Even with a water guardian, diversions loom for valley | AspenTimes.com

Even with a water guardian, diversions loom for valley

Scott Condon

Aspen will gain a powerful new guardian of water in the Roaring Fork River basin next month, but that won’t necessarily prevent future diversions by Front Range cities.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, will be a prime sponsor of some major water bills as chairwoman of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee when the Colorado Legislature convenes in January. Curry won election in November to represent the sprawling 61st House District, which includes Aspen and all of the Roaring Fork Valley.Curry told several water experts from the Roaring Fork Valley in a recent meeting in Basalt that she will be able to influence legislation that could affect diversions from the Roaring Fork basin. For example, she will be the prime House sponsor of a bill that proposes funding for studies and implementation of numerous water projects in the state.That umbrella bill, which covers numerous projects and studies, includes funding for the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, an important state blueprint on ways to address water needs.The study, which got under way last year, identifies the possibility of developing a system that would pump water from Ruedi Reservoir, 14 miles east of Basalt, up toward the Continental Divide so it could be diverted to Eastern Slope users.An additional $500,000 is being sought from the Legislature to get further into the details of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative.”If I carry the bill, I get to ask for some things,” Curry said.What she will require, she said, is greater legislative oversight of that study. She also wants to make sure the study is something more than a plan for the Front Range to tap water sources from the mountains. “The $500,000 isn’t going to get used for that purpose alone,” she said.But Curry also warned that, realistically, the mountain areas – the sources for much of the state’s water – must play some greater role in addressing Front Range water needs. “Whether we like it or not, they’re going to come looking,” she said.The outlook is mixed for more water diversions from the Roaring Fork basin. Curry said the Ruedi pump-back project is “far off in the future” if it ever advances. No entity, such as Aurora or Colorado Springs, is a proponent of pushing the project at this point, she noted.Kara Lamb, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation office that oversees Ruedi, said the U.S. Congress would have to authorize the pump-back project. She said there are “a lot of rumors out there” about Front Range entities coveting Ruedi water, but nothing is imminent, and major hurdles exist.Curry said it is much more likely that Front Range water users will explore ways to use existing diversion infrastructure to draw more water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers.The pipes and tunnels that make up the diversion system aren’t used anywhere near capacity during winter months, Curry said. And Front Range users hold water rights that allow them to divert more during the winter.”That development of resources is much more realistic,” Curry said.Curry, who is a rancher with her husband in the Gunnison area, is acclaimed as a water expert. She worked for 15 years in water management, including a job with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which plans statewide water issues.She won election in November in a race to replace incumbent Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs. When Democrats won control of the state House, Curry was appointed chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee by the party leadership.Even though the Legislature doesn’t convene until next month, the titles of bills have to be submitted today. Curry and other legislators are scrambling to determine what will be proposed.Scott Condon’s e-mail is scondon@aspentimes.com


See more