Western Slope again fears water grab
Insertion of the “Big Straw” and other transbasin, water-diversion projects into discussions about Colorado’s future water needs has stirred up Western Slope anxieties that the study has a hidden Front Range agenda.The project manager for the State Water Supply Initiative already is postponing discussion on the projects until the initiative’s first phase is completed in November. But suspicion lingers among people involved in water issues on the Western Slope that the true agenda of the initiative is to get behind new water projects that would take Western Slope water.”I can’t believe they’re going to do the study and not talk about specific water projects,” said Louis Meyer of Schmueser Gordon Meyer, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering firm that helps municipalities meet their water needs.Rick Brown, who is heading up the State Water Supply Initiative project, agrees that transbasin diversion projects have to be made part of the discussion at some point. That was his intention in July when he first broached the topic of transbasin projects with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which spearheaded the State Water Supply Initiative.But he said he raised the projects only at a conceptual level, and only as part of a wide-ranging consideration of options available for addressing the water demands of the state in coming decades.”We were trying to give some examples,” said Brown.One of those examples, the so-called Big Straw, would involve pumping Colorado River water from the Utah border back upstream. The others include pump-back projects that would divert water from Ruedi Reservoir and Blue Mesa Reservoir to the Arkansas River; from Green Mountain Reservoir to Dillon Reservoir; and from the Yampa River to the North Platte River and eventually the South Platte River.Brown said that after identifying those projects, he almost immediately began hearing concerns from Western Slope water interests.One concerned group is the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, which represents counties in the headwaters of the Colorado River. Taylor Hawes, an attorney for that organization on water issues, said identification of the projects only reinforced concerns about the real motives of the State Water Supply Initiative.”You just kind of wonder, is this being used to justify a way for the state to consider a big water project?” she said.Hawes said participants in the Colorado River Basin have feared from the beginning the state would use its findings to make the case for a big, statewide project, “by saying, well, look, there’s all this extra water in the Colorado River Basin.”Dave Merritt, chief engineer for the Glenwood-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, agreed.”This was something we thought was coming when this whole project was started – that it ultimately would lead to a large, transbasin diversion,” he said. Brown said those involved in the State Water Supply Initiative have had to work since its start to fight the perception that it had a hidden agenda. He said the Colorado Water Conservation Board isn’t trying to advance solutions through the water study, but only is trying to stimulate discussion.”What I think we’re all challenged with is what are some of the solutions we can all think about,” he said.