State Water Plan draws crowd — Pine River Times #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

A group of legislators from around the state were in Durango on Aug. 27 to take comments on the Colorado Water Plan now being drafted, and the regional plan that will be part of it.

The legislators are members of an Interim Water Resources Review Committee who are following a bill passed in the spring requiring them to hold such meetings in each of nine major drainage basins around the state…

Many of the attendees said they didn’t know enough about what’s actually in the state plan or the Southwest Basin Roundtable Implementation Plan to ask questions or comment.

Several people worried that the federal government is trying to take control of all the water in the U.S. and take people’s property rights via recent updates to the Clean Water Act rules on what constitutes “waters of the U.S.” Speakers urged people to submit opposition comments before the comment deadline in October.

Another concern is federal agencies trying claim bypass flows and to require private water rights holders to turn over those rights as a condition to get or renew a use permit on federal land.

Southwest Water Conservation District Director Bruce Whitehead cited area Forest Service and BLM land management plans. “This isn’t a new issue,” he said. “These plans come up with things about bypass flows.” The state has opposed that, and memorandums of understanding “have encouraged federal agencies to use state (in-stream flow) programs instead of imposing bypass flow requirements.”

It’s also one of the concerns with federal special use permits, he said. State agencies have protested that. “These aren’t guidelines. They are standards in the Forest Plan. We see it as double dipping, using the state in-stream flow program but also wanting bypass flows… The feds say this will be a template throughout the state and maybe the West.”

Whitehead continued, “Few of our concerns have been addressed. That’s why we’re bringing it to this panel. So far, we’ve been unsuccessful in working with these federal agencies in a cooperative collaborative manner.”

Participants grouped around tables discussed water issues and picked one of their members to summarize their comments to the larger group.

There was strong support for water conservation as part of the plan, such as the large percentage of municipal use that goes for lawns; for more water storage, and for Colorado’s prior appropriation system of “first in time, first in right.”

Tom Morris, staff attorney for the legislature, commented, “To many people, that is the Colorado water plan.”

Several people supported elimination of the “use it or lose it” part of the prior appropriations system, because it discourages more efficient water use.

There was support for new water storage in Southwest Colorado to keep water the area is entitled to from flowing out of state. Another big point was that water users in each basin should fully develop their own water, including storage, before they seek diversions from other basins or buy up ag water for municipal use.

Summarizing comments from his table, La Plata/ Archuleta Water District board member Dan Lynn said, “One point we wanted to make is that every drop of water in the state starts on federal land, but every drop of water doesn’t belong to the federal government.” He noted he worked for 36 years for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and said, “Don’t let those people get your rights.”[…]

Ignacio area rancher and president of the American National Cattle Women Patti Buck urged people to send formal comments on the EPA rule change on what constitutes waters of the U.S. subject to regulation.

“When we bought our ranch, we paid extra for our water shares” compared to land with no water rights, she said. No water means no grass, which means no cattle, which means no food, she said.

One participant, Margaret Cozine, had a different concern. She wants the state to not only allow, but encourage, rain water harvesting from rooftops, and re-use of gray water, as several other states do. She wants it for her garden and argued it does not damage downstream water rights.

Water committee chair Randy Fischer urged people to send comments on the water plan. There will be another series of meetings around the state once the draft plan is released. “Please stay tuned,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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