The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments has released a report about the importance of water to Colorado’s headwaters counties

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Here’s the Outreach Summary from NWCCOG. Here’s an excerpt:

REPORT PURPOSE

This report describes the:
– Unique economic characteristics of six headwaters counties;
– Direct link between water and these local economies;
– Economic relationship between water and the headwaters
counties and their relationship with the Front Range and Eastern Plains, and;
– Compromised conditions triggered by transmountain diversions and other competing demands for water and potential economic consequences of over allocation of West Slope water.

The report provides a counterbalancing perspective to the recent attention to the adverse economic consequences of purchasing agricultural water rights from properties on the Eastern Plains. This report is descriptive; it does not take issue with Front Range municipal water users or Eastern Plains agricultural water users. All parties have important and worthy concerns and points of view.

KEY MESSAGES

1. Front Range water users, Eastern Plains agricultural properties and statewide economic developers need healthy headwaters county economies. There are numerous, mutually supportive economic relationships among the regions of the State.

2. Water in its natural stream course is essential to the economies of headwaters counties. Headwaters counties’ water needs are primarily nonconsumptive.

3. The West Slope is already compromised from historic transmountain water diversions. Diverting more water without full mitigation will have West Slope and statewide adverse economic consequences. From the water-basin- of-origin, transmountain water diversion is 100% consumptive.

4. Historical strategies to manage remaining West Slope water have provided mitigation relief but a continuation of these same strategies may not work in the future. We may be near the environmental tipping point.

5. Moving forward, future transmountain water diversions from the headwaters counties should only be approved after close coordination with interests of the basin-of-origin counties and robust mitigation of environmental and socioeconomic impacts. There are creative management solutions to be explored and activated. West Slope and East Slope interests have a strong history of creative and cooperative problem solving. High-level and inclusive leadership is needed now.

UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE HEADWATERS COUNTIES

– Provide a source of water not only throughout Colorado, but also to six other states and the Republic of Mexico.

– The adage: “The West Slope contains 11% of the State’s population and 85% of the State’s water.” is often misinterpreted because a substantial portion of this water is legally and physically spoken for.

– Contain world-class recreation venues that attract national and international visitors and require minimal consumptive water.

– Provide the iconic image and draw for many Front Range economic development initiatives.

Download the full report here.

More coverage from Laura Glendenning writing for the Vail Daily. From the article:

The environmental consequences of pumping Western Slope water to the east include everything from lower streamflows and increased water temperatures to degradation in water quality and clarity, compromised aquatic environments and the health of fish, according to the report. But it’s the economic consequences that are often overlooked, the report says…

Streamflows in local rivers are part of the local economy, said Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. The report, she said, is raising the awareness of just how important the rivers are for the overall state economy.

“Without a good, healthy river system with all its components — habitat, clearness, flows — without that, Colorado as a whole loses out,” Brooks said. “Because if we don’t have ski resorts and fishing and hunting and all the things that people come to the Western Slope for, a lot of people won’t come to Colorado at all.”

Anglers, for example, might do most of their fishing in headwaters counties, but the impact is felt statewide. The report says that headwaters counties capture 14 percent of the total positive economic impact from anglers, while the Front Range captures 57 percent because anglers spend so much on transportation and equipment there.

Water attorney Glenn Porzak said the report is countering the thought that the East Slope should primarily focus on transmountain diversions to meet future water demands.

Eagle County has been successful in protecting its headwaters from heading east, Porzak said. In an agreement made a few years ago, the city of Denver can’t seek new water rights in Eagle County without the permission of the local stakeholders — Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Eagle County and Vail Resorts.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

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