#COWaterPlan: “The petition is not anything more than the ‘not one more drop’ statement” — James Eklund

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The state’s top water official is urging calm after some on the Western Slope raised fears that a proposed strategy for the future of water in Colorado may include transmountain diversion plans.

Development of Colorado’s Water Plan – stemming from more than 10 years of conversations – has been relatively smooth and collaborative up until the last week. A group from the Western Slope on Tuesday delivered a petition to Gov. John Hickenlooper urging his opposition to any transmountain diversions that would take water from Western Colorado for use along the Front Range.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – and a key Water Plan stakeholder – has found himself puzzled by the petition, signed by nearly 1,500 Western Slope residents.

For one thing, Eklund pointed out that the plan deliberately does not prescribe policy, instead outlining goals to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water. The goals, however, could lead to policy, which has always been the intent of the Water Plan.

“We’ve always said that we’re not going to name any projects in the plan, and we continue to say that,” Eklund said.

The plan focuses on conservation, storage, agriculture, land use, water gaps, innovation, funding, the environment and watershed health…

But some Western Slope interests worry after large Front Range municipalities pushed officials to include transmountain diversion in the final plan, which is expected to be submitted to the governor Nov. 19.

“The simple truth is that the Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” said Michael Langhorne, president of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation and a member of Citizens For West Slope Water. “The impacts of additional transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be an economic disaster for us.”

Many of the demands outlined by the Western Slope interests already are included in the Water Plan, including focusing on storage and delivery innovations, considering agricultural needs and prioritizing conservation…

We have the best framework for that conservation that we’ve ever had,” Eklund said. “It’s value added to the Front Range and it’s value added to the Western Slope to have the discussion laid out in front of everybody before the deal gets done.”

He questions the value of the recent petition, pointing out that it simply continues an old conversation.

“The petition is not anything more than the ‘not one more drop’ statement, which I do not think has been effective for the Western Slope, it’s not been effective for the state of Colorado, and I don’t think it’s going to start working magically all of a sudden right now because 1,500 petitioners sent us something,” Eklund said. “If I were getting a new idea through a petition signed by 1,500 people from any part of the state, then I would think, ‘maybe we do need to start scrambling.’”