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Drought spotlights growth

Don Rogers

Between water rights (wet and paper), pipelines seemingly everwhere taking Western Slope water to the other side of the divide, drought and that ever-present boogeyman growth – it’s really quite a stew.

There are some great ironies, too.

n Nearly all the people live east of the Continental Divide. Nearly all the rain and snow fall west of the divide.



n Agriculture taps 93 percent or so of the water used in the state, but provides only 5 percent of Colorado’s wealth. The money’s in development and tourism opportunities. Of course.

n Up here, closer to the headwaters, some 95 percent of the water we use at home goes back into the waterways, to be used again downstream. We’re not really conserving much of anything with low-flow showers, flushing once a day and all that, other than slowing the need for reservoir releases here and there. And ultimately, a demand for more dam building.



n We have a Catch 22 of the Vail Valley water authorities committed to provided whatever water is needed, and municipalities approving projects, figuring that the water authorities will just come through somehow. The circle only became widely worrisome this summer, though, with our 50- 150-, 300-, 500-year drought – take your pick which “expert” on the matter has the most correct view.

n Almost none of our larger waterways are “natural” anymore. They are manipulated by reservoir releases, when there’s water to release.

The communities in the best shape seem to be the downvalley towns of Gypsum and Eagle, who look after their own water needs and so far have managed not to let the pace of development outstrip their ability to provide water, even in a big drought year.



The great Village at Avon development – you can tell where it is by the dust cloud these days – is well-papered in terms of water rights; remember the agricultural connection to this old pastureland. Avon made sure at least 120 percent of the estimated need for the big boxes, affordable housing units and couple of thousand homes was accounted for, at least by the standards of what they thought a big drought would look like.

It still seems axiomatic that if the upvalley water authorities are having trouble providing enough water now, the question of what sort of shortages we risk at build-out remains a pertinent one. Has anyone heard a truly plausible answer?

Assuredly, our dry days this year will fuel renewed talk about building more storage, and maybe even wacky sounding schemes like The Big Straw will seem more worthwhile over time. That’s the idea of running a pipeline from the Colorado River at the Utah border all the way back to the Continental Divide, to help slake that thirsty Front Range.

The drought assuredly will recede, eventually, but continued growth will set up the same sort of shortages we’re facing now, as a county and a state.

“Socialist” government irrigation programs brought the farmers to this arid land, and in turn set up the “market” forces fueling the New West migration.

A simple fact, for the all the piling of human rules about use and ingenuity to increase capacity, is that there is only so much of the wet stuff. We are seeing this a bit painfully this summer, and will begin to truly suffer if this drought continues another year.

That’s a bit close, isn’t it, for testing the boundary of not having enough?

D.R.


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