Search for solutions to Colorado’s water problems faltering |

Search for solutions to Colorado’s water problems faltering

Special to the Daily/Kara K. PearsonThis placid photo of the Colorado River at dusk near Rifle belies the controversy around the state's water supplies.

DENVER – Peace talks designed to ease conflicts and encourage cooperation over Colorado’s scarce water supplies are bogged down and in danger of failing unless competing regions are willing to negotiate, key players said Friday.”It’s fraught with pitfalls, it will be painful, it may fall on its face and die a painful death. Let the process work,” John Porter of the Southwestern Water Conservation District told a forum of the Colorado Water Congress.The Legislature last year authorized water roundtables in each of the state’s seven river basins and two sub-basins. The roundtables are to develop guidelines for an Interbasin Compact Committee, which has until July 1 to come up with rules that govern negotiations between water basins over how water is used.If it misses the deadline, it goes out of business.The process was designed to help manage the state’s chronic water shortage after voters rejected a plan in 2003 that would have authorized $2 billion in bonds for water storage.

Russ George, Colorado natural resources director, has said it would be better for the basins to set out their own policies than to continue to fight drawn-out court battles.Ray Wright, president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and a participant in the roundtables, said the process has been heavy-handed and could hurt rural areas.”It’s the most topdown grass-roots process I’ve ever seen. I have to say it’s not simply a matter of getting together and adopting bylaws and talking,” he said, warning that some participants are becoming rebellious.Bill Trampe of the Colorado River Water Conservation District said water users can learn a lot from the process, as long as they don’t feel “Big Brother” is looking over their shoulders.”There’s a lot of skepticism,” Trampe said.

Eric Kuhn, a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee, said an attempt by former Gov. Dick Lamm to set up Front Range roundtables in 1981 failed because it was “hijacked” by water interests who wanted to build a dam instead of find a statewide solution to Colorado’s water problems.He said the inter-basin compacts are pattered on a flawed model, the Colorado River Basin Compact, composed of seven states that manage the Colorado River.Kuhn said officials who adopted the original Colorado River compact in 1922 didn’t have all the facts.Melinda Kassen, another member of the Interbasin Compact Committee, said two of the Legislature’s mandates for the committee may be impossible: finding a way to avoid conflicts between water basin compacts and establishing principles to guide negotiations between basins.She said water interests have been trying to do that for 27 years, without success, because no one can agree how much water the state has left for development.

Mary Mead Hammond, a water attorney, said constitutional questions remain unresolved because the Colorado Constitution guarantees protection for water rights.”There’s a fundamental problem what to do to make these compacts be something that can be … effectual. I think that’s a serious problem,” she said. Vail, Colorado

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