Colorado may face another water war |

Colorado may face another water war

Bob Berwyn

Don’t look now, but they’re coming for your water.The upcoming session of the Colorado Legislature could turn out to be a nightmare for the high country. In the wake of last summer’s record drought, a slew of pending legislation may be aimed at moving water from the West Slope to the Front Range.&quotIn past years there have been maybe four or five water bills. This year there might be 40 or 50,&quot said Taylor Hawes, an attorney and water watchdog for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG). Normally based in Summit County, Hawes said she might spend the entire legislative session in Denver, helping a full-time lobbyist advocate for West Slope interests and trying to educate lawmakers about water issues.&quotWe’re the front line for the Western Slope,&quot Hawes said. &quotOur goal is to protect West Slope water. There are a lot of misconceptions about how much water is available up here. Most of the headwaters streams are already over-appropriated. The big question we’d like to pose is, ‘What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?'”Rather than pitting the Front Range against the West Slope, Hawes said the entire state must collaborate to find sustainable, long-term solutions.Among the most egregious measures being discussed is a call for mandatory diversions from the West Slope to the Front Range. Another bill could be aimed at creating more high-altitude storage reservoirs in mountain valleys. There may also be a push to Change Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) representation to include one member from each of the congressional districts. Hawes said that would bias the CWCB — which helps set state water policy — toward the Front Range.Hawes said there several planned measures could help the state better meet its water needs, including a bill that would provide incentives for conservation, like rebate programs for water-saving appliances, rebates for xeriscaping and rate structures to encourage conservation.Other bills could help provide for more water for the Front Range by enabling agricultural water users to lease their water during dry years.Another idea that’s been in the news could eventually lead to Colorado River water being pumped from the Colorado-Utah border back to the Front Range via buckets like Dillon Reservoir.One problem associated with that plan is that the Colorado River is laden with salts by the time it reaches the Utah border. That could present problems for pristine reservoirs like Dillon, said Summit County Commissioner Tom Long.Long said the measure calling for the construction of high-altitude storage reservoirs to hold an additional 200,000 acre-feet of water could also have significant impacts in the High Country. More than 200 reservoir sites have been identified across the state, including locations like the Upper Swan River drainage and Peru Creek, he said.Several comprehensive water planning bills have also been proposed.”That may sound good,&quot Long said. &quotBut what it means is, ‘Let us come work with you to take your water.'”

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