Transmountain water: “I think it’s really in the crosshairs” — Chris Treece #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado’s first stab at a statewide water plan makes no direct call for a new transmountain diversion of West Slope water to the Front Range. That doesn’t mean West Slope water is off the table, though, said observers and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Far from it.

“I think it’s really in the crosshairs,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservancy District, “where it has always been.”

To be certain, said Russ George, a former Western Slope legislator and current member of the water conservation board, the desires of Front Range developers remain undiminished. The board’s draft plan, which was approved last week in Berthoud, “will sharpen the debate that’s always lurking in the back room,” George said.

George proposed nearly a decade ago that water managers in each of the state’s river basins gather information about their water uses, supplies and other data. The process resulted in the “roundtable” process that is to yield a water plan a year from now.

That’s when Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to complete the plan.

Don’t expect the final product to look much different than the draft submitted by the water conservation board to the governor, George said.

“We are the governor’s arm” on the issue, George said.

What Colorado has long needed is a framework of information about how much water the state has, where and how it’s put to use, and what, if any, is left over.

The water plan is “a very sensible intellectual effort to do that,” George said, adding that it has been an open process. “The general public has been a player and that has not always been the case.”

It also gives the Western Slope an equal voice in water discussions, “which is all we ever needed, or wanted,” George said.

Demand for more water on the east side of the state isn’t going to go away. The ability to build transmountain diversions should be protected, Denver Water said in its comments on the state plan.

“We owe it to future generations to leave options open to determine the best way to utilize the state’s water resources,” the purveyor of water to 1.3 million people said.

A more realistic assessment of the amount of water that runs down the Colorado is in order, though, said Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District.

“They (Front Range officials) say there’s a lot more water in the river than there is. It runs right outside my office and I’ve walked across it two times in my brief four years here.”

The reason the river runs dry? Transmountain diversions, Schmidt said.

Whether the water plan — which the authors say will always be a work in progress — will help resolve differences is also less than clear, Schmidt said.

It took a decade for the West Slope and Denver Water to reach the comprehensive agreement on managing the Colorado River and the statewide plan is all the more ambitious, Schmidt said.

“I’m watching it very closely,” Schmidt said. “Sooner or later it’s going to blow up.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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