Water plan would weigh new diversion projects
July 14, 2014
The Colorado River Basin Roundtable has adopted the following West Slope principles:
• Solutions in the Colorado Water Plan (CWP) to supply water for growth and development in one part of the state should not override land use plans and regulations adopted by local governments in the part of the state from which water will be taken.
• The CWP should protect and not threaten the economic, environmental, and social well-being of the West Slope.
• The CWP should identify a process and requirements for each basin to exhaust available water supply within its own basin before planning diversions from another area of the state.
• The CWP should outline mechanisms to mitigate the risk of potential compact curtailment of the Colorado River … (including) low-risk legal and hydrologic assumptions related to Colorado’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Basin compact.
• The state should not assume a role as a proponent of a water project until the state regulatory process has been completed and the project has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts in the area from which water would be diverted.
Source: Draft Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, SGM engineering consultants
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 bit.ly/1kIQMjx.