Water report irritates some

The Colorado River Basin might carry a nebulous range of zero to 1 million acre feet of water available for farms, new homes and businesses, a study suggests.

Climate change also leaves the basin with as much as 13 percent more snowfall, but earlier runoffs could mean late-season water shortages, said the report, which was presented Monday to water users and others.

The underpinning of the study — to determine how much water remains for Western Slope and Front Range development — came under some fire, however.

“Why should we take the risk” of a call on the river from California or Arizona that would fall hardest on the Western Slope, Gunnison Valley rancher Ken Spann asked.

Spann sits on the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, one of four such groups in the Colorado River Basin. All four gathered Monday at the Grand Vista Hotel, 2790 Crossroad Blvd., to discuss the study conducted by AECOM, an international environmental consulting firm.

The study, which can be seen at http://www.crwcd.org, is the first phase of the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s effort to nail down how much water is available in the river.

Preliminary conclusions are predicated on computer models based on three sets of assumptions about climate change, AECOM Vice President Blaine Dwyer said.

The upper Colorado Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are obligated under a 1922 agreement to deliver, on average, 7.5 million acre-feet per year of Colorado River water to the lower basin, which includes the West’s largest cities: Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

“What possible incentive could the East Slope provide” to encourage the Western Slope to accommodate water development that could lead to a downstream demand for water, Spann asked. “The Broncos, DIA, the Rockies, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts?”

The Front Range would be unlikely to suffer under a call, so, “Why should this basin take the risk?” Spann asked.

The Western Slope should engage in talks that might lead to benefits for the Front Range because to do otherwise would be to court disaster, said Alexandra Davis, director of compact negotiations for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

“The risk exists today that money, politics or a crisis will combine forces to pull the water out of the Western Slope in a way that would be far more harmful than if there wasn’t a crisis,” Davis responded.

This basin is the only one in Colorado for which there aren’t more demands than water, called overappropriation, Davis said.


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