From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
A West Slope attitude that not one more drop of water should be diverted to the East Slope is an approach that’s likely to fail at the worst of times, several speakers said Saturday at a West Slope water summit.
Representatives from 15 of 22 West Slope counties attended the summit at Colorado Mountain College, which focused on a framework of principles contained in the second draft of the Colorado water plan, set to be complete by the end of the year.
Organizers suggested that the West Slope counties and cities sign letters outlining a common position on the water plan and the potential for transmountain diversions.
Much of the framework outlines the conditions under which a new transmountain diversion could be discussed, though proponents of the framework acknowledge that the framework doesn’t have the force of law.
Still, the not-one-more-drop approach “has gotten us where we are today, where 500,000 to 600,00 acre-feet of water go from the West Slope to the East Slope,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is responsible for drafting the water plan.
The West Slope is better off with the framework contained in the water plan than without the framework, Eklund said.
The final version is to be complete by the end of the year and comments are due to the agency by Sept. 17.
The framework is “probably a good starting position,” for discussions with the Front Range about water management, said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, who said the west side of the Continental Divide needs protection.
“If they take water for people who live on the East Slope versus water to raise crops, when it comes to a curtailment, who’s going to lose that battle? Ag will dry up.”
The water plan should recognize the existing conservation and water-quality improvements that the West Slope already has undertaken, Mesa County Commissioner John Justman said.
One principle in the framework calls for the East Slope to assume the “hydrologic risk” of a new diversion, meaning that East Slope water users would be affected by a call on the river as West Slope residents would be.
The West Slope has to take into account the needs of the rest of the state, however, said Dave Merritt of Garfield County.
“We are all part of one state,” Merritt said. “We need a healthy Front Range economy. These seven points (in the framework) make a very strong statement as to what needs to be addressed.”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.