The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Officials at the Colorado Water Conservation Board are going to add more action items with deadlines to the final Colorado Water Plan by the board’s next meeting on Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

Final public comments on the draft water plan were due by Sept. 17. And on Oct. 6, the Colorado Water Conservation Board met in a five-hour work session to go over the latest draft of the state’s first official water-supply plan.

At that meeting, board members told staff to add to the plan specific “measurable objectives” with “date certain” deadlines, according to James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The board wants to see “clear measurable goals” for water conservation, water storage, land use and other issues, Eklund said, noting that Gov. John Hickenlooper also wants to see action items with deadlines.

“He was very clear that we cannot surrender the momentum we’ve developed during the drafting of the water plan,” Eklund said.

The final water plan is due on Hickenlooper’s desk by Dec. 10, but Eklund said he and his staff are working hard to get the document finished and approved by the board at its next regular meeting, set for Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

“It’s a target date,” said Eklund of Nov. 19, noting that the CWCB was slated to meet at the History Colorado Center and approval of the state’s first statewide water plan there would be a fittingly historic moment.

One of a number of dams on the headwaters of the Yampa River. Interests on both the West and East slopes are eager to see more water storage project build in Colorado. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

More storage, conservation

Alan Hamel, a board member, told the members of the Arkansas River basin roundtable on Oct. 14 about a number of actions that are now to be included in the final water plan, according to an Oct. 16 article in the Pueblo Chieftain.

The action items included “obtaining an additional 400,000 acre-feet of (water) storage by 2050, reducing the municipal (water supply) gap from 560,000 acre-feet annually to zero by 2030,” and “setting a goal of 400,000 acre feet of urban conservation by 2050,” according to the Chieftain.

Hamel also said the list of such action items in chapter 10 of the water plan was to be trimmed from 200 items to 36, according to the Chieftain article, which was written by veteran water reporter Chris Woodka.

The potential addition of these and other specific action items has caught the interest of officials at the Colorado River District, which met Tuesday in Glenwood Springs.

Erik Kuhn, the director’s general manager, told the district’s board that he had talked Monday with Eklund about the addition of new action items into the plan and told him he would like to see and comment on the list before they are included in the final water plan.

The River District, which closely guards Western Slope water, is also concerned with “what happens next” after the water plan is approved.

Kuhn posed a question in a memo to his board that many people in the state also are asking.

“Will the plan sit on the shelf, collect dust and largely be ignored?” Kuhn wrote. “Or, will we find a way to use it as a template and move forward?”

Kuhn said one key is if the Colorado Water Conservation Board will help or hinder the state’s river basin roundtables as they get started on water projects identified in various “basin implementation plans” developed as part of the water plan process.

Other issues raised by Kuhn include where the state will find the money to pay for both water projects and environmental protections and if a statewide water conservation goal of 400,000 acre feet of water is feasible — especially given the doubts voiced by several Front Range municipal water providers.

In a Sept. 17 comment letter to the board, the River District also raised a series of concerns, including the need to avoid a “compact call” from lower basin states, whether measures to reduce the use of water by agriculture will be effective and the need to improve coordination of local land-use policy and water supply.

The district also addressed the emerging concept of developing “stream management plans” to better understand how water diversions in the state’s rivers are affecting the environment. The district suggests that the $1 million budgeted by the state for such plans is likely not enough.

Also Tuesday, a group called Citizens for Western Slope Water said it had delivered a petition to Hickenlooper and Eklund signed by 1,500 residents of western Colorado, including many citizens from Grand Junction and Durango.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” the petition states. “We the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan. We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism has been collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. Both the Times and the Post Independent published this story on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015.

Brent Gardner-Smith

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...