Colorado River Basin to state: Not so fast
The Colorado River Basin Roundtable last week pushed back against a perception that West Slope interests have reached an agreement about a conceptual transmountain diversion, as indicated by a draft of the Colorado Water Plan and recent remarks by James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“It is important that nobody oversells this as a done deal and a clear-cut pathway to a new transmountain diversion,” said Jim Pokrandt, the chair of the roundtable and the communications director at the Colorado River District. “It is a way to talk about it.”
Pokrandt was referencing a seven-point “draft conceptual agreement” put out in June by the Inter Basin Compact Committee, or IBCC, and now included in the draft state water plan. The 15-member IBCC includes representatives from the state’s nine basin roundtables and six other appointees.
The first of the IBCC’s seven points is that “the East Slope is not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion project and would accept hydrologic risk for the project.”
Or, as Ken Ransford, the secretary of the Colorado roundtable, put it in the minutes of the group’s October meeting, “this means that the East Slope will take less or perhaps no water in low-snow years instead of drying up a West Slope river.”
An article in The Denver Post on Nov. 11 fueled the perception, some roundtable members said Monday, that an agreement on the concept had already been reached.
Eklund was quoted as saying “The reality is the Western Slope is seeing available water in wet years for the Front Range to bring over. They are OK with that as long as there is mitigation or compensatory storage.”
Ekland was also quoted as saying, “Most people I talk with, even in the intense water community, view themselves as Coloradans first and members of river basins second.”
Pokrandt, the chair of the roundtable, called Eklund’s comments “unfortunate.”
Eklund’s remarks conflict with the view of the roundtable’s executive committee, which said in a recent draft memo that “there is no water remaining from the Colorado River than can reliably be developed for Front Range use without putting Western Slope agriculture and recreation at peril and risking the certainty of current water users.”
On Nov. 19, the Conservation Board’s board of directors, which oversees both the IBCC and the nine roundtables, unanimously approved the draft water plan, including the IBCC’s “draft conceptual agreement.”
And they did so in a chapter called “Interbasin Projects and Agreements.”
“Once finalized, these points of consensus may serve as the foundation for any new future transmountain diversion projects seeking state support,” the draft water plan says about the IBCC’s seven points.
But Louis Meyer, who represents Garfield County on the roundtable, and is the CEO of the engineering firm SGM in Glenwood Springs, said Monday that it was too soon to roll out the IBCC’s seven points.
He said they did not have “public by-in,” they were “exceptionally vague” and that agreeing to the points “would result in unintended consequences.”
“How can we go back to all the folks we represent, our constituents, and tell them we support these seven points, when we don’t know what it means,” Meyer said.
Eric Kuhn, who sits on the IBCC, and is also the director of the Colorado River District, said the seven points were “intentionally vague” and that in hindsight he wished the IBCC had not called them a “draft conceptual agreement.”
“This is not an agreement,” Kuhn said. “It’s really a list of discussion topics.”
Stan Cazier, who represents the roundtable on the IBCC and supported the seven points being released, said the first point – where the Front Range accepts there may not always be water to divert – could actually be favorable to the West Slope.
“This is the only thing that I understand is in the Colorado Water Plan which basically doesn’t give a green light to the other basins to develop anything they want to,” Cazier said. “This kind of puts the brakes on, possibly, what they could do in the future.”
The IBCC’s “draft conceptual agreement,” or, if you prefer, its “list of discussion topics,” will be on the agenda at a meeting in Grand Junction on Dec. 18, when the Colorado, Gunnison, Yampa/White and Southwest basin roundtables are slated to come together as the West Slope Roundtable.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times, a sister paper of the Post Independent, are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
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