough effort and funding, she says.

A representative from Colorado Ducks Unlimited spoke about recharge/habitat projects on the Lower South Platte River.

A project with the town of Brush for example, “Runs water to 600 acres of wetlands.” The Colorado Department of Wildlife leases the land from Brush, and, “We get a lot of Ducks off that property.” The cost per acre foot for Brush is around $17 he said.

Speaking generally he said, “Landwoners love it,” wetlands increase land value, create a better place to hunt and add a fair amount of ag production as well.

I’m not sure if any of the walls between basins are coming down but it is apparent that the roundtable members are more focussed on solutions rather than protecting parochial interests. It’s taken 5 years to get to this point and now they have 5 years to develop a plan to meet the gap.

Bump and update From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Just five years ago, the east-west tension about water was so potent that no one could have contemplated such a gathering. But on Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the water experts with developing a statewide solution that will overcome regional water conflicts. “This is the point in Colorado history when we have an opportunity to get this done, to actually have a long-term sustainable vision for our water,” Hickenlooper said.

Colorado never has had a statewide water strategy. Instead, growing cities buy water from farmers and the dry eastern side pumps it through controversial tunnels from the Western Slope. Most water experts agree that without changes, cities will dry up the farms and mountain valleys…

A statewide water roundtable known as the Interbasin Compact Committee released a controversial report in December that dominated Thursday’s agenda. The report calls for a greater role for state government in water policy, both in mandating strict conservation for cities and in speeding up the slow process of building major water projects.

Reaction to the report has been mixed. Some people complain the conservation requirements are not strict enough, while others say they are too strict, including a proposed new law that homeowners install water-efficient appliances before they sell their houses. People from Western Slope river roundtables have said that even if the state requires cities to pay extra for water transfers, no amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of water, according to a written summary of comments gathered the last two months at public meetings around the state.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

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