It’s easy to recommend cooperation, streamlined permitting, conservation and changes to Colorado water law during average and wet water years (like Colorado has seen lately). Colorado water law shines during dry years. Also, our current system has nurtured the development of a very active water market in the state. The big criticism is that, “Water flows uphill to money,” which, of course, means that more ag water is moving, and will move, to municipal use. It’s great to see the recognition of the concept of food security in the conversation. It’s also a good sign that water wonks are evaluating projects in light of the Colorado River Compact call where the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects could be called out. Both projects water hundreds of thousands of humans and acres of irrigated cropland on the eastern slope.
Alex Davis, a former state water official now working as a water lawyer, pointed to cases where cooperation appears to be working, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch or the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. On the other hand, the state and local interests will spend $100 million in the Republican River basin trying to reach compliance under a compact with Nebraska and Kansas…
The state is looking at programs that share water between cities and farms to keep cities from drying up more farmland, but the legal issues regarding water use are complex. Last year, a state bill was floated and quickly sunk that would have given the state engineer up to 80 years of authority to approve water lease agreements in the Arkansas Valley. Some said it circumvented water court. But the water court process is expensive and gives the advantage to better-funded municipal interests.
“When I started out in this business, we didn’t think that much about food security,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “I think there was an assumption that ag used so much of the supply, the people assumed it was available.”[…]
Carl Brouwer, project manager with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said its Northern Integrated Supply Project is snagged on expensive environmental studies. “It takes 10 years and $10 million to permit a project. That seems to be the new norm,” Brouwer said. “Things have changed. Ten or 15 years ago, projects could be permitted in four years.”[…]
Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Conservation District, said five reservoirs have been built by the district in the last 30 years. The key to getting them done was to include multiple purposes and gain the support of environmental groups…
“I personally doubt that a pipeline hundreds of miles long [ed. Flaming Gorge Project] that costs billions of dollars to city councils is the way to save agriculture,” he said.
More water law coverage here.