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Sentinel: Western Slope group to Front Range: Look elsewhere for water

Reposted with permission from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Western Slope group to Front Range: Look elsewhere for water

By Gary Harmon

Colorado can’t have less water running west down the Colorado River, a coalition of water agencies and organizations said in a missive that urged state officials contemplating a state water plan to look elsewhere.

“The West Slope of Colorado, indeed no part of Colorado, can be sacrificed for Front Range growth,” the Colorado River Basin Roundtable said.

It would be “unrealistic to look for significant new supplies of water for the East Slope from the Colorado River as a primary source,” the roundtable said, noting that any new depletions of water from the Colorado River boost the risk that downstream states will demand water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

The roundtable’s position paper was presented to the Interbasin Compact Committee last week in Golden. The committee will play a role in the drafting of a state water plan.

There, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Colorado River Basin position was largely understood.

Most of the state’s transmountain diversions siphon water away from the Colorado and into Front Range waterworks.

“Somebody has already given at the office,” Kuhn said. “They’ve given and given.”

Kuhn is a governor’s appointee to the Interbasin Compact Committee.

Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the Colorado River Water Conservation Board with delivering a draft plan by December 2014 and a final plan by December 2015.

One element of the plan is finding a new supply of water and the roundtable said the term “new supply” amounts to a euphemism for another transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.

Any new transmountain diversion must be a last option “after all means of significant conservation, reuse, land use and agricultural transfers based on substantial improvements in efficient water use are exhausted,” the roundtable said.

Several Colorado River water agencies and Denver Water have signed onto a cooperative agreement that includes additional development of Colorado River water for the Front Range.

Those projects should be completed before any new diversions are contemplated, Kuhn said.

The Colorado River basin already supplies between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water to the East Slope for growing cities, farms and industries. Under the compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin is required to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin. That amount is figured on a 10-year rolling average.

State officials, including Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund, have urged statewide participation in drafting the plan. A plan emanating from Denver would be “anathema” to the rest of the state, Eklund said at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference at Colorado Mesa University last month.

Whatever comes out of the state plan, it should “protect and not threaten the economic, environmental and social well-being of the West Slope,” the roundtable said.

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