Water conversation is only starting | VailDaily.com

Water conversation is only starting

Tom Stone

Colorado has embarked upon one of the most significant efforts in its history as a state.Decisions that we make in the future as a result of this process will affect every man, woman and child. What could be so important that busy people throughout the state would volunteer their precious time to attend these meetings?Why now? Who is organizing this and what is the goal?The simple answer is water.The acronym for this 18-month, $3 million series of meetings is SWSI, which stands for the Statewide Water Supply Initiative.The stated overall objective of SWSI is to help Colorado maintain an adequate water supply for its citizens and the environment. Rather than take the place of local water planning initiatives, SWSI is meant to be a forum to develop a common understanding of existing water supplies and future water supply needs and demands throughout Colorado, and identify possible means of meeting those needs.Sounds good, but who is guiding this process, how do we accomplish this lofty goal and what prompts us to do this now?The U.S. Department of the Interior recently published a report as a part of their Water 2025 initiative, wherein they state that “water supplies are or will be inadequate to meet water demands, even under normal water supply conditions.”Add to this the fact that Colorado ranks as one of the fastest growing Western states and we are still in one of the worst droughts in history and the need to plan for the future is clear.The state agency chosen to accomplish this task is the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The Colorado General Assembly created this statewide board in 1937. Its purpose is to aid in the protection and development of the state’s waters, and is comprised of 15 members representing all of our major river basins, elected and appointed officials, and the state engineer.To help attain the combined goals of the CWCB and this effort, SWSI will summarize by river basin, at a general overview level, existing water supplies and demands and projected demands up to 30 years into the future. It will also identify a range of potential options, including environmental mitigation, to meet existing and future demands.The backbone of the SWSI process is a series of meetings called the Basin Technical Roundtables. Roundtable participants were chosen to represent a broad range of interests, including members of the agriculture and ranching community, business and development organizations, environmental interests, federal agencies (e.g. Forest Service, EPA, etc.), municipal water providers, recreational interests, water conservancy-conservation districts, and (the interest group that I was chosen to represent) local governments not directly providing water.Each of the state’s eight river basins has their own area experts who will engage in discussions in an attempt to successfully balance competing needs. For example, location of supply vs. location of demand, economic growth vs. environmental values, urban demands vs. agricultural needs, and federal mandates vs. local needs. Examples of potential solutions to our current and future water crisis are conservation, reuse, rehabilitation, reoperation, or enlargement of existing reservoirs, water transfers and new water supply projects.Eagle County is a prominent player in the Colorado River Basin. Since we are a headwaters county on the Continental Divide, not only is the Front Range dependent on our water, but communities to the west of us are also desirous of water that originates in our area.We live in an envious location where we are the first to use water directly from snow melt. By comparison, by the time water comes out of the tap in Grand Junction, at least some of it has been used and treated numerous times by upstream communities along the way.Water quality becomes a major issue for downstream users depending on treatment upstream and dilution by new water entering the river. As you can see, there are competing interests for water within our basin as well as with out of basin users.To say that water in Colorado is a complex issue is an understatement. Most people take the cool, clean water that comes out so easily when we turn on the faucet for granted.The public is invited to attend all of the meetings being held in this effort. I invite you to contact me directly if you have input that you would like share but cannot attend a meeting.One thing is for certain. Water truly is the lifeblood of our community. We depend on it both as a basic necessity and to fuel our economy based on tourism. We have to arrive at solutions now that will serve us well into the future.Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone is the Basin Technical Round Table representative for the county. He is also a director of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, executive member of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality & Quantity Committee, and a director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority. He can be reached at 328-8605 or tom.stone@eaglecounty.us. More information on the SWSI process can be found at http://www.cwcb.state.co.us.

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