Water solutions begin with high altitude reservoirs | SummitDaily.com

Water solutions begin with high altitude reservoirs

Water 101 – everything you ever wanted to know about water but were afraid to ask.

Earlier this week, the Denver media reported the amount of water in the Colorado River Basin was 93 percent of normal. The Blue River from the top of Hoosier Pass to the Colorado River is part of this basin.

Summit County is one of just a few headwater counties in Colorado. Summit County produces more water per acre than any other county in Colorado.

This measurement is compared to nearly 40 percent of normal a couple of months ago at the height (or depth) of the drought.

That is the good news. The bad news is that it will take three years of normal snowpack to recover from what we have lost in the last few years.

The brain trust at the state Legislature has come up with several possible solutions to our drought problems. One of the most talked about and most visible is the Big Straw. Lawmakers are in the process of appropriating $500,000 to study the project.

The Summit County Board of County Commissioners has opposed the project publicly. We commissioners feel the result would dump a considerable amount of dirty water into streams and Dillon Reservoir before it is siphoned off to the Front Range.

Simply put, the Big Straw is a proposal that would capture water from the Colorado River near Grand Junction at the Utah state line and then pump it back to the Continental Divide where it would travel through existing tunnels to the more populated areas of Colorado.

The contention of the opponents to this plan is that the water would not be clean when it leaves the Grand Valley. If it is pumped back to Summit County, it would be full of all sorts of things that would damage our environment.

As an alternative, we are proposing that we build high-mountain reservoirs to capture more water in Summit County, to keep our streams clean and our lakes and reservoirs full. We sometimes think that this makes too much sense, and it is very difficult for some people to understand.

Critics of these small reservoirs think they might become tourist attractions and negatively impact our fragile environment. You only have to look at Blue Lakes Reservoir, Goose Pasture Tarn and Clinton Reservoir to see that this is not true. You very seldom see people around any of those locations, although they are very accessible.

The major water players in Summit County are the Denver Water Board, the city of Colorado Springs, Summit County government and the six towns in the county.

Three major water organizations actually have a lot to say about water in Summit County. Two are supported by your property tax. The Colorado Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District based in Granby are financed with your property tax dollars, and they are supposed to protect the water in Summit County.

The third big player is the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Loveland. It manages the water in Lake Granby and 52,000 acre-feet in the 152,000-acre-foot Green Mountain Reservoir. It serves the areas of Loveland, Greeley, Boulder, Fort Collins and land on both sides of the South Platte River all the way to the Nebraska border.

Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Denver and Northern control most of the water on the Front Range. There are literally hundreds of small districts involved in water in Colorado, but these are the big players.

You can see how complicated water issues can become. Water use is very competitive, and water controls growth. Sometimes it seems as though land-use approval agencies never consider water in their planning. They approve development on the Front Range without water. They find the water after they give the approval.

All the water in Colorado is owned by someone as a water right ownership function like ownership of real estate. Water rights can be bought and sold. There are special water courts to administer the use of water.

It is time for all the players to sit down and consider the future of water in Colorado. It is no longer a case of “us and them.” It is now just “us.”

Water is a finite resource critical to protect our environment and our economy. The sooner we all recognize this, the sooner water solutions that make more sense than the Big Straw will be found.

County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom writes a regular Thursday column for the Summit Daily News.

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