Bridging Colorado’s divide to meet water storage needs |

Bridging Colorado’s divide to meet water storage needs

Scott McInnis

Coloradans spoke with one voice Nov. 4 in rejecting Referendum A, an unbalanced water storage solution that would play the interests of one region of our state against those of another.

The vast majority of Coloradans, in my view, continue to support new water storage. The benefits of water storage should be clear given the recent drought; storage allowed us to make it through without draconian measures.

So, what is the next step in addressing this vital issue?

Simply voting down this bonding initiative does not solve Colorado’s need for water storage. In fact, it reinforces the need for a balanced statewide approach to water storage.

Water conservation and investments in water efficiencies are important aspects of Colorado’s water future. Additionally, cooperative and innovative arrangements such as interconnections among water utilities and dry year leases of agricultural water supplies will allow the “haves” and the “have nots” to share and assist struggling agricultural economies.

But these are not enough.

Water, and storing the water that flows in Colorado, is the key to controlling Colorado’s destiny. The vast majority of Coloradans are asking for their elected officials to craft a statewide water storage plan ” a plan that brings Colorado together as a family and contains binding assurances that protect the whole state.

Here are some viable steps to achieve this goal:

– Enact into law binding mitigation and compensation for basins of origin. This protection would ensure that if water is diverted from the basin of origin, compensatory storage or other compensation is provided.

Simply put, if there is water storage built on the West Slope for the benefit of the East Slope, there should be additional water storage built for the benefit of the West Slope, or some other appropriate compensation.

This type of compensatory plan has been done before and proven practical. It made the Colorado-Big Thompson project possible by building the Green Mountain Reservoir, and it facilitated Colorado’s newest reservoir, the Wolford Mountain Project, in which water is stored for the mutual benefit of Denver and the West Slope.

Let’s build on those past successes and provide this type of assurance to areas of the state with water.

– Many supporters of new storage want to facilitate proposals from smaller groups like ranchers and farmers who typically lack the resources to move forward with new or expanded water storage projects.

One of the biggest obstacles to building or expanding water storage is the permitting, engineering and regulatory maze that must be navigated. Large urban areas have legal and engineering teams that have mastered this complex process, but small groups without huge financial resources do not have those teams at their disposal.

We should consider putting together a team of experts who can help those interested in new or expanded storage opportunities through the maze of preliminary engineering, permitting and regulations.

Utilizing expertise based at the state level would go a long way to assist new storage projects; ultimately, if we want to make it easier for agriculture and small communities to build water storage, we may need to offer a helping hand.

These ideas can serve as the initial foundation upon which to build a broad consensus for saving Colorado’s water, and deserve the further consideration of the Colorado General Assembly.

I believe that these proposals, coupled with a financing mechanism, can begin to bridge the divide and address our water storage challenges.

As we go forward, our elected state leaders, water experts and others must be willing to work out a solution to our water challenges that benefits our whole Colorado family.

Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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