Locals want state checkbook, not much else
If not for the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, says Rick Sackbauer, he probably wouldn’t know about the tribulations of growing onions in the Grand Valley.As chairman of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Sackbauer was invited to be part of the SWSI process. In that process, he got to know other water users from the Colorado River Basin, including an onion farmer near Grand Junction. By the time the water gets there, Sackbauer learned, the water has gained dissolved salts after being used to floor hay fields upstream. The result is more difficulty in growing onions.But otherwise, Sackbauer has been unimpressed with the SWSI process, he says. While the state may ultimately want to foster dialogue between river basins, that’s already being done.
“I probably spend 30 hours a month in meetings with the transbasin diverters,” says Sackbauer, referring to Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. “There is a significant amount of dialogue going on now, particularly between Denver and Grand, Summit and Eagle counties. “I see absolute no reason for the state to try to get involved.”Water lawyer Glenn Porzak, who represents Vail Resorts as well as several water districts and towns in Eagle and Summit counties, has an even more stinging condemnation of the state’s involvement in water affairs. “The drought of 2002, if it did anything, accelerated the dialogue, but the dialogue was already in place, the projects that people were pursuing were already being advanced,” he says. Referendum A, the Big Straw Study and even SWSI – those were distractions, he says.
Porzak contends that if the state has a role, it might be to purchase water rights – such as from the proposed reservoir at Wolcott, one of his pet projects – to provide flows for federally protected endangered fish in the Colorado River near Grand Junction.In the meantime, the state must mend fences, he contends. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency that supervised the study, has fought Vail, Breckenridge and other towns in their attempts to ensure water remains in creeks and rivers for kayak parks. “All these different entities have recognize that recreation is king,” he says. “The state is just way behind. They have their head in the sand.”If recreational interests see state government opening a spigot of money, so do agriculturists. T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher from west of Craig who has been influential in the Owens administration, says there’s way to eat their cake and have it, too.
He and his neighbors in the Yampa Valley, which is one of the few places in Colorado with unappropriated water, would like to see yet more ground put under cultivation, he says. Elsewhere in Colorado, where all water has been appropriated, farmers want to sell their water to cities, yet get more reservoirs to capture spring runoff during wet years so as to continue farming.The federal government has ceased its large-scale program of building dams. The thinking now is perhaps state government will subsidize this economic development.==========================================