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Solving the water riddle

GRAND JUNCTION – The message from a gathering of water users and managers who met Friday in Grand Junction was straightforward.As drought continues to diminish the amount of water in the river and growing population in the West increase demands for that water, solutions must be found to meet those challenges.In Colorado, the headwater state for the river, an innovative plan is bringing people together from what have traditionally been opposite sides of water issues in the state, with some encouraging results. Two years ago the state legislature passed House Bill 1177 – The Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act- and laid the framework for nine roundtables, representing the Colorado River’s nine major basins in the state. Each of the basins is charged with determining what their particular water needs will be for the near future in view of the continuing shortages in the river. The roundtable format has brought to the table ranchers and big city water departments, federal agencies, kayakers and fishermen. It has also brought together historically opposed water managers and users from the West Slope and Front Range. Now, the nine roundtables, representing the state’s nine river basins that feed the Colorado River, are on the verge of making decisions that will affect the future of the river.The roundtable discussions, which have been going on for the last year, are including more people in the process of decision-making that has taken it out of the hands of government and given it to the people, said Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Russell George at this year’s Colorado River Water Conservation District’s water seminar in Grand Junction Friday.”HB 1177 has made an opportunity for those most affected by water decisions to participate in the process,” he said. The discussions are founded on by two principles: “There is not enough water for everybody, and what is the fair way to distribute (water) over time,” George added.Concurrent with the state discussions is an effort to forge a new agreement between the seven states along the Colorado River to better allocate the diminishing resources of the river. Allocations of water for each of the seven states were cast in stone in the Interstate Compact of 1922. The compact essentially requires the upper basin states to deliver a fixed amount of water annually to the lower basin states. The problem now, 84 years later, is there isn’t enough water in the river to meet those obligations.This year the legislature set aside $40 million for water projects to increase water supplies and meet identified needs in each of the nine basins. The roundtable groups will decide among themselves what projects should be funded.For George, the best part of the roundtable discussions is bringing people together who have been on opposing sides. He said the process follows a principle of decision-making about water issues promoted by Delph Carpenter, one of Colorado’s early water commissioners who helped forge the 1922 interstate compact.Carpenter’s principle was to “let the people get acquainted with each other before making a decision, they’ll find they like each other,” George said.George also had words of advice for representatives of lower basin states at the water seminar.”You folks have nothing to fear from this process and absolutely everything to gain,” he said. The roundtable discussions and decisions will “make Colorado more confident and better to do business with” when it comes to forging the new seven-state agreement over use of the entire Colorado River.The quarterly meetings have also been a boon to traditional enemies.”I don’t have to wear a bullet-proof vest anymore,” to water meetings between the West Slope and Front Range interests, quipped Mark Pifher, who sits on the Metro roundtable that includes Front Range water users and managers.”The challenge has been to bring everyone to a common understanding – and how to mold that into a vision,” said Dave Merritt, who chairs the Colorado River basin roundtable. “We’re the principle donor basin and I’m not sure everyone feels good about that.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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