“The [Arkansas] basin should be saying not one drop, like the Western Slope” — Reeves Brown #COWaterPlan

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state water plan that fails to look at every option would put Arkansas Valley farms at risk.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable wants more emphasis on increasing storage and finding new water supplies in order to stop raids on agricultural supplies.

However, the reluctance of the Western Slope to budge on those issues could doom the Arkansas Valley to more farm dry-ups as Colorado rushes to adopt a water plan.

“It’s frustrating as hell,” said Jay Winner, the general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District who represents the roundtable on the state Interbasin Compact Committee. “There are five or six people (on the IBCC) who just want to maintain the status quo.” Jeris Danielson, general manager of the Purgatoire River Conservancy District and the basin’s other IBCC representative, called a draft planning document “polysyllabic piffle” that prevents progress.

“If you read it, it’s all slanted to make sure no new projects happen,” Danielson said.

Winner suggested that a year like 2011, where snow hit near record levels in the Colorado River basin and drought began in the Arkansas River basin, could have been a starting point for discussions about maximizing use of existing projects.

“It’s all a big stall on the Western Slope,” Winner said.

Instead, the state has limited discussion of new projects or expanded storage.

Roundtable Chairman Gary Barber said the Flaming Gorge Task Force, a process that involved all of the nine basin roundtables talking about statewide water projects, addressed many of the same issues the state wants to talk about in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed water plan.

But that work was stopped short in 2012 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Failing to consider new sources of supply or more storage would only increase pressure on municipal purchases of farm water in the Arkansas Valley, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. No one disagreed.

“The basin should be saying not one drop, like the Western Slope,” said Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher and Lower Ark board member who has pushed for putting a higher public value on ag water. “We ought to be able to defend our water.”

Keeping ag water in the Arkansas Valley also benefits tourism by keeping flows in the river, said Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese.

“We need this river to run through our valley,” Giese said.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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