Garfield County wants to host Western Slope water summit
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
These seven points reflect the latest draft conceptual framework for discussion of future new transmountain water diversions (TMD) in Colorado.
1. We need to address environmental resiliency and recreational needs, including the recovery of imperiled species, with or without a new TMD.
2. If a new TMD were to be built, the proponent should involve non-consumptive, environmental and recreational partners up front, so that the project is designed with environmental and recreational needs in mind, incorporates benefits and mitigates impacts.
3. Colorado should continue its commitment to improve municipal conservation and allowable reuse, statewide, with or without a new TMD.
4. If a new TMD were to be built, West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a package of projects and processes that benefit both East and West slopes.
5. Colorado should develop a collaborative program aimed at preventing a (Colorado River basin) compact curtailment issue from occurring, while protecting existing users from involuntary curtailment (e.g., eminent domain or strict administration).
6. The collaborative program (in point 5) should be voluntary, such as a water bank and other demand management programs, and aimed at protecting current Colorado River water users, and some increment of additional use yet to be defined, but NOT uses associated with a new TMD.
7. If a new TMD were to be built, it would not guarantee delivery of a certain amount of water annually, but instead operate as part of a flexible optimized system, diverting only when water is available, based on triggers Colorado establishes in advance, and relying on East Slope sources of water when not diverting.
Garfield County proposes to host a summit among Western Slope water interests in an effort to present a “united voice” on the prospect of new transmountain diversions and how that would be stated in the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.
County Commission Chairman John Martin suggested the summit during a presentation Tuesday by Louis Meyer, author of the draft Colorado River Basin Implementation Plan that emerged from a series of basin roundtable meetings last year and has been presented as part of the larger, statewide plan.
Meyer said the seven-point conceptual framework put forward by the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee for inclusion in the water plan has taken the focus away from the work done by the nine basin roundtables.
He expressed grave concerns that the proposed framework for negotiating future projects to divert more water from the West Slope basins, primarily the Colorado, to the Front Range, is even ready for inclusion in the plan.
The proposed framework “lacks specificity and is very ambiguous,” Meyer said. “And I don’t think the public has been adequately engaged in drafting these seven points.”
It was an opinion shared around the room for the most part Tuesday, during a Garfield County commissioners work session that was attended by numerous ranchers and those with recreational and conservation interests who have been part of the roundtable process.
“It’s time to get everyone together and put all of this on the table … and present a united voice from the Western Slope to the draft” water plan, Martin said, offering for Garfield County to host a summit meeting sometime in the coming weeks.
“It’s important that we all work together and to have some unified agreement so that the governor will take heed,” Martin said.
The second round of drafts from each of the basins is due at the end of this week, and final drafts are to be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board by May 20, Meyer said.
A second draft of the state plan is then due to be submitted on July 15, followed by a two-month public comment period. Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked that the plan be finalized by the end of the year.
But the framework seeking consensus between West Slope and Front Range interests for future diversions could prove to be the biggest sticking point.
Meyer said there are problems with each of the seven points in the organization’s proposal, namely that it assumes the Colorado River Basin has more water to give for the purpose of accommodating growth in the Front Range metro areas.
“In my travels, there is not any more water to develop in the Colorado Basin,” Meyer said, noting that existing diversions already result in low river flow issues and shortages for agriculture water users on the Western Slope.
The proposed use of “triggers” in wetter years to determine when water can be diverted as well as measures to protect agriculture, the environment and recreation interests “sound good on paper,” Meyer said. But those points still need a lot of work, he said.
Some of those who attended the Tuesday meeting said the continued effort to keep new water diversions among the possibilities seems to throw out one of the key elements of the water plan: conservation.
“This whole thing grew out of our need to plan for the future,” said Barb Andre of Basalt.
“But I have a question about the word need, and I don’t think we’re looking at the differences between wants and needs as much as we could,” she said. “It begins to look like the word need is being misused here.”
Dave Merritt, who sits as Garfield County’s representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said the framework being proposed is just a concept that can still be negotiated.
He warned against making strong statements about whether the Front Range areas, and the state as a whole, should be allowed to grow or not by limiting water usage.
Carbondale rancher Mark Nieslanik said he worries that Front Range interests are out to “condemn” agricultural water rights on the Western Slope.
He said agriculture users are willing to do their part to conserve their use of water. One way to do that would be to get some help from the state to put irrigation ditches in underground pipes to prevent the loss of water to evaporation.
“Agriculture water use is the key to the success of this deal, and agriculture should be among these seven points,” Nieslanik said.
Martin agreed, even offering new water plan language referring to the “necessity and value of agriculture” in the state.
“Without ag, we all starve,” he said.
County Commissioner Mike Samson said the Front Range already gets enough West Slope water and needs to find other sources for its future water needs.
“I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before, we not only have no more water to give, they’ve taken too much already from the Western Slope and downstream states,” Samson said, also referring to it as a “needs versus wants” issue.
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