From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Can the Western Slope ever come to terms with a future proposal to move water across the Continental Divide?
That’s one question that is emerging as the state water plan moves into its sophomore year.
Part of the draft water plan presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper in December includes principles for Colorado River Development.
The issue has been a stumbling block in the quest to get agreement from all water basins in the state about how to provide new water supplies. It stymied a task force formed several years ago to look at whether a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming could be built. Denver Water went its own way in obtaining a cooperative agreement with diverse Western Slope interests.
“I had hoped we could get away from the Western Slope position of not one damn more drop,” said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who now manages the Purgatoire Water Conservancy District. “I believe the Western Slope will sabotage any attempt to develop more water.”
Danielson made his comments at the Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting last week. He represents the roundtable on the Interbasin Compact Committee. Both were created in 2005, partly for the reason of ironing out disputes between basins.
The groups formed in a period of statewide drought when the Legislature was looking for an alternative to the long-standing practice of agricultural dry-up to slake urban thirst. The issue of maintaining or increasing water imports is vital to Front Range communities, including Pueblo, as water supplies in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins are fully spoken for and being used.
The Colorado River basin has conditional water rights in place for more water than is available, but much of that is by oil shale companies that have never developed the water rights. Danielson said excess water is available much of the time and Colorado has a right to use it under the Colorado River Compact.
One of the things the IBCC managed to accomplish in the first 10 years of meetings was a draft conceptual agreement. The key points of the agreements boil down to:
Making the Front Range and Eastern Colorado projects. Development of compensatory projects for the Western Slope. Establish triggers for times when water could be moved, because of compact calls. Accommodating future Western Slope needs. Improving urban and agricultural conservation and reuse. Incorporating environmental and recreation needs for water.
The Roundtable touched the surface of only one or two of those points at its meeting last week, but accepted those points as a starting place for IBCC discussions, which are expected to continue when it meets in Denver next week.
Jay Winner, the roundtable’s other IBCC representative, said more talk about the principles is not the way to go. He noted that a recent Gunnison Basin “white paper” appears poised to set the process back.
“It took us a year to get to this point,” Winner said. “I’m tired of white papers. We need a project.”