Vail Daily column: Local water planning flows to Colo.’s effort | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Local water planning flows to Colo.’s effort

Rick Sackbauer and George Gregory
Valley Voices

As the chairs of the two local governments charged with providing a safe and reliable supply of water to most of eastern Eagle County, we appreciate the statewide effort that resulted in Colorado’s first draft of a state water plan. Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority have engaged in local, regional and statewide processes to help shape the plan. We see the draft as a comprehensive report of the status quo and statement of water challenges facing Colorado. We hope the final draft is more of a plan, with a range of solutions.

We know from experience that resolving water issues is difficult. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding demonstrates that it can be done. Achieved in 1998, the MOU is a cooperative solution that greatly reduced the amount of water that could have potentially been taken out of the Eagle River, but still provides water both for our constituents and our partners in Colorado Springs and Aurora. It proposed a range of solutions and a map for the future, which we continue working on today. Water is a long-term process.

Our 2007 settlement with Denver Water ensured that Gore Creek, Eagle River and their tributaries would continue to flow and support our recreation and tourism-based local economy. That settlement, in part, gave momentum to a much broader resolution of water issues that involved over 40 Western Slope entities and Denver Water. Known as the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and announced in 2011, the draft state water plan looks to that effort as a model of cooperative solutions. It has roots in this valley, thanks to the depth of knowledge and involvement from our current and former board colleagues.

Colorado’s water plan intends to solve the water supply shortage that is projected due to an increasing state population and growing economy. This is prudent planning. We have been planning for a growing community since Vail Water and Sanitation District was established as Vail’s first local government in October 1962. Early challenges of securing water rights and interconnecting underground infrastructure have yielded to concerns that come with a mature community and ever-tightening regulations. Our current focus on protecting stream flows and water quality goes hand in hand with our commitment to using local water resources efficiently.

Colorado’s water plan, at its simplest, endeavors to do what a responsible water provider does: Use existing water resources more efficiently over time to serve the needs of a growing customer base. We are well positioned to serve our customers’ needs into the future. We believe our residents and businesses share our commitment to the natural environment because they have used water differently as our water resources have been naturally constrained during the drought of the last 15 years. This is the change that needs to happen throughout the state; creative solutions to water supply must be used instead of more water being taken from fragile alpine streams.

Our boards have passed policies that strive to help our growing community thrive without increasing the pressure on our water resources and negatively affecting the pristine environment that attracts visitors and supports our economy. Colorado’s water plan is seeking to do the same across the state.

We believe Colorado can adapt to a growing population while maintaining its unique qualities and identity, and that local entities across the state will be effective in implementing the policies and solutions that we expect to emerge from this important statewide effort — as the draft plan evolves from a report into an actionable final plan.

Rick Sackbauer and George Gregory are the Board Chairs of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, respectively. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District owns, operates, and maintains the Vail public water system. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District also operates and maintains, by contract, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority public water system, which provides water service to Arrowhead, Avon, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Berry Creek, Cordillera, Eagle-Vail and Edwards.

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