WATER LINES: East & West Slope parties gear up for water plan negotiations
Free Press Weekly Columnist
There’s not enough water in Colorado to meet Colorado’s future water needs.
That’s the blunt message Grand Valley water providers are sending to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the entity Gov. Hickenlooper has charged with pulling together a draft statewide water plan by the end of next year.
According to the “Grand Valley’s Principles for the Colorado State Water Plan,” any statewide water plan that fails to bring in new water will simply shift the burden of an anticipated urban water shortage to farms and streams – both of which, arguably, are already facing shortages of their own.
This document is being submitted to the governing bodies of each of the water providers, including the City of Grand Junction, City of Fruita, Clifton Water District, Town of Palisade, Ute Water Conservancy District, and all of the valley’s irrigation providers, for official approval.
Hickenlooper’s Executive Order directing the CWCB to develop a statewide water plan has set off a flurry of activity by water stakeholders across the state. Under the framework developed by the CWCB, basin roundtables of stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins plus the Denver metropolitan area are supposed to develop plans to meet their own needs, which will then feed into a statewide plan.
While each basin roundtable is supposed to focus on meeting their internal needs, all are aware that long-running conflicts are likely to heat up as roundtables on the Eastern Slope, home to the most of the demand, look to the Western Slope, home to most of the water, to help meet those needs. As a result, multiple efforts are underway to develop regional alliances around core goals in preparation for what are expected to be intense negotiations.
In addition to the Grand Valley “Principles” document, these include proposed “West Slope Principles” developed by the Water Quality/Quantity Committee of the Northwest Council of Governments (NWCOG) and a draft joint white paper seeking to articulate perspectives shared by basin roundtables on the Eastern Slope.
The “West Slope Principles” proposed by NWCOG, like the Grand Valley document, emphasize the need to ensure that the Colorado Water Plan does not threaten the Western Slope’s water-dependent economic cornerstones: agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism.
Both documents also demand respect for local plans and regulations, environmental protections and measures to limit the risk of a “compact call,” which could result from failing to allow sufficient water to flow down the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada and California, as required by a 1922 compact between the states that share the river. The NWCOG document, however, focuses on conservation and reuse as measures to reduce Eastern Slope demands on Western Slope water, rather than imports from elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, the draft East Slope Basin Roundtables joint statement, discussed by the South Platte, Arkansas and Metro Roundtables in July, has a different perspective. This draft statement emphasizes the risk of large-scale drying up of Eastern Slope irrigated agriculture if other approaches to meeting Eastern Slope municipal needs are not developed.
It includes many of the approaches called for in the Western Slope documents, including demand management through reuse, aggressive conservation and increased residential densities. The statement also, however, calls for, “when it is needed, development of state water project(s) using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”
It’s worth noting that none of these documents are 100% final. However, they do outline persistent areas of regional disagreement about how to best stretch the state’s limited water supplies going forward, as well as some areas of agreement.
The basic Eastern Slope-Western Slope disagreement on taking Western Slope water east of the divide is nothing new — that’s been a running argument for the last 100 years. What is new is the sense of urgency, and the sense that something has got to change, because business as usual will lead to outcomes no one wants.
All parties are seeking solutions that protect key Colorado values, including agriculture, the environment, economic vitality and local control. It’s just that depending on where you sit, the costs and benefits of different approaches appear in very different lights.
For more information: All the statements discussed in this article can be found on the Water Center’s website at: http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter/RoundtableEducationProject.html.
To learn more about the statewide water planning process, go to: http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/CO-Water-Plan/.
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.
Hannah Holm is coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.
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