From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Russ George spoke with the pride of a new father, and in a sense he was. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, of which George is a member, had just heard comments on the statewide water plan.
Several speakers called for improvements. Conservation goals could be more ambitious. The effect of transmountain diversions on Colorado’s ability to comply with the Colorado River Compact could be spelled out better. Assessments of streams need to be planned to serve as baselines.
But most speakers stressed that by and large they were happy with the document, at least in its draft form, that was assembled in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order of May 2013.
Board members themselves had relatively few comments. George, a former state legislator and state department head, then spoke. “What we have in front of us today is exactly what was conceived in 2003,” he said.
Colorado was trying to catch it breath after the severe drought of 2002 that had at least one municipal water manager wondering about the need to start rationing water for indoor use. A giant up-slope storm in March 2003 took the edge off Front Range communities. But snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, the source of 80 percent of Colorado’s water, weren’t much better for the next couple of years.
In September 2004, at a conference in Grand Junction, George laid out a vision of roundtables representing major river basin of the state, to begin dialogue about the state’s water future. A former water lawyer from the Western Slope, he was then the director of the Department of Natural Resources. In his remarks in Berthoud, he did not attempt to take personal credit for the idea.
In 2005, the Legislature approved the idea in H.B. 1177. And, as George recalled in his comments on Wednesday, basin roundtables have been meeting every since, sometimes several times a month. The state has been knitted together in ways it had not been, he said, and the dialogue has yielded the plan.
“We have done what we were asked to do,” he said, and moments later moved to accept the draft plan, with the intention of submitting it to Hickenlooper by Dec. 10, the governor’s deadline. The CWCB, Colorado’s leading water policy-making board, approved the motion without dissent or further comment.
Have water arguments ended in Colorado? Hardly. The issue of new transmountain diversions remains volatile.
“Western Colorado has no more water to give,” declared Mike Samson, a Garfield County commissioner. Additional diversions will mean “the quality of life will suffer greatly,” he added.
Information in state planning about effects on recreation and the environment “needs to catch up” with other parts of the planning process, said Kathy Chandler-Henry, an Eagle County commissioner.
Drew Beckwith, with Western Resource Advocates, cautiously criticized the draft plan as having conservation goals that really reflect nothing more than gains already being made.
He did, however, concede the possibility of “small” additional transmountain diversions but rejected any possibility of “large” transmountain diversions.
And what is small and large, he was asked.
“Small” would be 20,000 acre-feet of annual diversions, but 75,000 acre-feet would definitely be large—perhaps scooping up the last of Colorado’s allocation of the Colorado River, he responded.
The issue of new transmountain diversions has been sensitive. For many months, Eastern Slope representatives at the Interbasin Compact Committee, a kind of supergroup of the various basin roundtables, insisted upon calling transmountain diversions ”new supply.”
At another meeting of the IBCC in February, there was a comical moment when an understanding of Colorado’s limits on water was acknowledged. One member urged secrecy for the time being, so as not to upset the grassroots constituents who apparently want to believe in endless additional amounts of water.
And, of course, the discussions have become an alphabet soup. One easy example: TMD. (Transmountain diversions).
Assuming that Hickenlooper stays the course with his directive, it’s now up to the staff of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to fill in the gaps in this alphabet soup and polish what it already has. The talking is far from over. Hickenlooper’s deadline for the final production is December 2015.
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
After hearing an overview of the comprehensive plan that took a year-and-a-half to craft, the board voted unanimously to send it to the governor, sparking applause from an attentive audience. One board staff member cried upon its passage, highlighting the long, tedious journey of the plan.
Hickenlooper ordered the plan in May 2013; a final plan must be completed by Dec. 10, 2015.
Board members are careful to point out that the roadmap is a “living document” that can be changed over the years.
“We will take the direction that (the governor) has given … to you all and make sure we are all on the same page and moving forward together onward into 2015,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The municipal water supply gap is growing in Colorado, with shortfalls expected by 2050. The result could be agricultural dry-up and fish and wildlife extinction, not to mention increased demands and pressure on municipalities.
