EAGLE, Colorado - Anyone familiar with Colorado water issues is aware of the tug-of-war between the Front Range and Western Slope.
The two have tussled for decades over projects that diverted western water to the populous east. Now the conflict is being laid to rest, with efforts geared toward collaboration instead.
Eagle County representatives became the first large group of 40 entities to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement at Tuesday's regular commissioner meeting. The agreement addresses numerous water issues from the Continental Divide to the Utah border.
"This is not an agreement that will be forgotten, it is an enduring partnership with the Western Slope," said CEO of Denver Water Jim Lochhead. "This is a statewide initiative and it will benefit the state as a whole."
The agreement was mostly completed by April 2011, when Gov. John Hickenlooper announced, "This cooperative effort represents a new way of doing business when it comes to water. It shows that water solutions must be crafted from a statewide perspective. We hope and expect that this process will ripple across Colorado to other areas of water conflict."
Almost a year later, with some final details in place, the document still needed to be signed. Eagle County decided to get the ball rolling.
"I think the rest will quickly follow suit," said Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu. "It's like a junior high dance where everyone's scared to be the first on the dance floor but then they pile on once someone starts."
"This has been a good year for the river," Treu added. "I've never seen this many people gathered to sign an agreement."
In attendance were a "whole lot of people with stripes and scars from years of water management," Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney remarked as he opened the floor for speeches. Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who represents Eagle and Summit County entities as well as some ski areas, was the first person at the podium.
"My left hand is getting strong from carrying this around," Porzak said, emphasizing the thick stack of paper that composed the 50-page agreement and its attachments.
"Eagle County is getting two things out of this," he said earlier during a conversation from his Boulder office. "This really does protect the Eagle River and it protects the flows (of the Colorado River) through Glenwood Canyon."
Porzak said the Eagle River has never had any significant transmountain diversions when compared to Grand and Summit counties. Nearly 300,000 acre feet of water are diverted from Grand County and more than 100,000 from Summit County, he said. According to the Denver Water website, one acre-foot of water serves about 2 1/2 families of four for one year. The Eagle River only has about 20,000 acre feet diverted and it's now likely to stay that way.
"Now Denver would need consent from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Eagle Park Reservoir Company to expand its diversion from the Eagle River watershed," Porzak said.
In exchange, Eagle County will not oppose a future interconnect between Clinton Reservoir and Eagle Park Reservoir. Other details about the plan and how it pertains to other entities can be found at the websites of Denver Water and the Colorado River District.
"If this is the Mount Everest of water agreements, then 1992 was base camp," said Rick Sackbauer, chairman of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Board.
He was talking about when he started working for what was then the Vail Valley Consolidated Water District and some of the new people he worked with at the time who turned out to be key players in the years to come. He mentioned how Lochhead started as a water attorney in Glenwood Springs in the early 1980s, long before he was named CEO of Denver Water.
"He has a perspective of the Western Slope and the Front Range," Sackbauer said.
Others acknowledged that Tuesday's signing was only the beginning.
"There is still so much to do - now we have to implement the agreement," said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.
Porzak said the collaboration started in 2004. Prior to that, each entity was dealing with Denver on an individual basis.
"About eight years ago, different representatives got together at Beaver Creek and decided it would be a lot better to combine efforts," he said. "That meeting literally represented the entire Colorado River Basin."
Since then, there were complicated issues that took time to resolve.
"But in the end, it worked out," Porzak said. "I think other (signing) ceremonies will follow."