Recently, the Vail Chamber & Business Association hosted a water policy briefing to discuss a state water plan and its relevance to Colorado business. Colorado is one of only a few Western states that does not currently have a comprehensive state water plan, but a plan is currently in the development stages and is now in the public comment period.
The water briefing brought together James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Tom Binnings of Summit Economics; and Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, to discuss the importance of a comprehensive state water plan to mountain and Western Slope stakeholders.
In the days of the pioneers, water was a common good that you could use if you could access it. As demand for water increased, conflicts were resolved (similar to mining claims) through the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, which recognizes first in time, first in right. Through that doctrine, a system of senior and junior water rights came into being based on who used how much and when. Those rights are personal property that can be bought and sold, thus creating a market value.
However, there is some water such as recreational water and habitat maintenance water that is still considered a common good. Everyone can enjoy use of the water in rivers, lakes and reservoirs (as long as you don’t divert it or consume it). An important question for our mountain community is how the state water plan values water’s common good in relation to its market value. Lacking a common good value for water, Binnings points out that the market value will dictate that water rights will migrate to the “highest and best use” over time (i.e. those who can afford it the most). That thinking argues that the Front Range, which makes up 83 percent of the state economy, would eventually end up with nearly all of the state’s water rights.
HARD TO QUANTIFY FLOWING WATER’S VALUE
One of the state water plan’s great challenges will be to determine the common good value of flowing water under the Covered Bridge in Vail Village. Linn Brooks points out that residents and guests come to the Vail Valley for the beauty of our natural environment with our creeks and rivers being the centerpiece. Water is the natural resource that makes our community and local economy possible, but it is very difficult to quantify the value of flowing water. Calculating the value of water flow to the fishing and boating industries can be done, but how does one quantify what water flowing under the Covered Bridge means to tourist visits in Vail? Your comments during this crucial planning process are key to influencing the opinion of the value of water flowing through our valley.
Go to www.coloradowaterplan.com to learn more about this important issue and to submit your comments. Your input matters!
Paul Wible is the vice president of FirstBank Vail and a Vail Chamber & Business Association board member. To learn more about the Vail Chamber and what they can do for your local business, please contact us at 970-477-0075 or firstname.lastname@example.org.