The Water Plan aims to provide a roadmap for the future while protecting private ownership of water rights. Colorado uses a so-called “prior appropriation” system. In this system, rights are granted to the first person to take water from a river or aquifer, despite residential proximity.
But the plan must navigate a maze of state, local and federal laws, as well as balance the needs of agricultural-heavy rural Colorado with the rapidly expanding urban-centered Front Range.
There has long been resistance from rural Colorado to transmountain water diversions for Front Range communities. Some municipalities end up purchasing water rights from farmers when there is no diversion, leaving ag land dry.
“We have no more water to give,” Mike Samson, a Garfield County commissioner, told the board during public testimony.
The Water Plan task is monumental. It will end in the first such comprehensive plan for Colorado.
“This is an unprecedented effort,” said April Montgomery, a member of the Water Conservation Board representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers in Southwest Colorado. “This is the first time we’ve had a grass-roots basin implementation plan.”
Included in the water plan are proposals from eight separate water basins, including a roadmap provided by the Southwest Basin Roundtable.
The basin is more complicated than other basins in the state, flowing through two Native American reservations, the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. Also the basin includes a series of nine sub-basins, eight of which flow out of state.
Other complications include agreements with the federal government, which owns large swaths of land in the region.
Montgomery said the Water Plan offers Southwest Colorado an opportunity to come together and develop a unified plan moving forward.
The goals of the Southwest include pursuing projects that meet the municipal water gap; providing safe drinking water; prioritizing conservation; and promoting water reuse strategies.
“It’s not a mandate,” Montgomery said. “It just gives us direction.”
Russ George, a member of the water board representing the Colorado River Mainstem, said many thought drafting a plan would be impossible.
“It’s been just an absolutely impossible task, but typical of this outfit, … we did it anyhow,” George said. “There’s no magic here, no promise around the corner, it’s all choice.”
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:
The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a draft Colorado water plan Wednesday and, after minor revisions, will send it to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.
“Now there is a product for Colorado to talk about, where we got it right, where we didn’t get it right,” said James Eklund, the director of the Water Conservation Board, which is a state agency charged with drought planning, water-supply planning and water-project financing.
The Water Conservation Board members present at the meeting in Berthoud, south of Fort Collins, unanimously approved the draft plan after offering limited comments to Eklund as he gave a light overview of the 11 chapters in the plan.
“I think the plan strikes a pretty good balance between the various interests,” said board member Patricia Wells, who is the general counsel for Denver Water. “You’ve walked a very fine line. There are clearly disagreements around the state as to what we should be doing or what other people should be doing.”
The board also took brief comments from members of the public, including Mike Sampson, a Garfield County commissioner who also was representing the Associated Governments of Northwestern Colorado, including Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties.
“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” Sampson said, reading from a letter sent to the Water Conservation Board. “We strongly urge you to oppose any transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado as you develop the Colorado water plan.”
After his presentation, Drew Beckwith, the water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates, was asked a pointed question by Water Conservation Board member John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River Basin.
“Of the last four presenters, we’ve heard the cry to have no more transbasin diversions, but three of you said no more large transbasin diversions,” McClow said. “So what’s large, and why is that a qualifier? You said no more large transbasin diversions. Is a small one OK?”
Beckwith replied that Western Resouce Advocates has previously said relatively small-scale transbasin projects, from 20,000- to 40,000-acre-foot projects, might be acceptable.
“From our perspective, large-scale is 70,000 acre-feet and up,” Beckwith said.
Russell George, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the Water Conservation Board and is the architect of the basin roundtable process, made the motion to approve the draft Colorado water plan, noting that it was a historic day.
He said that when the Colorado Constitution was written in 1876, the framers knew Colorado was a state with “not enough water.”
George said many people, including those serving on the nine basin roundtables, have put a lot of time into the water plan, whether it has been by going to meetings or talking in coffee shops or on the phone.
“You know it, you can feel it, all across the state,” George said, “and they have tried to find today’s answer to this old question and have really helped move the marker forward.”
The draft chapters of the Colorado Water Plan are online at http://www.coloradowaterplan.org.
Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.