Colorado water may 
flow in many directions

We understand the point being made by the managers of 10 regional water organizations recently, when they suggested — in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan — that “not one more drop” of Western Slope water should flow from this side of the Continental Divide to help the Front Range meet its growing water needs.

Too often, when the subject of a statewide water plan is discussed, public officials on the eastern side of the Divide look upon such a plan as a means to coerce those of us in western Colorado into “sharing” some of our water with the Front Range. After all, we’re all Coloradans. Why shouldn’t we spread the water wealth around in this state rather than letting it run downstream to California or other states? Or so goes the thinking.

The local water managers are right to send a strong message to the governor and anyone else involved in the latest attempt to craft a statewide water plan that simply getting more water from the Western Slope to the Front Range must not be the aim of this water plan.

Furthermore, they are correct in noting that Front Range communities should be looking for other water sources to meet their needs.

However, while “not one more drop” makes a great slogan, it doesn’t necessarily make the most practical sense for the Western Slope. There are, in fact, instances where allowing more water to flow from this region to the eastern side of the Rockies may actually be beneficial.

For instance, the Colorado River District, Grand County and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District last year reached agreement with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District on what is known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, to benefit water entities on both side of the Divide.

The plan is for the Northern Colorado District to build a new storage reservoir near Loveland, into which it could pump more water from the Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County during runoff, so that more water will be available to the Front Range customers in dry years, when water is unavailable from the headwaters of the Colorado River, according to a Colorado River District report.

Even though more water would flow to the Front Range in wet years and during runoff, both Grand County and Middle Park would have more water available to them through Windy Gap, after the Front Range water is diverted and during dry years than they do now.

The agreement must still be approved by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But it represents the sort of pact that has become more the norm in recent decades: cooperative agreements that benefit both sides of the Continental Divide.

Such agreements aren’t likely to solve all of the Front Range needs. But they shouldn’t be rejected out of hand because of the notion that we must keep every drop of water here.


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As Gary Harmon chronicled in Monday’s Daily Sentinel (“Officials:  ‘Not 1 more drop’ to Front Range”), and as its editors opined today (“Colorado water may flow in many directions”), Colorado’s intra-state “water war” is heating-up again.

In response to Governor Hickenlooper’s timely call for a “statewide water plan”, Grand Valley water managers – rightfully wary of acceding to the impending practical necessity of “reallocating” some water from the Western to the Eastern Slope – drafted a resolution (for eventual endorsement by local governments) specifying nine goals which that plan should address, including “implementation of a long-term water-augmentation plan”.

Of course, augmenting Colorado’s available water supplies by draining its similarly dry neighbors is at best problematic.  As the editorial reports, the Winding Gap Firming Project near Loveland may provide an in-state source of additional stored supplies.

However, the recent and ongoing controversy over the Keystone-XL Pipeline suggests another alternative.

While all Great Lakes states have statutorily prohibited interstate export of fresh water, and while Canada is equally unwilling, Alaska has long sought to financially profit from its seemingly limitless supplies of fresh water.

In the early 1990s, the Southwest’s “sustained severe drought” prompted proposals – and enthusiastic Alaskan support—for an under-sea water pipeline from Alaska to northern California.  That theoretically beneficial “science fiction” project was abandoned in 1994, when its costs (independent of environmental impacts) were estimated at $150 billion.

Meanwhile, since then, the existing overland XL-Keystone Pipeline was constructed for only $5.2 billion, with its pending expansion slated to cost another $7+ billion.  Peanuts?

Thus, Western Slope water managers might “augment” their resolution by asking the Governor to request a federal feasibility study of a trans-Canada pipeline to carry water from Alaska to the upper reaches of the Flaming George Reservoir (and then beyond).

Because such a pipeline would benefit the entire Colorado River Compact basin, its costs could be shared even more equitably than the Compact’s current allocation of the River.

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