From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Protecting Western Slope agriculture appears to be one area of agreement as the region looks for ways of speaking with one voice on Colorado water issues. That was one takeaway from what was effectively a Western Slope water summit held [December 18] in Grand Junction with the goal of presenting some consolidated messages on the state’s newly drafted water plan.
Members of four roundtable groups — representing the Gunnison and Colorado river basins, southwest Colorado and the Yampa, White and Green river basins — already have developed their own plans that were incorporated into the newly completed draft plan. Representatives from all those roundtables gathered Thursday to talk about common themes that have emerged that they can be jointly voicing to the rest of the state as a final plan is developed.
In the case of agriculture, Colorado roundtable basin chair Jim Pokrandt said it’s important that the state not engage in poor water planning that forces farmers and ranchers out of business.
Said state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who works in agriculture himself, “Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easy water to buy and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
He talked about a need for more Front Range storage of its own water and alternatives like bringing in water from the Missouri River “so you’re not buying that agricultural water.”
Jim Spehar, a former Mesa County commissioner and Grand Junction mayor, agreed about the importance of considering agriculture in state water planning.
“If this discussion isn’t done by and for agriculture I think it will be done to agriculture,” he said.
Thursday’s discussion also turned to other areas including municipal and agriculture conservation. Gunnison County rancher Ken Spann said one thing those in agriculture need to know is where any water they might free up from conservation would go. He’d like to see it help fill Lake Powell to help states in the Upper Colorado River basin meet interstate compact water obligations.
But he worries that instead it could just end up supplying another new subdivision, or perhaps simply being offset by new water use being sought in the Yampa basin, which would mean no net increase in Colorado River water reaching Powell.
“The trade-offs (from conservation efforts) have to be identified and we are now at the point where we have to do that or people won’t play,” he said.
Western Slope water interests plan to continue talking about seeking a unified voice on water, including by addressing issues such as a somewhat controversial proposed framework for discussing any possible new diversions of western Colorado water to the Front Range.
“This is just the start of the West Slope conversation,” said Moffat County rancher T. Wright Dickinson, who also sits on Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide forum for discussing water issues.
More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.