Officials see threat to water storage

Roadless rule could threaten expansion

The possibility that Gov. Bill Ritter could back a proposal for prohibiting water storage in roadless areas of national forests in Colorado has some Western Slope water suppliers worried.

Reservoirs on Grand Mesa and other high-country areas provide domestic water for many towns and cities. Officials say meeting the demands of customers and growth will become more difficult if suppliers lose the ability to build or maintain reservoirs near the sources of water.

It also might inhibit the state from meeting its obligations to the downstream states of California, Arizona and Nevada, some fret.

Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials are preparing their petition to the federal government, which is considering how best to manage the more than 4 million forested roadless acres in Colorado.

Nationally, there are 58.2 million acres of roadless lands on national forests.

Roads and machinery are prohibited on lands that are designated as roadless, but Grand Junction and the Ute Water Conservancy District, as well as other providers of domestic water, need to have access to those lands, officials said.

State officials are using geographical information systems to determine how close reservoirs are to boundaries of roadless areas. Also being plotted are potential locations for water-storage development, said Mike King, assistant director of the DNR.

“We’re trying to get a feel for how projects will be affected depending on the position we take,” King said. “We’re committed to doing it right.”

To do that and meet growing water needs, the state should tread carefully, the Colorado River Water Conservation District wrote to state and federal officials.

The “expansion and rehabilitation of existing water-storage facilities is both the most cost-effective and the most environmentally benign,” the River District said.

The Grand Junction City Council wrote to Ritter this month asking that he back rules that would allow “for the eventual development of water resources, including the construction of flumes, ditches, canals, dams, lakes, reservoirs, pipelines” and other impoundments.

Colorado’s proposed roadless rule does not allow construction of roads to accommodate the construction or maintenance of reservoirs, the River District pointed out in its comments.

With growth and the possibility of extended dry seasons, “We need extra places where we can store water,” Councilwoman Linda Romer Todd said.

Colorado is required under a 1922 compact to send about 7.5 million acre-feet per year of water down the Colorado River to the lower-basin states.

“If we have another seven-year drought, we’re not meeting that compact requirement,” Todd said.

Ute Water is in “heavy discussions” with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, General Manager Larry Clever said. “So far, they’re attempting to address my concerns.”

Ute Water is working on its Hunter reservoir in the backcountry of Grand Mesa and is considering raising the dam on its Monument reservoir.

The district also has identified a third potential location for a reservoir, he said.

Building and maintaining reservoirs require backhoes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

Concerns about taking such equipment into backcountry roadless areas already has been an issue with Ute’s plans to repair Hawxhurst reservoir, Clever said.

The number and size of reservoirs that could be built in Colorado’s high country are small by most reckonings, Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown said.

“Most of the obvious opportunities already have been realized, “ Brown said. “We have to be more creative with smaller projects, but we hate to foreclose any opportunity for us to utilize our Colorado water allocations.”

State officials are working on the project, but have set no timeline, King said.


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