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State water plan: New Colorado River diversion possible

Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com
The Colorado River flows through Hot Sulphur Springs as seen last winter. West Slope water interests are concerned about the ongoing drought in California and the effect it could have on water use in the Upper Basin states.
Sky-Hi News file photo | Sky-Hi News

Western Slope water interests still reeling from the Gross Expansion Project may barely have enough time to catch their breath before they’re again summoned to the bargaining table.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board presented the first full draft of its 2014 Colorado Water Plan to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and the document identifies an additional trans-mountain diversion as a possible solution for growing demands on the Front Range.

The water plan is the result of a 2013 executive order from Hickenlooper, which sought to establish a cohesive plan for the state’s future water use in the face of a growing population.

Regarding another diversion, the plan “seeks to find a path forward that considers the option of developing a new (trans-mountain diversion), while addressing many of the concerns expressed by the Colorado Basin roundtable and others.”

The threat of another trans-mountain diversion has loomed behind the development of localized basin implementation plans for each of Colorado’s eight largest river basins.

The South Platte/Metro Basin roundtables have called for new Colorado River water supplies since their draft plan was released this summer.

The state water plan outlines seven “points of consensus” for a new diversion, one of which states that the Eastern Slope isn’t seeking firm yield from a new diversion, and that it “would accept hydrologic risk for that project.”

But Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran said many of those points are overly vague.

“What does risk mean?,” Curran said. “What does a new (trans-mountain diversion) mean? What does that mean when you have millions of people relying on it? The devil is in the details.”

Grand County has been active in the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which has actively opposed any new trans-mountain diversion from the Colorado River.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, said in an email that the Western Slope basin roundtables would probably draft an official response at their Dec. 18 meeting in Grand Junction.

Pokrandt did provide a list of points from a November discussion, in which the Colorado Basin Roundtable calls it “premature” to include the seven points in the state water plan.

“We need to recognize that there may come a point where we cannot back down,” the document states, “where we will need to take a stand for the sake of the West Slope and Colorado as a whole.”

In past discussions, Pokrandt has maintained that any additional diversions from the Colorado River could trigger a compact call, in which junior water rights holders must stop diverting to supply Lower Basin states with water.

A compact call could impact municipal and other users on the West Slope, including the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Each basin will submit its final basin implementation plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April 2015. The board will submit its final state water plan to the governor in December 2015.

To view the draft state water plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com


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