Colorado Water Congress annual summer meeting recap #COWaterPlan

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some might think the upcoming state water plan is a recipe book for an elegant 10-course dinner.

Turns out something else is on the menu.

Stone soup.
You know, that old tale where a boiling rock becomes a tasty, fulfilling and nutritious dish as everyone adds a little something to the mix.

That’s the upshot of a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress where the water plan served as the centerpiece of discussion. Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered up the water plan in 2013, a tumultuous weather year that featured drought, huge wildfires and floods. The document is expected to be completed in December, but even then will serve more as a cookbook than rule book or guidebook.

“The early discussion was, is this a textbook or a novel?” said Travis Smith, a Rio Grande basin member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board that is writing the state water plan.”We provided the textbook. I was interested in the novel that told the stories (of water).”

The plan has to be digested one bite at a time, Smith said. He advised Water Congress members to pick a chapter that interested them and read it, then add their own comments to the stew.

John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the CWCB, picked the section that discusses a collaborative framework for interbasin transfers — an idea that few from the Gunnison basin would have discussed 10 years ago.

The Interbasin Compact Committee still is seasoning that portion of the plan, so the current set of instructions already is outdated, he said. When it’s done, it will remain only a suggestion.

“We’re close to finding consensus about how a transfer could occur,” McClow said. “But it’s not a rule. It spells out the obstacles.”

Those obstacles are finding the balance among municipal water needs, protecting the Western Slope environment and satisfying Colorado River Compact needs with downstream states.

Patti Wells, representing Denver on the CWCB, dug through the ingredients already tossed in the pot and didn’t really like the taste.

While most of the people in Colorado have chosen to live in cities, their use of water — particularly for outdoor watering — has been described in terms of a problem, rather than a benefit, Wells said.

She pointed out that lawns and gardens reduce urban heat islands, improve water quality, increase property value and provide a place to play.

“That’s not to say we can’t use water wisely, but there is a value to people using water for outside uses,” she said.

By couching everything as a problem, it could be tougher to find solutions.

“Instead of trying to avoid the train wreck, we’re trying to figure out where to build the field hospitals,” she said.

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