Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than $1.3 billion in water projects for the Arkansas Valley are queued, although how they will be funded is unknown.

That’s the conclusion of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which finalized its comments on the state water plan Wednesday.

The roundtable again voiced its overriding concern that water for agriculture be protected.

“At some point, agricultural use may be more valuable (than urban use),” said Joe Kelley, La Junta water superintendent. “In some years, the cities may not have the demand. It’s best not to buy and dry, to take the water away permanently.”

The roundtable also agreed to eight challenges that were identified by Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years before becoming a consultant on the basin implementation plan. That plan is finished, but it feeds into the state water plan by identifying projects and goals for the Arkansas River basin.

A list of projects included rough cost estimates that still need revision. The most expensive included $400 million for future Colorado Springs development, $400 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, $277 million for the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority and at least $100 million for Fountain Creek projects.

Another $100 million or so is needed for an Upper Arkansas multiuse project, a fledgling watershed protection effort and support for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Finally, there are 135 smaller projects that total about $65 million.

As far as challenges, the roundtable agreed to eight points Barber developed from 10 years of discussion. The most daunting is the need to find 30,000-50,000 acre-feet for new uses, both agricultural and municipal, that will occur because all of the Arkansas basin’s water is appropriated.

One particular concern noted that although needs have been identified, no solutions have emerged to fill those needs.

Other challenges include replacing nonrenewable Denver Basin groundwater, finding collaborative solutions, protecting recreational flows, maintaining water quality on Fountain Creek and in the Lower Arkansas Valley, renovating aging reservoirs and finding regional solutions.

Comments to the final draft of the state water plan are due by Thursday.

The plan and information about how to comment may be found at coloradowaterplan.com.

The final version of the Colorado Water Plan will be submitted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.

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