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Brower: Expect water demand to heat up here in the headwaters

Patrick Brower, Grand Enterprise Initiative
Patrick Brower/Grand Enterprise Initiative

Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.

So stated an editor in the northeast more than 100 years ago. But talk about the weather here in Colorado, the West and the nation in general has reached near fever pitch. And some people are doing things about it that directly impact the Grand County economy.

Take, for instance, the ever-escalating push for renewable energy. Our electrical co-op, Mountain Parks Electric, is spending money and pushing messaging that promotes renewables. This happens whether it’s through energy buy-backs for people who use solar energy or the recent push to promote electric vehicles.



And more and more companies are popping up in Grand County and the region who specialize in the solar panel installation and renewable energy utilization niche. While some of those jobs have been here for years (think Guy Larson at Simply Efficient), there are new consultants and contractors.

And the demand is high.



I think these offerings are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increasing demand for renewable energy in our county. 

I made it a point in my headline to note that hotter weather (not the politically charged term “Climate Change”) is what’s prompting these renewed concerns for renewable energy in place of fossil fuels. That’s only because my climate-change-doubting friends can’t contest that the weather is hotter. It’s a fact.

This despite the increasing fact-denying trends in our country these days, but that’s another topic altogether.

But what really is going to affect us here in Grand County with this hot weather is the mega drought we are witnessing in the West. It may not seem obvious to us in Grand County this summer, when it’s been raining and mostly relatively cool, but I assure you it’s obvious to everyone else on the Western Slope.

The drought is reinforcing the concern that’s been voiced from many years that there simply isn’t enough water in the Colorado River basin to meet all the demand that’s taking place now and anticipated for the future. To put it simply, when the deals were made nearly 100 years ago to divvy up the river’s water, the assumptions were based on expectations that the river has about 35% to 40% more water than it in fact has.

That’s a problem.

For us here in Grand County it could have some good and bad impacts. On the good side is the fact that all these people who are diverting so much water to the East may be required to leave more of that water in our water ways here in Grand County so as to meet some needs downstream. That could be good for our water ways and the general health of our ecosystem.

But the bad impact may be that as the drought continues, water providers on the East Slope just might get more aggressive about taking and using the water we have here, which could deplete our water ways even more, regardless of downstream demand. That’s been the entire point of the vaguely named “firming projects” that will “firm up” the East Slopes claims on West Slope water, so they can really deplete our water ways.

I anticipate legal battles, which should help the attorneys, as this fight over the water that originates in our county escalates. Our water (and by that I mean the water that originates in Grand County) is becoming more and more of a valuable commodity.

Oh, and expect hedge funds and larger financial players to get involved in the game of acquiring and selling water rights right here in Grand County as the need for water grows to extreme levels in places like California and Nevada. That’s because there will be lots and lots of money to be made brokering water, Grand County’s greatest resource.

I think it’s already happening, but be prepared for alleged recreational developers buying our resorts actually doing so not for tourism and recreational revenue but for the speculative value of associated water rights.

Watch out for that one.

And yet, it still makes me feel good to live at the top of the water chain rather than below. Let’s hope that possession and use is not the only trump card in water politics.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of the book “KILLDOZER:  The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

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