From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call to develop a state water plan is the talk of the Colorado Water Congress’ annual convention this week, as people try to figure out what it is and whether it will be an aid or a threat. The plan has not been written, and no one is quite sure what it will be.
“I’m looking at the Colorado Water Plan as a road map for an uncertain future,” said April Montgomery of Telluride, who represents Southwest Colorado on a statewide water committee.
Montgomery spoke at a panel discussion Thursday at the Water Congress convention…
A bipartisan group of legislators, led by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, is irked that Hickenlooper seemed to bypass the Legislature. Roberts is sponsoring a bill to require public hearings and legislative approval before the water plan can be implemented. Water is the state’s most critical resource, she said.
“It built our state, and it will be critical to building our state,” Roberts said. “For something that’s the No. 1 resource in our state, the Legislature has a place at the table.”
Roberts had a “very spirited discussion” Wednesday with Mike King, who serves in the governor’s Cabinet as director of the Department of Natural Resources, King told the crowd of around 300 at the Water Congress convention.
“Senator Roberts, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the good ones,” King said. “So when Senator Roberts expresses concerns about where we’re headed, I take that very seriously.”
The final plan will, “of course,” need approval by the Legislature, King said…
Coloradans have fought an East-West water war throughout state history, as the drier Front Range looked to Western Slope rivers to supply its cities and farms.
The fighting subsided the last eight years as the state tried out a new idea to create “roundtables” in every major river basin, along with a statewide group known as the Interbasin Compact Committee. Those groups have focused on building trust among the basins and assessing the water needs of every place in the state, from Arkansas Valley farms to Four Corners river rafters.
But after Hickenlooper put out his order for a water plan, several of the roundtables took tough stances on what should be in the plan. The Colorado River Roundtable put out a white paper that essentially said all the water in the river is spoken for, and there’s no way to pipe more water east to the Front Range.
Patricia Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, said she thinks the dueling white papers risk bringing Washington-style gridlock to Colorado’s water community.
She urged water experts from around the state to refrain from “demonizing or trivializing” each other’s water needs…
Montgomery, who represents Southwest Colorado on the Interbasin Compact Committee, said people need to think of their local communities, but also the state as a whole.
“A strong Denver helps the Southwest, as well as a strong recreational economy on the Western Slope, that’s going to help the Front Range,” Montgomery said.
From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):
As the state prepares a statewide water plan, a local non profit wants to make sure our rivers and streams in the Valley are protected. Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy is pinpointing environmental values, so, as the state searches for more water to fill growing needs, local waterways stay full…
“I think our role is kind of two-fold,” says Heather Tattersall.
She’s the Watershed Action Coordinator at the Roaring Fork Conservancy. The non profit is part of an advisory group looking into non-consumptive uses of local rivers, like fishing and rafting. Their research could become part of the statewide water plan.
“It’s looking at pieces so that, if or when water’s reallocated we don’t injure areas that are healthy right now and we don’t deteriorate areas that are already struggling,” Tattersall says.
So, if the state decides to pull more water from the Colorado River Basin to meet future demands, Tattersall says certain areas of the Roaring Fork Watershed, which feeds the Colorado, should be protected, like the lower Crystal River.
“There’s an in-stream flow right on the Crystal of 100 CFS (cubic feet per second). In low water years, that was down to two CFS. That can sort of be a red flag as a place to pay attention to. I think making sure that the places that are important to us, that we know about, that we’re able to use the knowledge we have and information and research we’ve gained, that we’re able to share that so that we’re getting adequate water and flows to protect the needs we have.”
The Conservancy’s efforts will be included in a larger plan that looks at the Colorado River Basin. It’s one of nine basins looking at what their needs are and formulating plans that will become part of the statewide water plan. Jim Pokrandt is with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which aims to protect the Colorado from overuse.
“We know the Colorado River Basin, and all of Western Colorado, is the target for helping the Front Range fill its gaps,” he says.
Indeed, the biggest need for additional water will happen in the South Platte Basin, the most populous region of the state and an area that needs plenty of water for agriculture. Pokrandt says most of the state’s water is on the West Slope.
“It’s the belief of many on the Front Range that the Colorado River system is going to be part of their salvation. We’re not so sure over here on the West Slope. So, our version of the Colorado Water Plan will be keenly looking at that issue.”
The Colorado River basin is already stretched, says Pokrandt, diverting water to Front Range cities, as well as sending water to downstream states and Mexico.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.