River summit in Glenwood Springs rallies leaders on water issues
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – What began as a yearly float down the Roaring Fork River to educate the public about river health and water issues has evolved into a summit of elected officials and other stakeholders aimed at building coalitions to address some of those very issues.
About 75 people gathered along the west bank of a runoff-swollen Roaring Fork River in Veltus Park Thursday morning for a “floating summit” sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy.
The original idea was to have a flotilla of several rafts from Carbondale to Glenwood, with small group discussions taking place in each raft, followed by a summary discussion at the park.
For the past six years, the conservancy sponsored the free float for members of the general public to see the river up close and learn about the issues that impact the waterway.
With the high runoff and near-flooding conditions this week, however, it was decided to suspend the float in favor of a morning-long meeting of the minds.
“The whole idea was to get everyone together to talk about water issues and how they impact all of us,” said Tim O’Keefe, education director for the conservancy. “We actually had some better conversation doing it this way than if we’d done the float.”
The gathering included representatives from each of the municipalities and counties in the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as water district officials, river outfitters and conservation groups.
District 61 State Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, was also on hand to speak to the issue from a statewide perspective.
“This is a great way to stimulate local discussion on how best to address issues in the Roaring Fork watershed,” Curry said.
However, many of the decisions that affect water resources in the watershed and throughout the Western Slope are made in Denver, with heavy lobbying from Front Range water interests at play.
“We need to be proactive as a region to make sure the impacts from water diversions [from the West Slope to the Front Range metro areas] are minimized,” Curry said.
One way to do that is to come up with as many ways as possible, and financially feasible, to make use of more water on the Western Slope.
“There is acknowledgment that the Front Range is vulnerable if there’s a compact call,” she said of the multi-state Colorado River Compact, where downstream states can put a call on water that’s not being used in Colorado.
“From a legislative standpoint, we also need to work to make sure that if the state is going to use state tax dollars for water projects that it benefits the entire state, not just part of it,” Curry said.
Local governments would also be prudent to work together to set up legal defense funds in case Western Slope water rights are challenged by Front Range interests.
“If they know we are in a position to litigate, they’re more likely to come to the table and negotiate something that works for all interests,” she said.
For the past two years, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority have been working to develop the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan.
The collaborative effort has brought various government and water management agencies in the valley together to address common water concerns, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.
“I’m confident we’re going to have a plan that will help control our own fate when it comes to future water development,” Fuller said.
Each affected municipality and county has signed a resolution stating: “The local governments and agencies with responsibility for water management, treatment, delivery, development and conservation wish to formally endorse the concepts of resource sustainability, environmental quality, public safety, recreational value and aesthetic appeal that are the objectives of the plan.”