#COWaterPlan: #ColoradoRiver Basin roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Aspen Times (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Members of the Western Slope delegation to the state Legislature said Monday the Colorado Water Plan is a good starting point, but it doesn’t provide clear solutions to the state’s water challenges. Representative Bob Rankin, a Republican who represents House District 57, which includes Garfield County, said the water plan lacks a prioritized list of specific water projects, a financing plan and a schedule.

“So, I view this as the start of a negotiating process on all of those details that will be worked out,” Rankin said. “So, I hope we’re positioning ourselves as a Western Slope for a negotiating process that’s going to go on for a couple of years.”

Rankin spoke Monday at a meeting of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable in Glenwood Springs along with seven other Western Slope state lawmakers: Reps. Millie Hamner, Diane Mitsch Bush, K.C. Becker, Yeulin Willett, Dan Thurlow, J. Paul Brown and state Sen. Kerry Donovon.

Rankin pointed out that there are only 12 Western Slope legislators in the 100-member Colorado Legislature and as such, it can be hard to adequately represent Western Slope interests in Denver.

Almost all of the lawmakers at the meeting praised the hard work the roundtable has done over the past two years to develop a basin-specific water-supply plan and to help shape the statewide plan.

But many also said the forthcoming plan — now expected to be finalized by Nov. 19 — will not resolve issues such as the potential for a new transmountain diversion of water to the Front Range. And not surprisingly, none of the lawmakers called for more Western Slope water to be moved east.

“Another transmountain diversion is not only bad for the Western Slope, it’s bad for Colorado, it’s bad for our state’s economy, it’s bad when, not if, there is going to be a compact call, and it’s very, very bad obviously for our recreational and environmental-based economy,” said Mitsch Bush, a Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties in House District 26.

Mitsch Bush said the employees in new businesses relocating along the Interstate 25 corridor “don’t come here to Colorado and bring jobs and money with them because they want to hang out on I-25, they want to see free-flowing Western rivers.”

Willett, a Republican representing House District 54, which includes rural Mesa County and Delta County, said he’s begun to wonder if it is time for the state to stop accommodating Front Range growth, especially in light of calls to add more lanes to I-25.

“When do we say ‘no more’?” Willitt asked. “When do you say no more highway lanes, … no more diversions? You want to start a business, you want to expand, come to the West Slope. I don’t say that is my position, but it is certainly one I’m starting to consider.”

Thurlow, a Republican who represents the portion of Mesa County around Grand Junction in House District 55, said his background was in the printing business and that when he started his job as a legislator, he didn’t know anything about water.

He said his fellow legislator, Rep. Don Coram, told him, “Don’t worry, go to the meetings and stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to let the bastards steal any more of our water,’ and you’ll be fine.”

But Thurlow, who said he’s been reading the draft water plan, asked the roundtable whether it might be advantageous to perhaps take a different approach and ask if the Western Slope might get something out of a new transmountain diversion project, such as new storage projects of its own.

“What should the negotiation strategy be? Hard-line or ‘Let’s talk about this’?” Thurlow said.

Becker, a Democrat from Boulder who represents both Front Range and Western Slope counties, said she feels the water-plan process has generally been a good thing, but she said there are some “troubling aspects” to the draft plan.

Most troubling to Becker is the emphasis on “streamlining” the approval and permitting processes for new water projects, especially as a bill along those lines is expected to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes.

“We have to be really thoughtful about how we permit water projects,” said Becker, an attorney with extensive experience managing federal review processes while at the Department of Interior.

She said any new water-storage project has to “respect the values of all the interests, because there are a lot of interests,” and that “when it comes to moving water around, you are going to have fights about it.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State lawmakers representing Western Slope constituents are viewing a nearly complete Colorado water plan with a mix of hope and fear.

Eight of them addressed the Colorado Basin Roundtable Monday, with their thoughts not surprisingly mirroring those expressed by roundtable members and the Western Slope more broadly regarding the plan. Those thoughts included concern that the plan could open the door to more diversion of Western Slope water to the Front Range, and hope that it is bringing about useful statewide discussion about water issues.

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, was alarmed by a Denver Post story last week quoting Front Range water interests as pressing to have the plan specifically include new reservoirs, along with plans for new diversions across the Continental Divide to fill them.

“Another transmountain diversion is not only bad for the Western Slope, it’s bad for Colorado, it’s bad for our state economy,” said Mitsch Bush.

She said companies that come to the Front Range want to see free-flowing western rivers.

“They use them, and that’s one of the reasons they come here,” she said.

Other lawmakers talked of the need for more growth to occur in western Colorado, rather than the region just being looked to as a source of water for continued growth on the Front Range.

“Economic development on the Western Slope ought to be a big part of the water argument, in my point of view,” said state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

State Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, said that just as the idea arises at some point about saying “no more” to continued expansions of highways to accommodate increased traffic, he wonders if there’s a point where the same thing has to be said about more transmountain diversions.

“If you want a business, you want to expand, come to the Western Slope,” he said of the alternative to diversions, adding that he’s not taking that position now, but it’s one he’s considering.

The water plan currently contains a seven-point framework for discussing possible transmountain diversions. Last week, a group called Citizens for West Slope Water delivered Gov. John Hickenlooper a petition signed by almost 1,500 Western Slope residents opposing any further diversions to the Front Range.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told The Daily Sentinel last week that he thinks the projected future gap between supply and demand in the state can be met through new storage projects already under way and conservation, and no further diversions are needed to meet it.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, sees a strength of the water plan as being that it was developed “from the river bottom up,” through the work of individual basin roundtables like the Colorado River one. She voiced hopes that it will be looked to for years to come for guidance as to what goals the state should be working toward.

But she added, “I hope it’s the basis for discussion and not an assumption for approval.”

Donovan worries that interests will pull parts of the plan out of context to justify pet projects. She said she also hopes the framework for transmountain discussions isn’t viewed by state lawmakers, lobbyists and the state executive as “something that has wholehearted endorsement” in western Colorado, when that’s not the case.

Willett said he worries that the framework could end up being “a broad proclamation that is going to be subject to interpretation” later, resulting in the Western Slope having to live with something that’s been put in writing.

State Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, said he’s not sure what the water plan is worth.

“The one thing it has done, it has made us talk about what the problems are, and from here I think we need to look at what really is a solution to our water needs in Colorado. It’s made us look at conservation and it’s made us look at storage, really, where the water is.

“In that it has stimulated that conversation, it’s been a good thing. Otherwise it’s worthless,” he said.

Other lawmakers at Monday’s discussion were state Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction; state Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon; and state Rep. K.C. Becker, D-Boulder, whose House district extends west of the Continental Divide.

Hamner called the water plan “a brilliant idea” by Hickenlooper, and said the more that Western Slope water interests can reach consensus on water issues, the more that Western Slope lawmakers can reach consensus and get the right things done regarding water.

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