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Keeping an open mind about water solutions

I recently attended a great presentation by our local water commissioner, Scott Hummer, where he detailed the serious water situation in Colorado.

He indicated that Dillon Reservoir was down about 52 feet, and at that time the snowpack was not up to normal. There was not one spark of hope that I detected in Hummer’s presentation. I presume that is because it is his job to put us all on notice of the potentially very serious situation that may arise in the next few years.

At the end of the session, I recounted how Dillon Reservoir had originally filled in three years instead of seven because of some horrendously heavy snow years in the 1960s.



I lived here on the Western Slope at that time. I asked if we could not be a bit optimistic since weather runs in cycles. Hummer said that, in fact, 1996 was one of the wettest years on record and there were floods in the county.

But he and the others in the meeting scoffed at my optimism that the drought might take care of itself, at least from a supply perspective. We all know the water demand side is a different picture, and if Front Range consumption of Western Slope water keeps increasing, even the wettest of decades will not solve the long-range problem.



The ingenious engineers and gifted politicians, such as the late U.S. Rep. Wayne Aspinall, who preceded us overcame great obstacles to provide an engineered water system that gives our arid region a means of surviving through wet and dry times.

It also preserves our winter snows for year-round use. That generation produced some of the greatest risk-takers and problem solvers. Now we don’t seem to think beyond the end of our noses about long-term means of conserving and providing alternative supplies of water. I perceive that we would never have built Hoover Dam, created Lake Powell or Dillon Reservoir had today’s do-nothing environmental mentality existed at that time. Yet we enjoy and take for granted the recreation, scenic, economic and other benefits those facilities provide.

In the 1970s, at the height of the oil shale frenzy here on the Western Slope, one developer proposed bringing water from the Missouri River Basin into Colorado or Utah to augment water that might be taken from the upper basin.

That proposal, like the Big Straw proposal, is now considered ridiculous. But they are not, in my mind, if we are to see continued long-term growth in demand for our most precious commodity and maintain a robust economy.

There are two key questions we as citizens have to answer: Will we use water as a method of limiting population growth – if that is even possible, or will we acknowledge that growth is inevitable and figure out how to supply the water that continued growth will require?

Some years ago, Gov. Richard Lamb’s use of water as a growth-inhibiting strategy failed. Like the increase in gasoline prices, increasing domestic water costs likely will not have much effect on overall conservation. So, what methods might reduce consumption and diversions? I wish I knew. But pumping water from the Eastern Slope aquifers is not the final answer.

Agriculture is suffering the most. I remember when there were green irrigated fields in South Park, just over Hoosier Pass. Now, that land stands nearly fallow as the water is diverted east.

This is but one example, and the situation will get worse as economic development rises in the western part of our State and as the lower basin states’ demands on the Colorado River system increase.

Let’s keep an open mind about how to accommodate the water needs of our grandchildren. Engineered solutions are not always bad – really.

Glenn Vawter, a public engineer, lives at Summit Cove.


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