‘Conservation is good for you (the Front Range), but maybe not for us [West Slope]‘ — typical Western Slope sentiment?

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Taking water from agriculture through buying water rights and drying up farmland (“buy and dry”) has already economically devastated some eastern plains communities. Most stakeholders agree that further losses of irrigated agriculture should be minimized. Meanwhile, the approximately 500,000 acre fee per year already diverted across the divide from Upper Colorado Basin streams has left many streams in ecological trouble, and the surrounding communities are not happy about the prospect of more depletions. Farther downstream, concerns center around water quality and what could happen if we fail to allow sufficient water to flow to downstream states, as required by the Colorado River Basin Compact.

Conservation is the only approach no one has a problem with — until they are on the hook for actually doing enough of it to make a real difference.

On Monday, Dec. 3, representatives from several basin roundtables met in Silverthorne to hash out how to move forward on the conservation piece, which has long been a point of contention between Front Range and Western Slope interests.

As one Gunnison Basin representative put it, typical Western Slope sentiment has been: “Conservation is good for you (the Front Range), but maybe not for us.” This isn’t as cheap as it sounds, since there are legitimate issues related to the large cost relative to small benefit when you try to get small water providers to implement the kinds of conservation programs big, urban water providers do.

However, Front Range water providers pointed out that they’ve already poured millions of dollars into conservation strategies, which have in fact saved a lot of water, but they simply can’t achieve enough conservation through their own efforts alone to take significant pressure off of agriculture and Western Slope water as sources for additional future supplies.

After much inconclusive discussion about exactly how ambitious and wide-ranging conservation targets should be and insightful comments about the counter-incentives to conservation in current water law, one strong point of consensus emerged: Everyone, on both sides of the divide, needs to do more to conserve water.

And we’ll likely need some statewide legislation to conserve enough (even though it’s still not quite clear what that is). Whether that’s legislation to require low-flow appliances or something related to land-use that would limit how much water new development would use was not decided, but the consensus was nonetheless significant. The desire to keep water on the Western Slope and on farms was, at least among this group, beginning to win out over the desire to oppose any statewide encroachment on local control. That’s a big step. Stay tuned to see how big it will really be.

More conservation coverage here.

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