West Slope lawmakers push for more storage of water on East Slope

DENVER — A Western Slope lawmaker wants to help folks on the eastern side of the state store more water.

Doing so not only would help serve the growing water demands of thirsty Front Range cities, but also take pressure off other areas of the state from transmountain diversions, said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

Brown, along with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, introduced a bill to do a comprehensive study on how much water is leaving the South Platte River basin into Nebraska, particularly when there are heavy flood years, such as the massive floods that devastated the state in 2013.

Because of a lack of any additional storage on the Eastern Plains, some of that water ended up in the aquifers, but most of it flowed downstream into Nebraska and Kansas.

The House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee agreed, unanimously approving the measure, HB1256.

It calls for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to receive $250,000 from the state’s Water Supply Reserve Fund to conduct a hydrology study of the river basin, specifically estimating for each of the past 20 years the volume of water that has been diverted to Nebraska in excess of what the state is required to send downstream.

That study is also to examine how to save that water, either in recharging aquifers or in a new reservoir.

“It’s just one little step in the direction of what we need to do, and that is to manage our water properly,” Brown told the committee. “If we can do that over here (on the Eastern Plains), we will need less Western Slope water, we won’t dry up area farm land (and) we’ll have a bigger supply for municipal, industrial, environmental and agricultural.”

Several groups around the state spoke in favor of the measure, including Christian Reece, executive director of Club 20, who said her group has long advocated for more water storage projects statewide.

“One potential location for a water storage project is the South Platte River,” she told the committee, testifying remotely from Grand Junction. “In 2015, more than 2 million acre feet of water left the state that could have been stored for use here in Colorado. Club 20 has been a long advocate of pursuing additional water storage throughout Colorado, but specifically on the Front Range, where the population demand is the highest.”

Brown said he’s hopeful the study can find new ways to store any excess water, which he said would go a long way in addressing the state’s long-range water needs.

“We’ll increase agricultural production, we’ll have enough water for growth in the state, and that will be good for business and for the environment,” he said.

The bill heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.


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