Editorial-Let’s just say ‘no’ to more transbasin diversions
Last year at a Denver area water roundtable, one of the attendees had the temerity to suggest water officials should reconsider the wisdom of aiding and abetting the location of 7 million residents along Colorado’s Front Range.
We’ll interpret the fact that both the Denver Water Board and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District are trying to “firm” up their conditional water rights in the Upper Colorado River drainage as a resounding “no” to that suggestion.
So, we’d like to suggest a resounding “no” from this side of the Continental Divide, as in “no” to more transmountain diversions from the already-depleted Upper Colorado River.
Surely that will elicit gasps from the other side of the hill in particular, as it would likely entail deviation from more than a century of Colorado water law. Then again, perhaps it’s high time for the sake of the greater state we did deviate from certain anachronistic practices, transbasin diversions being a prime example.
No one can honestly argue that in 1890, when the Grand Ditch first deprived the Colorado River of its very headwaters, that anyone was, in a legal sense, adequately representing the interests of the West Slope, much less interests that prevail today.
Ditto when the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which was supposed to help Front Range irrigators, not municipalities, began sending water to Northern Colorado.
As for Denver Water’s catch-all canal in the Fraser River drainage and pipeline through the Moffat Tunnel, it is nothing short of an environmental tragedy on this side of the Divide.
Yet “first in time, first in line” and “use it or lose it” cling stubbornly to the use and misuse of water in this state like a tick to a mule regardless of the circumstances.
Conditional water rights, such as those proposed for “firming” in Denver Water’s Moffat Project and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project, are particularly suspect in light of current realities in the Colorado River drainage.
More than 60 percent of the native flows in this region already have been sent packing to the other side of the Continental Divide. As if that weren’t sufficiently disturbing, projects on the board would raise that ante to 72 percent of the Fraser River.
Moreover, both these projects anticipate diverting water to the Front Range for storage in reservoirs there, thus depriving the West Slope not only of its natural heritage, but also of any chance to benefit from flat-water recreation that could be developed.
For more than a century, as Colorado water law was enshrined in transmountain diversion after transmountain diversion, the West Slope suffered these indignities as long as there was sufficient water for agriculture. Now that energy development, a robust tourism economy, agriculture and endangered species all compete for this most precious of resources on this side of the Divide, the prevailing reality could scarcely be more fundamentally different than it was as these laws were being etched in granite.
At the very least, Denver Water should be forced to mitigate the impacts of any further diversions from the Fraser Valley, where a seriously depleted river already represents the ultimate limit to development, and a once-world class fishery teeters on the brink.
In addition, Denver’s project and the Windy Gap Project are being considered as though they are in a vacuum, which of course they are not. If the interests of this region are to be represented once and for all, these projects must be considered in concert, just as their impacts will be felt in concert from Lake Granby to the Utah border.
Citizens have an opportunity to influence this process. Attend tonight’s meeting in Granby and let your voice be heard, or send comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The very future of the place you call home depends on it.
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