Summit County, Western Slope counties look to protect water resources
Ryan Summerlin July 10, 2014
“No more water across the Divide” is the rallying cry of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan.
The second draft of the plan was released July 1, and over and over it calls for a stop to diversions of water from the Colorado River Basin under the Continental Divide.
The plan represents the desires of residents, government leaders and water providers not only in Summit County but in all six Western Slope counties in the Colorado River Basin.
The completed second draft marks a stepping stone on the path to finishing a governor-mandated state water plan by the end of 2015 that meshes the water-supply needs and wants of diverse communities represented by the state’s nine basin roundtables.
Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, likened the goals of the roundtable’s regional water plan to a football game.
“We’re protecting two end zones,” he said. “One is West Slope agriculture, and the other is the Colorado River system itself.”
The plan reflects the priorities of saving the region’s agriculture, protecting the Colorado River and all its tributaries, connecting water planning with land use planning and promoting high levels of conservation.
The plan also emphasizes understanding the limit for how much water the state can use and still meet the requirements of the Colorado River Compact of 1922 to deliver water to the Southwest. If Colorado lacks the water to satisfy that 1922 water right, both Western Colorado and the Front Range will see mandatory water-use restrictions.
“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the resource,” Pokrandt said, because that would mean taking water away from agriculture.
The Colorado Basin Roundtable met Monday, July 7, in Glenwood Springs to discuss and refine the 124-page draft.
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who represents Summit on the roundtable, said members talked in a general sense about how to implement the hundreds of projects and ideas in the plan and how to fund them.
“All of this is going to take money,” she said.
Some of the proposals can be financed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but those funds won’t be enough, she said, so state legislators need to discuss new budget sources this summer.
One idea that Stiegelmeier had and wants to develop further is funding parts of the plan through a tax or fee on water-related fixtures, like faucets and toilets, that are installed in new developments.
Her reasoning, she said, is that the state’s expected population growth of 5 million people by 2050 and the new development they will bring is what is causing the projected water shortfall.
Stiegelmeier said she saw a recent study that found the projected water shortfall could be eliminated if Front Range residents and businesses watered their lawns about 30 percent less.
“That’s considered very high conservation that isn’t even contemplated in other documents,” she said. If people replace some of the grass in their lawns with rocks and native plans that don’t require watering, “you really can solve the problem.”
However, she added, Front Range residents don’t want to give up their lifestyles. She said they will say they want their kids to enjoy slip and slides in the yard.
Pokrandt agreed that with a growing population, the most important thing the state can do to protect its water is to carefully consider how communities grow and how residents landscape.
“We have to be conscious of using the water we already have,” he said.
The next step for the plan comes when Pokrandt presents its findings Wednesday, July 16, to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the group charged with creating the state plan out of the nine regional plans.
That’s when things will get interesting, Stiegelmeier said.
The plans will be conflicting, she said, with Front Range plans supporting transmountain diversion projects that the Western Slope staunchly opposes.
Over the last six months, the roundtable did public education and outreach that included more than seven town hall meetings, 20 roundtable and project leadership team discussions, 30 one-on-one interviews with water providers, 45 presentations to city and town councils and several college forums.
The plan says those efforts reached more than 900 people across the basin, offering them the opportunity to voice concerns and offer solutions.
Pokrandt said the roundtable and the design team SGM will continue to accept comments and edit the basin’s plan for the next six months.
For more information specific to the Colorado River Basin plan, visit coloradobip.sgm-inc.com. For general information about the state water plan, visit coloradowaterplan.com. You can submit comments on either website.