Arkansas Basin Roundtable: Land use planning should be tied to water availability in future development #COWaterPlan

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Land use planning should be tied to water availability in future development, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable decided Wednesday.

That was one of three additions to the basin implementation plan the roundtable is completing as part of the state water plan, ordered in 2013 by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The meeting was held at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

The roundtable also added planks to support full development of Colorado’s entitlement under the Colorado River Compact and a watered-down preference for marketing water within the basin, rather than to the Denver area.

The roundtable unanimously agreed that land use planners must consider water resources when new development is proposed, a tough issue that has frequently arisen during the past two years of consideration of the state water plan.

“One of the ways we will better encourage water conservation is to work with local communities on land-use planning,” said Reed Dils, a retired outfitter and former member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We need to recognize how complicated it will be to achieve that end,” said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, who noted his own community’s attempts to integrate future water supplies and development. He did not oppose the addition to the plan, however.

The roundtable was not as cohesive on the issue of keeping water in the basin.

Dave Taussig, a water lawyer from Lincoln County, said he understood why water rights owners want to sell to water providers in the Denver area, in order to maximize value. But that would strip water from farms in the Arkansas River basin, harming the landscape and economy.

“Because it is so overap­propriated, water has to go to fill the gap in our basin before it’s sold to another basin,” Taussig said.

Most on the roundtable agreed with him.

“We have to make it attractive to leave water in the valley,” said Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher and member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

But others disagreed, saying the Arkansas River basin already imports water from the Colorado River, and that mechanisms to manipulate prices to keep water in the basin would drive up the prices artificially.

“I don’t know where you’re going to get the money to keep this valley green,” said John Schweizer, president of both the Catlin Canal and Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. “It sounds like a good idea, but I don’t think it will work.”

The final wording expressed only a “preference” for marketing water only within the Arkansas basin, and pledged the roundtable’s support to develop ways to make it more attractive to leave water in the basin.

Dan Henrichs, superintendent for the High Line Canal, opposed any steps to use water banks or other methods that might run afoul of Colorado water law’s prior appropriation system. He agreed to write a minority opinion.

The roundtable also adopted a simple statement that supports the state in achieving full development under the Colorado River Compact. Henrichs, Dils and SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, opposed the option. Henrichs again argued for abiding by the prior appropriation doctrine, while Dils and Moss wanted to continue a collaborative approach with other roundtables.

On another Colorado River issue, the roundtable agreed to remain neutral on how existing transmountain diversions might be affected if future diversions from the Colorado River such as the Flaming Gorge pipeline are developed.

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