Conservation key for water plan, lawmakers told

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Colorado River Basin residents told lawmakers Thursday that a state water plan now under development must be focused on making the most of existing water supplies, and reiterated their concerns about possible additional transmountain diversions to the Front Range.

“We need to exhaust all options to pursue conservation methods prior to consideration of transmountain diversions,” Aimee Henderson, cofounder of the Upper Colorado Private Boaters organization, told the state Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee.

That committee is holding hearings in each of the state’s nine major river basins and will be submitting a report in November on what it heard, along with comments from committee members. A draft water plan is to be presented by year’s end to Gov. John Hickenlooper, and roundtable groups in individual basins have been drawing up their own proposals that they hope to have incorporated into the statewide plan.

State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, the committee’s vice chairman, said those basin-specific plans are likely to contain significant differences between them.

“We’ve got to figure out a mechanism to work out our differences,” she said.

Some Front Range interests have expressed the need for the plan to envision additional diversions.

Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado River Basin roundtable, said 450,000-600,000 acre-feet a year already are subject to transmountain diversions from the basin, with another 140,000 acre-feet also contemplated for diversion under existing and potential agreements.

“A lot of people want to say ‘not one more drop’ (should be diverted) but we’re not saying that,” Pokrandt said, pointing to how much additional diversion already may occur.

The draft plan being finalized by the Colorado River basin roundtable seeks to put an emphasis on a high level of conservation and other measures including reuse.

Ken Ransford expressed disappointment to lawmakers that some other basins are putting less emphasis on conservation.

“We want the high conservation (principle) to be copied by the rest of the state,” he said.

Mesa County Commissioners Steve Acquafresca said the grassroots and ground-up nature of the water plan process has boosted the confidence level of many participants that it can result in a plan “that will serve the state better than having no water plan whatsoever.”

But he added, “The jury is still out on that so we’ll just wait and see.”

Cindy Houben, with the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, told lawmakers of the importance to local tourism- and recreation-based economies of leaving sufficient waters in streams.

“If you take care of the environment, the money will come; the economics will be there for the state if you take care of healthy rivers,” she said.


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