Is water really available for ‘Big Straw?’ |

Is water really available for ‘Big Straw?’

Allen Best
Vail, CO Colorado

How much water remains for Colorado to develop under the inter-state compacts of 1922 and 1948 is unclear. Those compacts assumed more water in the Colorado River and its tributaries than has generally been the case.

Flows could drop further. Many climatologists predict that the warming climate will make drought-like conditions persistent in coming decades, reducing river volume by at least 10 percent, possibly much more.

Should this happen, Colorado could have no additional water left to develop ” and indeed, some current water diversions may be curtailed in order to meet compact obligations downstream in Arizona, Nevada and California.

While that threat “may be years or decades away,” says Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, in a memo to the agency’s directors , “my concern is that because the project is proposing to divert water to the East Slope, where the water could not be physically returned to the West Slope, the risks are almost entirely on the West Slope, primarily on West Slope agriculture.”

Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, shares that concern. Cites such as Durango, Grand Junction and Rangely could theoretically grow now by developing unallocated water in the Colorado River system.

If Colorado has no water left to develop, the towns and cities will instead look to buy farms for their water rights. Thus, Western Slope farms would y be sacrificed to save Eastern Slope farms.

Unlike the other projects, Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from Utah and Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir is moving ahead. The right-of-way application for along I-80 is now in a preliminary phase of review, says Walt George, the national project engineer for the Bureau of Land Management.

He says the others federal agencies involved “the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ” are discussing which agency should have lead jurisdiction.

“More power to him if he can make it happen,” says Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Conservancy District Conservation District, which operates some Front Range water supplies. “We think he has a few more hurdles in front of him than he thinks has in front of him.”

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