Colorado Water: Potential new transmountain diversion gets boost |

Colorado Water: Potential new transmountain diversion gets boost

The water of Sawyer Creek

Conceptual framework

These seven points reflect a draft conceptual framework for discussion of a future TMD in Colorado. This version of the seven points was presented during a straw poll at a March 12 statewide roundtable summit.

1. We need to address environmental resiliency and recreational needs, including the recovery of imperiled species, with or without a new transmountain diversion (TMD).

2. If a new TMD were to be built, the proponent should involve non-consumptive, environmental and recreational partners up front, so that the project is designed with environmental and recreational needs in mind, incorporates benefits and mitigates impacts.

3. Colorado should continue its commitment to improve municipal conservation and allowable reuse, statewide, with or without a new TMD.

4. If a new TMD were to be built, West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a package of projects and processes that benefit both East and West slopes.

5. Colorado should develop a collaborative program aimed at preventing a (Colorado River basin) compact curtailment issue from occurring, while protecting existing users from involuntary curtailment (e.g., eminent domain or strict administration).

6. The collaborative program (in point 5) should be voluntary, such as a water bank and other demand management programs, and aimed at protecting current Colorado River water users, and some increment of additional use yet to be defined, but NOT uses associated with a new TMD.

7. If a new TMD were to be built, it would not guarantee delivery of a certain amount of water annually, but instead operate as part of a flexible optimized system, diverting only when water is available, based on triggers Colorado establishes in advance, and relying on East Slope sources of water when not diverting.

WESTMINSTER — The prospects for a new transmountain water diversion that would bring more water to Colorado’s growing cities on the Front Range appeared to brighten during a recent meeting of about 300 Colorado water leaders.

At the meeting, held March 12 in Westminster, members of the state’s nine river basin roundtables responded in near unanimity to a straw poll regarding a “draft conceptual framework” that outlines how to keep discussing, and planning for, a new transmountain diversion, or TMD.

Today in Colorado, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet of water is diverted under the Continental Divide from the west to the east slope. To put that in context, Ruedi Reservoir holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water, and that total annual flow of the Roaring Fork River is about 900,000 acre-feet of water.

All but five of the approximately 300 people gathered in a Westin hotel ballroom gave a thumb’s up — meaning they agreed with the concept — to a list of statements regarding ways to look at a potential new TMD.

“We have consensus on all of these points, but not necessarily that they’re fully encompassing,” said Jacob Bornstein, a program manager at the Colorado Water Conservation Board who has been helping to develop the draft conceptual framework and who led the straw poll exercise.

Often referred to as “the seven points,” the conceptual framework has been the subject of much discussion over the past six months among members of the nine basin roundtables, who came together on March 18 for a “statewide basin roundtable summit.”

“As you’ve heard from every corner of the state, everyone has at least begun to consider the usefulness of this conceptual framework,” John McClow, a CWCB board member who also sits on the Gunnison River basin roundtable, said at the summit meeting.

Despite the broad consensus in evidence at the summit, some roundtables on the West Slope, especially the Gunnison, Yampa-White and Colorado river basin roundtables, are still voicing concerns and questions, and don’t want the conceptual framework presented in the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan as an agreement.

“The Gunnison basin doesn’t believe that the conceptual framework is ready for inclusion in the state plan,” said Michele Pierce, the chair of the Gunnison roundtable. “If it is determined that it will be included in the state plan, we would like to see a big disclaimer with that, something that would say, or highlight the fact that it is still under discussion, it still needs refinement, and that there is no real agreement statewide as to what those terms mean.”

Melinda Kassen, an attorney who specializes in environmental issues, also addressed the 300 roundtable members at the summit.

Since 2005 Kassen has served as a governor-appointed environmental representative on the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, which functions as something of an executive committee to the nine basin roundtables.

“So, I think I was asked to come up here to justify my having raised my thumb on this, when we did this last summer,” Kassen said.

Kassen said she could support the framework for a new TMD because of its seventh point, which states, “Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.”

“The reason that this point is so important is the way it’s written,” Kassen said.

“It doesn’t say we will address environmental and recreational needs in the context of some big new transmountain diversion,” Kassen said. “It doesn’t say we’ll do mitigation and that’s how we’ll deal with the environment. What it says is, we will make our environment resilient now. We will protect our recreation economy now. And then, if at some point in the future if there’s another big project, we will also do mitigation for that project.”

Jim Lochhead, the CEO and general manager of Denver Water, also spoke at the summit.

“In terms of a future transmountain diversion, that is an option that needs to be preserved for the future, if we need to do it,” Lochhead said. “But what this conceptual framework does is articulate some principles that we can agree to, that allows us to move forward when and if that time comes.”

Lochhead also stressed the importance of entities on the West Slope and Front Range working now on the things it can agree on, instead of just listing longstanding disagreements.

At the end of the summit meeting, Bornstein put up one more statement, which read: “If the feedback from today is incorporated into the conceptual framework, then it is headed in the right direction.”

“No thumbs down,” Bornstein said after surveying the room. “So wonderful, thank you.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Post Independent are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at

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