Eagle County entities first to sign historic water deal
Eagle Valley Enterprise
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
EAGLE, Colorado – Anyone familiar with Colorado water issues knows the Front Range and Western Slope have tussled for decades over water diversion projects. Now the conflict is being laid to rest, with efforts geared toward collaboration instead.
On Tuesday, Eagle County representatives became the first large group of 40 entities to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The agreement addresses numerous water issues from the Continental Divide to the Utah border.
“This is not an agreement that will be forgotten, it is an enduring partnership with the Western Slope,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, a former Glenwood Springs resident. “This is a statewide initiative, and it will benefit the state as a whole.”
The agreement was mostly completed by April 2011, when Gov. John Hickenlooper announced, “This cooperative effort represents a new way of doing business when it comes to water. It shows that water solutions must be crafted from a statewide perspective. We hope and expect that this process will ripple across Colorado to other areas of water conflict.”
Almost a year later, with some final details in place, the document still needed to be signed. Eagle County officials decided to get the ball rolling.
“I think the rest will quickly follow suit,” said Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu. “It’s like a junior high dance where everyone’s scared to be the first on the dance floor but then they pile on once someone starts.”
In attendance Tuesday were a “whole lot of people with stripes and scars from years of water management,” Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney remarked as he opened the floor for speeches. Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who represents Eagle and Summit County entities, as well as some ski areas, was the first person at the podium.
“My left hand is getting strong from carrying this around,” Porzak said, emphasizing the thick stack of paper that composed the 50-page agreement and its attachments.
“Eagle County is getting two things out of this,” he said earlier during a conversation from his Boulder office. “This really does protect the Eagle River and it protects the flows [of the Colorado River] through Glenwood Canyon.”
Porzak said the Eagle River has never had any significant transmountain diversions when compared to Grand and Summit counties. Nearly 300,000 acre feet of water are diverted from Grand County and more than 100,000 from Summit County, he said. According to the Denver Water website, one acre-foot of water serves about 21⁄2 families of four for one year. The Eagle River only has about 20,000 acre feet diverted, and it’s now likely to stay that way.
“Now Denver would need consent from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Eagle Park Reservoir Company to expand its diversion from the Eagle River watershed,” Porzak said.
Others acknowledged that Tuesday’s signing was only the beginning.
“There is still so much to do – now we have to implement the agreement,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs.
Porzak said the collaboration started in 2004. Prior to that, each entity was dealing with Denver on an individual basis.
“About eight years ago, different representatives got together at Beaver Creek and decided it would be a lot better to combine efforts,” he said. “That meeting literally represented the entire Colorado River Basin.”
Since then, there were complicated issues that took time to resolve.
“But in the end, it worked out,” Porzak said. “I think other [signing] ceremonies will follow.”
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