Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office
the Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Though Colorado River Basin water users strongly urge against any new trans-mountain diversions to the East Slope as part of a draft plan for the basin released last week, a key part of the process to create a state water plan recognizes a need to eventually have that discussion. In addition to further refining the basin plan itself, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has been reviewing a conceptual inter-basin agreement that outlines parameters for negotiating new diversion projects.
“We do take the position that another big trans-mountain diversion would have a major impact on the Western Slope,” said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.
Skepticism about new diversions is shared by other Western Slope basin roundtables, he said. But the Colorado basin in particular has placed a strong emphasis on setting the bar high for water conservation and exhausting other resources within the eastern basins before new diversion projects are considered.
Last month, the Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representation from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, finalized a draft conceptual agreement to submit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the draft state water plan, due out by the end of this year.
Basin implementation plans from each of the roundtables are being submitted this month, all of which will go to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.
East Slope water interests have been adamant that, in addition to water conservation measures, protecting agriculture and looking at more water storage within basins east of the Continental Divide, the state plan must keep open the possibility of diverting more water from the Western Slope.
The draft agreement outlines seven “points of light,” as Pokrandt referred to them, that would have to be addressed collaboratively and agreed upon before a new diversion project could be OK’d. Those include concessions by eastern Colorado water users that they not seek a specific yield from a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD), and would accept hydrologic risk for any new projects.
Also, any new TMD project would have to come with an agreement that it be in conjunction with existing eastern basin supply agreements, aquifer resources, reuse and other non-West Slope water sources, and that specific triggers be set for when diversions can occur.
Future West Slope water needs, including for recreation and environmental protections, would have to be spelled out in the agreement.
“There are lots of questions about hydrology, environmental concerns and compact considerations that would need to be addressed,” Pokrandt said. “Nevertheless, this is a way to talk about a project among the different groups and all the questions that have to be answered.”
The state faces legal concerns to make sure compacts are fulfilled regarding how much water makes its way from the upper Colorado Basin to downstream users in other states, he emphasized.
Each of the roundtable groups is scheduled to give a presentation on its basin implementation plan at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Rangely on July 16.
Even after the draft basin plans are submitted, they are likely to be undergo further revisions as the process continues to draft the state plan, Pokrandt said.
“Compared to where we were four months ago, we have made a lot of progress,” he said of the Colorado Basin plan, which was prepared by engineering consultants with SGM in Glenwood Springs.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, during an interview with the Post Independent last week, said one of the main goals in asking for a state water plan was to get East Slope and West Slope interests talking.
“The most important thing that can come out of this is to establish relationships, and to get to know each other … and each other’s habits and behaviors,” the governor said.
In any case, conservation will be a key emphasis, Hickenlooper said.
“What we’ve always said is that any conversation in the state about water has to start with conservation,” he said. “We will have to work out some compromises, and there will be some ruckus, but we will work it out.”
The Colorado Basin Roundtable meets again from noon to 4 p.m. July 28 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to further discuss and refine the basin implementation plan.
Also, the interim Water Resources Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is coming to Glenwood Springs on Aug. 21 to take testimony from citizens on the Colorado Water Plan process.
That meeting will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library at 8th and Cooper.
For more information on the Colorado Water Plan process, visit http://1.usa.gov/1oIyjb0.
Meanwhile, the South Platte and Metro Roundtables are ready to submit their basin implementation plan. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:
After years of discussion, the river basin that faces the “biggest challenges” is nearing completion of its first draft of a long-term water plan. That outline of how agriculture, cities and industries will coexist in the future — while minimizing expected water shortages — will be available to the public next week.
Sean Cronin, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues in northeast Colorado, said the combined draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables is expected to be approved at a meeting Monday.
After that, it will go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will begin piecing it together with the implementation plans of the seven other roundtables in the state, to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.
It’s been a long time coming, according to South Platte and Metro roundtable members, some of whom met Tuesday to finalize the language in its draft plan. The basin roundtables across Colorado have been meeting since 2005.
In the draft that will be completed soon are the major points northeast Colorado water officials and users have been driving home during the past nine years — protecting agriculture, water conservation, more water storage and keeping open the possibility of diverting more water from the West Slope, among other key points.
While the group has reached consensus on those issues, there remains some dispute on others, such as how groundwater management might be addressed in the plan, and how municipal land use — which has impacts on water functions — might factor in.
That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables want public input once the draft plan is available next week, possibly as early as Monday evening.
All basin implementation plans are due by July 16. The South Platte and Metro roundtables pushed the deadline, likely because of the complexity and unique challenges in the basin — perhaps the biggest “challenges in the state,” roundtable members say.
The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth in the nation for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.
Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora (which is why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans).
Because of that and continued growth, the South Platte basin, which stretches across northeast Colorado from southwest of Denver to the Nebraska stateline, faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state. According to projections, there will be a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 190,000 acre feet (about 60 billion gallons) annually by 2050, with as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmground dried up by then.
How will it all fit together?
In addition to the challenges within the basin, members of the South Platte and Metro roundtables are concerned about how their plan will mesh with others and are worried that in trying to make all eight plans come together, some of the South Platte’s priorities could get lost.
“With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”
South Platte Basin water officials have been particularly concerned all along that, because of its controversial nature, talks of bringing more West Slope water across the Continental Divide could take a backseat to other aspects of the Colorado Water Plan.
The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between East Slope and West Slope water officials and users goes way back.
About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the East Slope ,but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.
To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, East Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide. There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the West Slope to the East Slope. Many have stressed that without more water going to the East Slope, the ag industry, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s water, will especially suffer.
But many on the West Slope have expressed concern and want the East Slope to stop diverting more of its water. The West Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several Western states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.
Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s East Slope, is stretching the West Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.