A recent poll commissioned by the business coalition Protect the Flows, of which I am a member, shed a bright light on how Coloradans want to deal with our state’s water needs. It seems that across political and geographic lines, a large majority of us believe that water conservation programs are necessary to address shortages.
Remarkably, 76 percent of Coloradans, including 79 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans, believe that we can “solve most of the state’s water problems through efforts to conserve water and reduce waste.”
Concurrently, over half of Coloradans — including 84 percent of West Slope residents and 52 percent of metro Denver-area residents — oppose building additional pipelines to increase the amount of water that is pumped from rivers over and through the mountains to the Front Range.
This news comes as the Colorado Water Conservation Board is slated to review a proposal on Tuesday from the Flaming Gorge Task Force, a group that was funded by the Water Conservation Board. It was charged a year ago to discuss the viability of the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline and then come up with recommendations. The state moved ahead with the task force despite significant opposition from business interests and local elected officials.
At the time, Protect the Flows, a coalition of 700 businesses that depend upon a healthy Colorado River system, led a campaign to secure resolutions from West Slope counties and municipalities opposing the pipeline. Those in opposition include our own cities of Grand Junction and Fruita, as well as Mesa, Montrose, Delta, Garfield, Moffat, San Miguel and Summit counties.
As readers may remember, the Flaming Gorge pipeline is a boondoggle proposed by real estate investor Aaron Million that’s already been rejected by several state and federal agencies for obvious reasons. The project would drain 81 billion gallons of water each year from the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, and then send it 560 miles over the Continental Divide to the Front Range. The state of Colorado estimates that the project could cost as much as $9 billion to construct. A study by Western Resource Advocates indicated that the pipeline would take nearly a quarter of the Green River’s flow, which would result in a $58.5 million dollar annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. And that same study reported that the water delivered to the Front Range by the pipeline would have to be sold at a price that is the most expensive in Colorado’s history because of the pipeline’s steep construction and operation costs.
So, it is no surprise that the Flaming Gorge Task Force is returning to the Colorado Water Conservation Board without any recommendations to further the Flaming Gorge pipeline. However, board members would like to spend another $100,000 of public money. For what?
They’d like to conduct up to 30 more meetings for the purpose of determining the most expedient way to export any water that remains legally available from the West Slope to the Front Range. They make this request even though the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee is already funded to make such explorations.
As the poll mentioned above shows, citizens of Colorado are quite united against new river diversions that could reduce Colorado River flows to a trickle, negatively impacting the more than 5 million adults who use the river and its tributaries for recreational activities each year and destroying a $26 billion annual economy across the seven basin states that supports a quarter million jobs.
To put it into perspective, if the Colorado River were a company, it would be larger than General Mills, USAirways and Progressive Insurance and would be the 19th largest employer on the Fortune 500. Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke for the majority on both sides of the Divide when he said in 2011, “Legally it is Denver’s water, but it’s Colorado’s water, too. You know, what makes Denver special and unique is because it’s in Colorado. And part of what makes Denver ‘Denver’ is the Western Slope economy — its ski resorts, the ranches and fruit orchards — and the Eastern Plains.”
Finally, the Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study released in December 2012 not only defined the current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the Colorado River System for the next 50 years, it formulated strategies to address the projected imbalances. Conspicuously, the report suggests that building huge pipelines costing billions and taking years to complete is not a practical or fruitful solution to close the basin’s huge supply and demand gap. Instead, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said we need to focus on proven, common-sense measures that improve efficiency, such as re-use, repairing water infrastructure, improving agricultural technology and practices and making landscape design less water intensive.
For so many reasons, further review of the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline is a waste of time and a waste of money better put to use in other ways. Keeping our rivers flowing and not diverted in Colorado and the basin states is a big part of our Western heritage and a major driver of our economic well-being.
With 87 percent of Coloradans polled willing to reduce their own water use by an additional 20 percent, and 62 percent supporting incentives for farmers to use water-saving irrigation technology and practices, re-invigorating our focus on basic cost-effective conservation measures will surely work best for all of us.