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A victory for water rights holders

Eric Kuhngeneral manager,Colorado River Water Conservation District

An avalanche of appreciation is due Sen. Wayne Allard for his leadership and dogged determination on behalf of Colorado water users.Thanks to Sen. Allard’s dedication to this issue, the U.S. Forest Service recently committed to discontinue its infrequent but outrageous practice of demanding Colorado farmers, ranchers and municipalities relinquish a portion of their water rights when renewing permits for existing water diversion structures on National Forest lands. Previously, the U.S. Forest Service could require Colorado water rights owners to forego a significant portion of their historical water supply simply to renew an existing permit to continue operating historical water diversion structures located on Forest Service land.While defending the environment is a sound mission, doing so by taking water from cities, farms, ranches and other historical water users is not. The Forest Service’s new commitment to work cooperatively rather than unilaterally through regulation is a victory for all Colorado and a long-sought after recognition of the many tools Colorado has established to work collaboratively with the Forest Service and others to address instream flow needs. The recent “Pathfinder Process” for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests is just one example of building consensus to find workable solutions.Pathfinder identified 27 constructive and cooperative alternatives that achieve environmental protections while respecting Colorado water law and protecting Colorado water users. Rather than imposing heavy-handed regulations to achieve the desired goal, federal agencies, state agencies, water users, and other interested parties will work together to find mutually beneficial ways to protect both environmental and local economic values. We must be smarter than our problems. To do so requires we be more creative than resorting to unilateral, bureaucratic mandates to address complex issues. The Colorado River Water Conservation District believes cooperation is the key to Colorado’s water future.In the mid-1990s, we proved that we can bridge the historical East Slope-West Slope divide with construction of the joint east-west Wolford Mountain Reservoir in the Colorado River basin.Presently, we are forging new coalitions to simultaneously benefit endangered species and human needs with the cooperative, federal-state-local enlargement of Elkhead Reservoir in the Yampa basin. Thank you Sen. Allard for your leadership, and thank you Mark Rey, under secretary of agriculture, for erasing the federal government’s line in the sand and committing to cooperation and new partnerships.


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