Where’s the water coming from?
EAGLE – If you take Eastern Slope water anxieties and connect them via one river – the Colorado – with Western Slope water worries you get a surprisingly shared recipe calling for more reservoirs to help create more usable or “wet” water for the state’s growing population. A good portion of that water is from the Colorado River, which flows through Eagle County. How to use it most effectively will require something that has, until recently, been missing – cooperation between east and west.That was one of the conclusions emerging from last week’s Waterwise Wednesday session in Eagle, which featured water engineers from both sides of the Continental Divide. Most of Colorado’s water, 80 percent, falls as snow on the Western Slope but 80 percent of the population lives on the arid Eastern Slope. Getting water to people requires a complex network of tunnels and pipelines that travel through Summit County and over the continental divide.Apportioning the water in dry years won’t be easy, said Dave Merritt, chief engineer of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.”In time of plenty there hasn’t been a lot to argue about,” he said. “In times of shortage, there’s a lot to argue over.”Merritt and Don Carlson of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water from Fort Collins to Boulder, spoke at the meeting.More ‘buckets’Both speakers agreed more reservoirs are needed to supply the state’s future thirst. Those reservoirs provide water for consumption and keep streams healthy when water levels drop.In Carlson’s district, the water needed when continuing expansion reaches its limits is projected to be an additional 300,000 acre feet. That’s enough for an additional 1 million people, he said.The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District takes an average of 240,000 acre-feet per-year from the headwaters of the Colorado River and delivers it to the Front Range via tunnel into the Big Thompson River and on down the South Platte River. That system uses Shadow Mountain, Lake Granby and Grand Lake as capture reservoirs for Colorado River water.Where the water to support the growth in northeastern Colorado will come from is not yet known.”We don’t know how (demand) will be met,” Carlson said. He believes water will become increasingly expensive because reservoirs that are not on river systems will be built, which means using pumps instead of gravity, he said.Western SlopeOn the Western Slope, water demand is growing, too, and traditional methods of water development are expected to be scrapped in favor of new, and often times, cooperative projects. In the mid-1980s Colorado Springs, Aurora and Eagle County fought a water war over developing Homestake II reservoir south of Red Cliff. The reservoir wasn’t built and expensive legal confrontation was replaced in 1996 with an agreement called the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding.”We’re going to have to go farther and farther afield for water,” Merritt said. Another project that may depend on further cooperation is a reservoir proposed for a site in Wolcott a mile north of the Eagle River. It will range in size from 55,000 to 105,000 acre-feet and will be mostly filled with water pumped from the Eagle River.The Denver Water Board, Eagle County water users and others are likely to participate in the project.One of the overarching concerns about the Colorado River centers on the Colorado River Compact. This 1922 water-sharing agreement apportions how the seven western states in the Colorado River basin will use the river. Successive years of drought have lowered Lake Powell to less than half its capacity and fears are that if it is emptied, up-river states won’t be able to provide the 7.5 million acre-feet of water they agreed to provide in 1922, Merritt said.”We’re already carving up what little is left in the Colorado River,” he said.Colorado supplies 11 million of the 15 million-acre-feet of water that flows through the Colorado at Lee’s Ferry, Ariz., but Colorado’s share of the river under the compact is only 3.1 million acre-feet, Merritt said.
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