River series: The fight over water | VailDaily.com

River series: The fight over water

Glenwood Springs built a wave park on the Colorado River near the West Glenwood exit. The river needs to run at the levels it ran at this year for people to use it.
Christopher Mullen /Post Independent |

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on the future of water in the West and the Colorado River. It’s from the State of the River meeting, presented by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

EAGLE COUNTY — We live in a semi-arid environment, but we love to play in the water.

Take the massive wave park in Glenwood Springs. Surfers love it, but it hasn’t run like this for a few years, says Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director with the Colorado River District.

“The bigger the snowpack the bigger the runoff and the bigger the wave at Glenwood Springs. It gets this big when the river is running 20,000 cfs,” Pokrandt said, pointing to the picture with this story.

Pokrandt chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. Every month, 50 to 60 people come together from Summit and Grand counties where the river begins, down to the state line below Grand Junction. The roundtable has been meeting for eight years.

Here’s what they know: There’s already not enough water to do everything that everyone wants to do, and some people want more.

“Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed,” Pokrandt said.

They get together and have kids, and the population grows. By 2050 Colorado’s population could hit 10 million people, Pokrandt said. It’s around 5 million people right now.

Much of that growth will remain along the Front Range, where officials euphemistically talk about “new supply,” which basically means transmountain diversions, said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

“How can that be when the river is so dangerously close to being overdeveloped?” McClow asked.

The Front Range already pulls 650,000 acre feet every year from the Colorado River, McClow said.

Another 150,000 acre foot diversion is already planned, Pokrandt said.

“We don’t think there’s enough water for another big diversion project,” Pokrandt said.

Transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be a junior water right. That means if there’s not enough water to go around, they’re the first to go without.

“Denver and Aurora are acutely aware of all that,” McClow said.

Douglas County, however, is a “black hole,” McClow said.

“They say water must be provided for farms and that it has to come from somewhere,” McClow said.

Water planning

Colorado has a water plan because in 2002 we had a drought and growing populations, with growing water demands, Pokrandt said. A draft of an updated plan is due by next month.

A lot of the plan deals with how to meet the gap of 500,000 acre feet, mostly on the Front Range.

“All plans call for new sources of water. The thing is that there’s only one source of water,” Pokrandt said.

Late this spring 105,000 acre feet was released to river delta in Mexico. It made it a few weeks later, but don’t look for a repeat performance anytime soon, McClow said.

“The problem is irrigation. The water goes to irrigate farms in the Mexicali Valley, and they’re not giving it up,” McClow said.

A 1944 treaty pledges 1.5 million acre feet per year to Mexico. If there’s more, they can have more, up to 1.7 million acre feet. In times of extraordinary drought, Mexico’s share can be cut, McClow said.

“If you overdevelop the river, it’ll come from agriculture,” Pokrandt said. “Senior agriculture and environmentalists should be like two peas in a pod,” Pokrandt said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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