Big Straw could plunge through county
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The “Big Straw” water proposal could bring a water pipeline right through the heart of Garfield County, Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Canyon.
The Big Straw, formally known as the Colorado River Return Project, would suck unused Colorado water from the Colorado River at the state’s western border and bring it to the Front Range. One of the big questions is where it would be routed.
The strategy behind the Big Straw is to keep all water allocated to Colorado within the state, preventing other dry Western states from laying claim to what could appear to be excess water.
“As long as water leaves the state that we have rights to, we are a tremendous target,” said Kent Holsinger, assistant director for water resources at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, at a Club 20 meeting Tuesday in Glenwood Springs. “The best thing we can do with our resources is to make sure Colorado takes advantage of those resources.”
Club 20 is a lobbying and promotional organization representing the Western Slope.
While there is support for the idea of keeping all of Colorado’s allocated water within the state, the Big Straw faces some major hurdles. To that end, Boyle Engineering Corp. is conducting a study to determine the project’s feasibility, possible routes and other technical information needed to move the project forward.
“The idea is to study the technical feasibility of picking up water at the Utah line and bringing it back,” Holsinger said.
“We don’t know if it’s a good idea or not,” said state Rep. Gayle Berry, R-Grand Junction.
Holsinger said after the study is completed in November, there will be more answers to the myriad of questions surrounding the complicated water diversion proposal.
“I think what the study will tell us is – it will be focused on the technical issues,” he said.
Some questions include where and how the muddy water in the Colorado River will be cleaned, which route the Big Straw pipeline would take and how 60-degree water can be integrated with 40-degree water in high-mountain rivers and reservoirs without disrupting aquatic life.
“Do they treat the water immediately before bringing it back, or will it get clear back to the Front Range without making any stops?” Holsinger wondered aloud. “We in no way will support anything that would affect water quality on the Western Slope.”
There is also the question of how to reduce the water’s high salt content, fed by hot springs and irrigation return flows.
Three general routes for the pipeline were discussed at a public meeting on the project in Grand Junction Monday.
One option would follow Interstate 70 from the Utah state line to the Front Range, cutting right through Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Canyon.
Southern and northern routes are also under study to bring the water across the Continental Divide.
“They’re kind of a broad swath,” Colorado River Water Conservation District engineer Dave Merritt said of the northern and southern routes.
“The northern route would probably go up through the White River Basin,” he said.
“The southern route would probably go through the Gunnison Basin and over Cottonwood Pass,” he said, referring to the pass between Tincup and Buena Vista.
Merritt said the River District favors the Boyle study because “it puts a value on the water.”
“It really tells people what the water’s worth,” he said.
“The study’s going to tell us the raw numbers,” Holsinger said. “We’ll learn more from it, that’s the main thing.”
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.