State water officials endorse regional summit
An offer by Garfield County commissioners to host a summit of county officials from across the Western Slope to try to build a united front on the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan has the endorsement of at least two state Water Conservation Board officials.
“I am with you 100 percent, and in fact I welcome it,” Russell George, the Colorado River Basin representative on the statewide board, said during a Monday discussion with the local commissioners.
He said it’s important for people to try to learn “all of the moving parts,” not just of Colorado water law and policy, but the legal ins and outs of water allocation throughout the western United States.
“That’s an intellectual effort more than a legal or political effort,” said George, who was accompanied Monday by CWCB Director James Eklund.
Eklund agreed with that assessment.
“We need to be having these conversations at the educational level,” Eklund said. “I applaud your interest, and I’m hopeful every county commission looks at this with the same interest and rigor as this one has.”
The Garfield commissioners last month suggested a gathering of elected commissioners and others from the 22 Western Slope counties to bring everyone up to speed on the last 10 years of work that has gone into developing the new water plan.
That meeting is in the works for some time in the coming weeks, as work continues among the nine basin roundtables to refine the new statewide water plan before it is to be finalized later this year.
The commissioners have joined in the growing concern being raised by Colorado Basin Roundtable representatives about provisions contained in the draft plan, referred to as a the “7 Points,” that would provide a framework for new trans-mountain diversions from the Western Slope basins to the Front Range.
Without a full understanding of all that’s happened in the last decade since George, as then Speaker of the Colorado House, helped launch the basin roundtables, it’s hard to weigh in with an educated voice, observed Garfield Commission Chairman John Martin.
The constant turnover of elected officials and other key government representatives also makes it challenging to keep the information flow going forward, he said.
“We need to get everyone together … to help and not hinder that flow, and to better understand the information,” Martin said.
For their part, he and the other Garfield commissioners remain adamant that the Western Slope has no more water to send over the Continental Divide to support Front Range growth.
In fact, that water is needed to support agricultural needs, as well as growth and development on the Western Slope, Commissioner Mike Samson said.
“We need to be clear on the Western Slope that we are opposed to any more trans-mountain diversions, and it would be good for us as county commissioners from the West Slope to state the reasons why and to present a united front,” Samson said.
Still, Eklund said the 7-Point plan for negotiating future water projects is a move away from the way allocation of the state’s water resources has been decided in the past, which has been in the courtroom.
“If we want the status quo, we can continue to duke it out in court,” he said. “But it’s not productive, and it’s especially not productive for the Western Slope to keep doing it that way. That’s why it’s important to keep moving in this direction.”
Dave Merritt represents Garfield County on the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board, which has not yet taken a formal position on the draft water plan. He reiterated that West Slope water interests should be careful not to reject the plan outright.
That’s like leaving the table, he said.
“And, as we all know, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Merritt said.
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