Water study wins few Western Slope fans

Report that Denver makes better economic use of resource called ‘unnecessarily provocative'

An economic study that said the Front Range generates 18 times the economic value that the Western Slope does from an acre-foot of water was called “inflammatory” Tuesday by Western Slope water users.

The reaction was harsh enough that a representative of Denver Water, one of the agencies that sought the study, said it seemed instead to undermine the main point the Front Range Water Council sought to illustrate: the interdependence of various regions in Colorado.

The interdependence was “diluted” in the report, Greg Fisher, Denver Water’s manager of demand planning, said at the meeting of the Mesa County Water Association, which drew about 60 people.

The study, said Glen Miller, a Grand Junction geohydrologist, “really outlined where the 800-pound gorilla is in the state,” referring to Denver.

Mesa County rancher Carlyle Currier said it was inflammatory, and Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown called the conclusion that the Front Range generates $132,000 from an acre of water compared to $7,200 on the West Slope “unnecessarily provocative.”

“It exacerbates existing feelings” of distrust of the Front Range, Jim Spehar, a former Grand Junction mayor and Mesa County commissioner, said of the report. “What was your point? I think you shot yourself in the foot.”

The idea, Fisher said, was to show a different perspective than the way water issues are usually framed by suggesting that Colorado’s other regions — the eastern plains, San Luis Valley and central mountains, as well as the Front Range — benefit from a thriving Front Range economy.

By the standard of pure economic return, the best use of Colorado River water would be to let it run unfettered downstream to southern California, where it would “eclipse the economic activity on the Front Range,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca. “But that’s a ludicrous argument, and we wouldn’t want to make it. I don’t think you could fill your hat with the good stuff that’s in this study.”

The report has been presented to the Colorado Water Congress and probably won’t go further than that, Fisher said.

Loma rancher Mel Crider was unconvinced Denver Water would leave it at that.

“Are you going to take it to the governor?” Crider asked.

Economist Paul Rochette of Summit Economics and the Adams Group, said the study was limited by the characterizations of available data, such as the economic value of feedlots in Greeley and wine sales in Denver that depend on Western Slope agriculture.

“It can be very easy for one area to get credit for the foundational value of something made in another region,” Rochette said.


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