Roaring Fork basin is ripe for more water diversions
About 40 percent of the water from the upper Roaring Fork River gets sucked away before it hits Aspen and negotiations are under way to divert more to the thirsty Front Range.It’s a topic that receives little public scrutiny, even though the Roaring Fork Valley is legendary for thorough debates – and rehashed debates – on topics like big-box retailers, employee housing projects and rail versus trail.It’s a paradox that’s perplexed Louis Meyer, a partner in a Glenwood Springs-based engineering firm. Meyer is part of the American Leadership Forum, an organization that helps civic-minded people play leadership roles in issues of importance in their areas.He’s convinced that civic leaders and other members of the public want to take a greater role in shaping water policy but get intimidated and confused by Colorado’s complex water laws and regulations.”They don’t understand water policy,” he said. Special interests such as developers, environmentalists and large water providers are well represented in negotiations, but the process almost seems designed to exclude the public, Meyer said.He believes the state’s water policy might be different if citizens played a larger role. For example, he asked if Front Range residents really want their leaders to pursue more diversions from the mountains only to see it result in more growth in their congested towns and cities. At the same time, he noted, those diversions deplete water where Front Range residents spend their time skiing, hiking and fishing.In the mountains, most residents take water for granted. The summer of 2002 opened some eyes because of the severity of the drought, but Meyer fears those concerns have faded because of what appears to be a decent snowpack this year.”Like a lot of things, people tend to forget,” he said.The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Leadership Forum hopes to alert Roaring Fork Valley residents about important water issues and get them engaged in the planning process.The organization is hosting a meeting Thursday, March 10, in El Jebel to discuss water diversions out of the Roaring Fork watershed. The meeting will be at the Eagle County Community Building from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.Alan Martellaro, of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, will outline existing diversions from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan river basins. Chris Treese, manager of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, will discuss current and future proposals to divert additional water.The American Leadership Forum is neutral on diversions issues – except that it wants to ensure citizens are educated about the issues and involved in discussing them.Meyer said his job as an engineer has taken him to places like Eagle, Summit and Grand counties, as well as elsewhere in the mountains. He believes citizens in all those places have become more engaged on water issues than citizens in the Roaring Fork Valley.In Summit County, people have become concerned about the effect of diversions on the Blue River. In Grand County, growth issues have fueled discussions of limiting the number of new water customers.The American Leadership Forum’s promotional material for a series of lectures on water issues states the Roaring Fork Valley’s water supplies should not be taken for granted any longer.”Tree ring studies may suggest that we are not in fact in a drought, but rather, returning to a normal period of precipitation far lower than we have become dependent upon – more in line with an arid desert climate,” according to the leadership forum. “The Roaring Fork River dried up through the city of Aspen in 2002. More than 40 percent of the Roaring Fork water flows are diverted upstream of the city of Aspen, over the divide to Front Range interests.”And the forum notes that new threats are emerging.”An ever growing and thirsty Front Range is looking for new sources of supply and additional transmountain diversions out of our mountain headwaters are being considered,” the organization states. “Negotiations are being held at this time between Front Range and West Slope water officials, including diversions out of the Roaring Fork Basin.”Meyer said the goal of the forum is to provide information citizens can use to learn about water policy and show them how they can get involved. The group’s first meeting attracted about 140 people to Glenwood Springs to discuss how the 33 percent capacity level in Lake Powell could influence sharing water from the Colorado River.If citizens get engaged in collaborative efforts between the Front Range and Western Slope, it could result in better water policy as well as trust that the process isn’t rigged behind closed doors, Meyer said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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