“The cheap and abundant water supplies are not there anymore” — Jacob Bornstein #COWater Plan

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A statewide panel’s conceptual agreement on a framework for negotiations on possible transmountain diversions was “a major victory” for the group, a Mesa County member of the panel says. But that Interbasin Compact Committee member, Carlyle Currier, acknowledges that the devil is in the details.

“Getting down in those weeds, in the details, I think is where the discussion is going to take us in the next year,” Currier told representatives of the Colorado Basin Roundtable at a meeting in Glenwood Springs this week.

That discussion ensued in earnest at that meeting, as roundtable members scrutinized aspects of the framework at length.

“It’s a Front Range plan with a couple things tossed in the bottom for the Western Slope,” groused roundtable member Mike McDill, deputy utilities director for the city of Aspen.

The Interbasin Compact Committee exists to facilitate conversations between basins and on statewide issues about water. It has proposed that its new, seven-point framework for diversion negotiations, which it finalized in June, be included in the new state water plan being drafted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That board is asking for input from the roundtables on the IBCC concept.

The first of the framework’s points is that the Eastern Slope “is not looking for firm yield” from a new transmountain diversion project “and would accept hydrologic risk for that project.”

The concept that is emerging for such diversions is that they would occur only in wet years and not in dry ones. But Louis Meyer, a Glenwood Springs engineer whose company has been assisting the Colorado Basin Roundtable in providing input on the state water plan, said he worries that that approach “puts the risk on people” relying on those water projects, rather than on big water suppliers.

Jacob Bornstein, a program manager with the CWCB, said that concern is addressed by another of the framework’s principles, which calls for any new diversion to be used conjunctively with backup resources such as the Denver Basin water aquifer and interruptible supplies for agriculture.

“It takes that risk of the citizens and puts it on the water provider, saying we have a redundant system here,” he said.

He acknowledged that such a dual system is expensive to build, but added, “The cheap and abundant water supplies are not there anymore … the choices are really expensive.”

A concern for roundtable member and conservationist Ken Neubecker is that taking water in wetter years will leave parts of the Western Slope subject to a permanent drought condition.

“How is that going to be dealt with and mitigated?” he wondered.

The IBCC framework also indicates that triggers will be needed to determine when new diversions occur.

“But what are those triggers?” Currier said. “Finding those triggers is going to be (subject to) a lot of discussion from here on out.”

Roundtable member and Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards worried that diverting water in wetter years reduces Colorado’s ability “to build up extra credit” in the form of additional storage in Lake Powell, which helps it fulfill its water delivery obligations to states in the lower Colorado River Basin under an interstate compact.

The last four components of the seven-point framework include:

■ providing an insurance policy against involuntary curtailment of Colorado River water use in Colorado under that interstate compact should flows fall too low;

■ accommodating future West Slope needs as part of a new diversion;

■ continuing Colorado’s commitment to improving conservation and reuse;

■ addressing environmental resiliency and recreational needs both before, and in conjunction with, a new diversion.

Bornstein called that last provision “a bit of a breakthrough.” But the concern for some, including McDill, is the listed order of the seven points, which he worries seem to make things such as conservation less of a priority than a new diversion. Bornstein sought to assure that the list’s order wasn’t priority-based.

Bornstein also heard concerns about the sustainability of continued growth on the Front Range.

“It’s a good question,” but one the state water plan can’t solve, he said. Rather, it can only lay out scenarios for responding to varying amounts of growth, he said.

Some roundtable members wonder about the insistence of some on the Front Range that new homeowners should be entitled to have grass lawns rather than landscaping that reflects that Colorado is a dry state and keeps more water in streams. Richards finds it contradictory to hear the contention that a lot of growth is coming to Colorado because people want to live here, but at the same time property values will decline if they can’t grow lawns.

If people are going to move to the state because of its lifestyle, “then the new homes need to be created in a way that supports the Colorado lifestyle,” she said.

Bornstein said he thinks the desire for green grass in new Front Range developments reflects a desire to provide people with a “reasonable experience” that provides them access to parks and the ability to toss a ball in their yards, and that also reduces “the heat signatures of cities.”

For all the concerns voiced this week, Neubecker said he finds a lot of good intention in the seven-point framework.

“It’s a place you can start the discussion from. Hopefully it could be meaningful. … I would hope in the end that it doesn’t turn into a roadmap to hell,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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