The Big Straw project is back
SUMMIT COUNTY -State Sen. Lewis Entz said despite looming state budget deficits, it’s important to allocate $500,000 to study the feasibility of a water diversion from the Utah border to the Front Range.
The Hooper Republican said it “just makes good sense” to study the proposal and affixed it to a Senate water project bill that was approved on a 21-14 vote Monday afternoon.
Officially titled the Colorado Aqueduct Return Project, “The Big Straw” would divert water from the Colorado River before it flows into Utah, collect it in a 200-acre wetland near Grand Junction and pump it east to Dillon Reservoir for use on the Front Range. The water, estimated to be at least 400,000 acre-feet, belongs to Colorado but goes unused and flows to downstream states.
An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot, or enough water to supply a family of four for a year.
Critics say the cost alone would be prohibitive, especially in light of the $869 million budget deficit the state faces in fiscal year 2003-2004, which begins in July. Cost estimates to build such a project range from $5 billion to $15 billion.
Locally, county electeds said they also are concerned about water-quality and weed-control issues. If untreated water were dumped into Lake Dillon, it would bring with it chemicals from farm runoff and noxious weed seeds.
State Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Democrat from Golden who represents Summit County, said $500,000 isn’t enough to study a project of such magnitude. She and State Rep. Carl Miller, a Leadville Republican who represents Summit County, said they thought it would take a prohibitive amount of power to pump the water 200 miles and 4,500 feet up in elevation.
Miller said he thinks Front Range water consumers should use water from their own basins before coming to mountain supplies. He introduced a bill last month that would have required Front Range water suppliers to install infrastructure tapping into the four aquifers under Denver before resorting to High Country reservoirs. The aquifer water, he said, would be used in times of national emergency or drought. Legislators killed the bill.
Denver Water, the state’s largest water supplier, owns Dillon Reservoir and pumps the water in it through the Roberts Tunnel to the Front Range.
The State Senate Appropriations Committee killed a bill last month that would have allocated funds for the study. But Entz said Monday he feels the issue merits discussion and included it into Senate Bill 110.
SB 110 includes more than $34 million in new loans for water projects. The House of Representatives will review the bill in about a month.
Senators did, however, remove a part of the bill that would have allocated $180,000 to determine how much more water could flow if swaths of trees are cut down. Many species of trees consume hundreds of gallons of water each day, and legislators have been debating if cutting down trees could increase water flows in the state.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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