Colorado Water: Dueling comments on state plan | PostIndependent.com

Colorado Water: Dueling comments on state plan

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Journalism

In letters sent this spring about the draft Colorado Water Plan, both the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority told state officials that growing Front Range cities should not be looking west for more water.

“In short, there is no more water to develop in the Colorado Basin for a new transmountain diversion,” Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, wrote in an April 30 letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB.

And Mark Fuller, the executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, told the CWCB in an April 14 letter that “the undeveloped water diversion rights in the upper Roaring Fork and the upper Fryingpan basins continue to be a significant local concern. Development and diversion of these waters would touch off significant controversy and a state water plan that encourages or facilitates that development would be seen locally as a failure.”

Meanwhile, two of the biggest Front Range water utilities, Northern Water and Aurora Water, have sent recent comment letters in support of new water storage projects and potential transmountain diversions.

“There is little to no mention of transmountain diversions” in the “water supply projects and methods” chapter of the draft water plan, noted Joseph Stibrich, deputy director of water resources for Aurora Water, who wrote to the CWCB on April 29.

”The concept is alluded to in the summary of the basin implementation plans, but the option should be recognized upfront in this section,” Stibrich wrote. “A short discussion would be appropriate that at least some of the basins believe transmountain diversions will still be a viable option.”

Aurora Water diverts water under the Continental Divide from both the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan river headwaters, with about 2,600 acre-feet a year coming off the Fryingpan and 2,900 acre-feet coming off the top of the Roaring Fork.

On April 28, Northern Water, which serves eight counties in northeastern Colorado and whose sources include water from the Colorado River basin, sent a letter to the CWCB from Eric Wilkinson, general manager of Northern, and Jim hall, a Northern project manager.

Under the heading, “Value of Additional Storage,” Wilkinson and Hall wrote in their letter that “the Water Plan should clearly articulate and advocate the value of storage in meeting the water supply gap for a multitude of consumptive and non-consumptive uses.”

The comment letters are just four of the approximately 1,000 unique letters the CWCB has received as it has developed a draft, and now a final, version of the Colorado Water Plan. The final plan is due on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk by Dec. 10.

WE HEAR YOU

Agency officials say they have read every comment they’ve gotten, including the 23,000 comments they’ve received as form letters or emails, mainly as a result of calls to action by environmental groups.

“We know what the messages are, and we know what you’re interested in, and we also know how you want us to change the plan, and we’re working on it,” Kate McIntire, the outreach, education and public engagement coordinator for the CWCB said during a May 20 presentation to the CWCB board on comments about the water plan.

But as the letters from just four organizations show, there is still an agreement gap in Colorado when it comes to new potential water projects, especially transmountain diversions, and that gap may be difficult to resolve in the water plan.

For example, Lofaro, of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, told that the state in his letter that the conservancy “does not promote the use of transmountain diversions to meet future water demands without first considering reuse, conservation and first developing in-basin water supply projects.”

And Fuller, of the Ruedi Authority, said in his letter that even if new dams and reservoirs are built on the Western Slope, downstream demands will prevent more water from being sent east.

“The ongoing drought in downriver states such as California, and the low-water situations in Lake Mead and Lake Powell indicate that the Colorado River and other waterways on the western side of the Continental Divide will be subject to more pressure from lower in the basin in the future,” Fuller wrote. “New water developments on the Western Slope will act to keep existing transmountain diversions in priority but will not necessarily support additional transmountain diversions.”

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

In addition to having different viewpoints on how the potential for transmountain diversions should be featured in the Colorado Water Plan, the two entities in the Roaring Fork watershed also disagree about the process the state is using to discuss potential new diversions.

Aurora Water points to a draft conceptual framework developed by the Interbasin Compact Committee — which serves as an executive committee for the nine river-basin roundtables in the state — as the best way to proceed regarding a potential new transmountain diversion.

“The IBCC Conceptual Framework … provides the framework whereby new Colorado River Basin supply options could be investigated and potentially developed,” Aurora’s Stibrich wrote in a passage of language he suggested should be included in the water plan.

But both the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority see the IBCC’s conceptual framework differently.

Lofaro told the CWCB “a more open process fostering public engagement, and comporting with the overall framework of the Colorado Water Plan is necessary to deal with a topic as important as any new transmountain diversion. Instead, the draft conceptual framework lacks public input, and is a ‘top-down’ product of a small coterie, rather than the much wider group of stakeholders envisioned in the governor’s executive order and Colorado law.”

And Fuller told the state, “the ‘IBCC Conceptual Framework’ must not be characterized as a pathway to future transmountain diversions. Instead, it is a menu of considerations that can form the basis for evaluation of transbasin diversions in comparison with all other alternative methods of meeting future water needs.”

The first version of the final Colorado Water Plan is expected to made public as part of the packet for the CWCB’s next boarding meeting, which is on July 15 in Ignacio. The packet is typically made public at least a week before the meetings.

At that time, the public will be able to see how the CWCB staff has incorporated the conflicting comments the agency has received, read and posted at the Colorado Water Plan website at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, under the “Get Involved” tab.

And even after the first version of the final water plan is released in July, the CWCB will continue to take comments on it until Sept. 17.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on the coverage of water and rivers. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.


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