All indications point to future population growth for the areas supported by the Colorado River, making the Colorado River Conservation District (CRCD) as important an entity as ever. Their mission, although simple in concept, has been challenging in practice - to protect the Colorado River and Western Slope water users. Indeed, much of what makes up our way of life in western Colorado is largely dependent on the CRCD.
The only thing certain when dealing with water issues in the west is there are a wide variety of competing voices and opinions. For the most part, the CRCD has made sure Western Slope interests aren't neglected when competing with those of our Front Range neighbors; simply put, the CRCD has acted as a fair broker.
They have worked to build consensus among different parties on a multitude of issues during their existence. Time and again the CRCD has made sure the West Slope was not on the losing end of proposals to store and divert water to the Front Range. Specifically, the CRCD has helped resolve many disagreements between Denver Water and Western Slope water users.
More than ever, the West Slope is relying on the CRCD to do its job fairly and accurately as it addresses the many challenges ahead. As the ski industry can attest, this year's snowpack was very low, adding pressure to our already strained river basin. All reports project 2012 as a dry year for Colorado; these reports, coupled with projections of future population growth in the west, make sensible water policy that much more important.
It's no secret the strain on the Colorado will only become more severe as time goes on. We need proactive and innovative solutions to plan for possible future water scarcity now - failure to do so could result in the inability to maintain our current quality of life, as we prepare to meet the challenges of western population growth.
Increasingly, there have been proposals for enormous water diversion projects to satisfy the needs of the Front Range and Southern California. It is not only in the best interest of the Western Slope, but of Colorado in general, to actively pursue and advocate for conservation, flexible transfers, and water-sharing agreements first. Big diversion projects are too expensive and can best be summarized as robbing Peter to pay Paul, with the West Slope playing the role of Peter.
The Inter-Basin Compact Commission, Basin Roundtables, and the Bureau of Reclamation are working on two separate studies attempting to plan for and resolve the imbalance between supply and demand of water in the Colorado River Basin. It is my hope that these studies will take into account the great work the CRCD has done in the past and include innovative solutions in the spirit of conservation, efficiency and flexible transfers and water-sharing agreements. It would be a shame - not to mention detrimental to the Western Slope's economy - if these studies were merely used as springboards for diversion projects.
In contrast, these studies should suggest that pressure be brought on Front Range cities to conserve water more efficiently. In the past we have responded to water issues with ideas about massive and costly diversion projects first. I submit that instead we first look to conservation, not as the entire solution, but certainly as part of it. There are many market-based mechanisms we could look to that would encourage this approach.
Agriculture and recreation depend on healthy instream flows, and flowing rivers and streams provide a myriad of other community benefits. Conservation and efficiency projects may enhance instream flows and provide economic and quality of life benefits, as well. The CRCD, with its stellar reputation, has the ability to significantly weigh in on these studies and should do so.
Water will always be the lifeblood of western Colorado. So much of our economy and overall well-being is reliant upon this resource - farming, ranching, and several non-agricultural industries would all cease to exist without it. These two individual studies will attempt to settle long-standing competing demands on the river. Due to the fact that there is no clearly established protection for community stability as it relates to water, CRCD interjection on our behalf becomes that much more critical.
With cooperation between citizens and the appropriate government agencies, we can use this opportunity to advocate for smart and flexible water management solutions that, in aggregate, may provide greater water security at lower cost in the future.
The alternative is to sit idly by, and suffer through recurring droughts, like this one, without a plan or viable options to sustain our way of life and affect future generation's quality of life in Colorado.