Experts gathered in Grand Junction to discuss Colorado Water Plan last week | PostIndependent.com

Experts gathered in Grand Junction to discuss Colorado Water Plan last week

Brittany Markert
bmarkert@gjfreepress.com
Colorado River near Grand Junction
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

With the release of the Colorado Water Plan’s first draft on Dec. 10, more than 150 residents and western Colorado water experts gathered in Grand Junction on Dec. 18 for a West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting. Members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, members of surrounding basin roundtables, and Interbasin Compact Committee members were present.

To learn more about West Slope versus East Slope needs, click here.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper requested the creation of the plan in 2013 in response to Colorado’s projected water shortages due to population growth, especially on the Front Range. The draft focuses on collaboration between key players on issues like supply and demand, agricultural policies, competing interests (environmental protection versus industry), and climate change.

To read the draft, click here: http://1.usa.gov/13WEF11.

According to the Colorado Water Plan website, such a plan is necessary because Colorado’s population has blossomed from 1 million in 1930 to 5 million presently.

“It is focused on filling the projected gap for cities and towns due to a predicted increase in population to about 10 million by 2050,” said Hannah Holm, Colorado Mesa University’s Water Center coordinator.

At the West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting last week, a variety of issues were discussed including agriculture water rights, municipal water rights and how to locate alternative water sources.

“We all need to be thinking about what’s next,” said Russell George, a representative of the Colorado River Basin on Interbasin Compact Committee.

The Interbasin Compact Committee “was formed to mediate differences between the state’s river basins on water policy issues,” Holm said. “George was also a major force behind the 2005 legislation that established the basin roundtables of water providers and stakeholders charged with bottom-up water planning in each of the state’s major river basins.”

Another focus of the gathering was to ensure the plan meets the needs of Colorado as a whole, along with downstream needs of the Western Slope.

“An ongoing point of contention is whether any new transmountain diversions from the West Slope will be used to meet growing demands in Front Range cities,” Holm said. “A recently developed framework document for how to discuss any such project was released this past summer.

“It’s a huge step that the Eastern Slope entities agreed they couldn’t expect to take a firm yield of water every year from any new project,” she added. “Nonetheless, West Slope parties remain very wary of such projects, and one of the purposes of the meeting in Grand Junction was to move towards developing a common West Slope negotiating position.”

When it comes to Colorado’s water situation, Holm explained that once the water plan is finished, it will need to be regularly revised due to the state’s ever-changing landscape of yearly rainfall and population growth.

A SERIES OF DISCUSSIONS

At last week’s meeting, Eric Kuhn, general manager of Colorado River District, noted the necessity of managing development within the state to prevent excess use of resources.

“The higher level of development, the chances of running into problems are greater,” he said.

Western Colorado representatives also believe that there isn’t enough water to give to Colorado’s Eastern Slope for its increased water consumption due to obligations to downstream states, Holm noted. Representatives from the Yampa Basin, which is located in northwestern Colorado, are concerned about having access to water to meet their own growing needs “as well as statewide needs and downstream obligations.”

Despite conflicting needs, all representatives agreed that water conservation is a must, particularly in Front Range cities. More discussion will be required for agreement.

Another meeting to discuss the Colorado Water Plan is planned, but a date has not yet been set. Topics to be discussed further include how to address future Western Slope water needs, conservation and reuse.

“This plan is a work in progress,” said Bruce Whitehead, an Interbasin Compact Committee member. “It’s open to changes and something the Interbasin Compact Committee agreed to. More future discussions need to take place.”

For more information about the Colorado Water Plan, visit http://www.coloradowaterplan.com or find Colorado’s Water Plan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cowaterplan.


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