Glenwood signs landmark Colorado River agreement
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The city of Glenwood Springs is now party to what is being hailed as a historic agreement between Front Range and Western Slope water interests that will change the way Colorado River water is managed in the future.
Glenwood Springs City Council voted 5-1 at its Thursday meeting to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The vote came more than a month after the proposal was first presented for council’s consideration.
“It’s unheard of that so many entities are willing to talk about what works for everyone,” Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said, in favor of signing onto the agreement.
Added Mayor Matt Steckler, “It’s not perfect, but this is something we have been working on for over a year. I don’t see what not signing it is going to do.”
Councilman Dave Sturges dissented, saying he supports the efforts to reach an agreement on the use of Colorado River water. But he felt the agreement fell short in some areas and that the public had not had an adequate opportunity to weigh in.
“We’re not under the gun to act on this,” Sturges said. “There are still some questions, and I think the public ought to assist us in how we view those questions.”
The agreement has been the subject of more than four years worth of negotiations between the Denver Water Board and nearly three dozen Western Slope governments, water districts and associations.
Its purpose is to cooperatively and collaboratively manage the water resources within the Colorado River Basin, and to move away from the decades of legal battles that have split the state over transmountain diversion issues.
“To some degree, we have to realize we are all in this together,” said attorney Karl Hanlon, who negotiated on behalf of the middle Colorado River water users, including the cities of Glenwood Springs and Rifle, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
“It is one of those things that you can always look at and say it could have been done another way,” he said. “But, if everyone walks out a little bit happy, it’s been a good day. I think that’s what we have here.”
Most of the parties, stretching from Grand Junction to the Denver metro area, have now signed the agreement, Hanlon said. He expects to make a presentation to the Rifle City Council for its consideration later this month.
The agreement places limits on Denver Water’s use of Colorado River Basin water by defining a geographical service area for Denver’s future expansion.
“This is important, because it effectively limits future growth of the Denver Water system beyond its current boundaries,” Hanlon explained.
Among the other key concessions, Denver Water agreed to:
• Commit to further re-use and conservation measures.
• Provide $25 million and 2,000 acre feet of water for in-basin flows.
• Agree to limit future diversion projects to ones that can be developed
cooperatively with West Slope users.
• Support the Shoshone Outage Protocol, which protects minimum flows from the hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon.
• Join the other parties in supporting the Green Mountain Reservoir administration settlement.
In return, Western Slope entities will not oppose the Moffat Collection System Project, and all parties agree to work together on future Colorado River Compact issues.
“The agreement also contemplates future cooperation on a permanent solution to the Shoshone flow regime, including investigating the potential acquisition of the Shoshone facility and water right,” Hanlon explained in a previous memo to Glenwood Springs City Council.
In addition, the agreement stipulates that Denver Water would not oppose a possible future request by Glenwood Springs to maintain a minimum flow for recreational purposes to support the city’s whitewater park, known as a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD).
Councilman Sturges said that’s one area where the city has the most interest from an economic development standpoint. He said he’s not sure the agreement provides enough support from the other users should the city pursue a formal RICD request.
“We have invested a lot of money in a highly engineered water park,” he said. “It is very important to the economy of this city and the area.”
Louis Meyer, a local engineer, also urged council to wait in signing the agreement.
“This is a huge issue for Glenwood Springs,” he said. “I would also suggest that you hold off and allow for some public engagement and involvement in this.”
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