Guv lauds historic water-sharing plan
Gov. John Hickenlooper and other officials Thursday praised a proposed agreement that includes more than $25 million and other commitments for the Western Slope in exchange for greater certainty for Denver’s future use of Colorado River Basin water.
“It really does demonstrate collaboration at work, that collaboration can move mountains and move water lawyers,” Hickenlooper said during a news conference in Grand County.
Parties to the landmark proposal say it would be the largest agreement of its kind in the history of a state that previously has seen big fights over Front Range efforts to divert Western Slope water. Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, praised it as a means of moving from confrontation to a “culture of cooperation.”
The proposal involves Denver Water and 33 Western Slope entities, from headwaters counties to Grand Valley organizations that include several irrigation districts. It’s being finalized and then will be considered by communities, counties and water entities in the basin.
It would enable Denver Water to move forward with its Moffat Collection System Project and include a provision that parties not oppose Denver’s storage of its Blue River and Moffat Project water on the Front Range.
In return, Denver Water could develop any new water project in the Colorado River Basin only with the approval of basin entities or good-faith consultation with them, depending on the circumstances. A goal of the deal is to protect water quantity and quality along the length of the Colorado River in Colorado, better protecting ecosystems, recreational uses and other Western Slope interests.
Denver Water also would make financial contributions including $11 million apiece in Grand and Summit counties for environmental improvements, water and sewer infrastructure and other projects. And the agreement establishes that flows required by the Shoshone Power Plant senior water right in Glenwood Canyon would continue during plant outages, with an exception for extreme droughts. A similar arrangement would apply if the plant ceased operations altogether.
With those provisions in effect, parties wouldn’t oppose renewal of an existing agreement between Denver Water and the plant’s owner, Xcel Energy, allowing the Shoshone call to be relaxed in certain circumstances. Denver Water would make a onetime $500,000 payment to offset resulting added costs for Garfield County water-treatment plants.
Additionally, Denver Water would agree to cooperate in looking into the possible purchase of the plant by a Western Slope entity.
Hickenlooper said the deal would involve compromises in which no one gets all they wanted.
“But you end up with an agreement that has lasting significance,” he said.
Hickenlooper helped precipitate the proposal when, as Denver mayor several years ago, he suggested bringing in a mediator to work with the parties involved. He also laid out a vision for water use and development in Denver and appointed Denver Water commissioners to execute it, said Jim Lochhead, a former longtime Glenwood Springs resident who now is the manager and chief executive officer of Denver Water.
“He was part of the foundation for the negotiations that led to this agreement. … We strongly believe that this agreement fits within and furthers the vision that he’s articulated,” Lochhead said.
Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said that after generations of western Colorado residents watching water “flow uphill toward the money” on the Front Range, he appreciates Denver Water’s willingness to direct money back to where the water originated.
“Thank you for understanding and providing significant funds to West Slope communities to mitigate some of these impacts that we’ve been dealing with for generations,” he said.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., praised the proposal as a way for Coloradans to work together on “shared water challenges” with supplies already stretched thin and the state’s population expected to double by 2050.
“This collaborative process is an example that I hope will be followed across the state,” he said.
Kuhn said a similar effort already is ongoing between the Western Slope and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Some conservationists have voiced concern that as the largest user of Upper Colorado River water, Northern Colorado isn’t a party to the Denver proposal. Kuhn said he’s optimistic about how negotiations are proceeding with that district.
Conservationists also are worried that the Denver deal wouldn’t address the potential impacts on fisheries and ecosystems due to proposed, expanded, water diversions under the Moffat project or Northern Colorado’s Windy Gap project. The Colorado River District says those impacts will be addressed during the permitting process for those projects.
Trout Unlimited is lauding the Denver proposal despite what the group considers to be its shortcomings.
“Denver Water brought a great deal of creativity and collaboration to this deal,” Mely Whiting, a Trout Unlimited attorney, said in a news release. “It deserves credit for a good-faith effort to meet the concerns of West Slope communities.”