Refine our water policies
(This letter was originally addressed to Gov. Bill Owens and Department of Natural Resources Director Greg Walcher.)
As you are aware, one of the many direct consequences of this summer’s drought is very low stream flow conditions. There have been river reaches in the state that have gone dry and many others that have lost a majority of flow and have suffered from abnormally high temperatures, causing aquatic habitat degradation and fish kills.
Unfortunately, although water instream is considered “beneficial use,” Colorado water law has yet to provide the flexibility to prevent streams from drying up.
One such example is occurring on the Roaring Fork River near Aspen, due to an irrigation diversion with senior water rights that, at times, are diverting the entire river. This has left isolated pools downstream with fish that are dying.
We at the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit watershed conservation organization, are keenly aware of this issue, especially since we educate the members of the public on river issues and respond to their concerns.
The state engineer had a proposal before him that would have worked within the stringent water rights laws to allow the irrigation ditch company to transfer 5 cubic feet per second downstream to the city of Glenwood Springs for the remainder of the irrigation season.
At the time of the proposal, Glenwood Springs had a need for the water for irrigation purposes, the ditch company was willing to make this temporary transfer, and water between the two points of diversion would have bolstered stream flows in the Roaring Fork River.
The state engineer, in an e-mail response to the proposal, stated: “I have not been presented with a reason for this loan. No crops have been identified as in critical need of water by Glenwood Springs and no emergency has been identified for the city, so I do not have a reason to approve or even consider it and have staff review it when they have many other emergency plans to work on.”
Although various interests have come together to work toward a solution, the process has been slow and arduous, and still has yet to be resolved. You can imagine the stir that this issue is creating in our valley.
We would expect the state to support rather than discourage creative approaches within the system that provide environmental stewardship and protection of the values generated by critical components of our natural heritage, including our rivers and streams.
We just completed an economic study on the Fryingpan River, a tributary of the Roaring Fork, showing that 7.5 miles of publicly accessible river is responsible for generating $3.7 million in total economic output annually within the Roaring Fork Valley.
Earlier this year, SB-156 was adopted to enrich the state’s instream flow program through encouraging donations of senior water for instream flow protection. But is this enough?
We applaud the recent legislative proposal brought forward by Rep. Rippy, and would urge you to promote additional options within existing water law that can be used in a meaningful way to protect stream flows on a short-term basis.
This is an ideal time to refine our water policies to reflect our changing values. There are opportunities to create “win-win” solutions that are not solely driven by a fear of losing private water rights.
The efforts of the recently created Colorado Water Trust, the passage of SB-156 and the public awareness that has been created from this summer’s dry conditions all are driving toward positive outcomes. We hope you can lead us in this direction.
Jeanne M. Beaudry and Kristine Crandall
Roaring Fork Conservancy
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