A way to look at any new transmountain diversions in Colorado has been dubbed “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework” in the Colorado Water Plan after previously being called “the seven points” and the “draft conceptual agreement” as it has evolved over the past two years.
It’s a lofty title for a framework that major water providers on the east slope are adamant does not carry any force of law, rule, or policy, and which still divides water stakeholders in Colorado.
But no matter what it is called the framework is, despite challenges, in fact included in the first-ever Colorado Water Plan, which was developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and presented to the governor on Nov. 19.
A number of Front Range entities told the CWCB that it should not adopt the conceptual framework or include it in the water plan.
“Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework as it is a work in progress that may be modified as dialogue continues,” wrote the S. Platte and Metro basin roundtables, two of nine regional water-supply groups that meet under the auspices of the CWCB, in a combined Sept. 17 comment letter.
In its introduction to the framework in Chapter 8, the water plan recognizes that “a long-standing controversial issue in Colorado is the development of water supply from the Colorado River system for use on the eastern slope. It is controversial because of supply gaps, environmental health, compact compliance, and other issues.”
The water plan describes describes the framework as providing “a path forward that considers the option of developing a new transmountain diversion and addresses the concerns of roundtables, stakeholders, and environmental groups. The conceptual framework presents seven principles to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new transmountain diversion, if it were to be built, and the communities it would affect.”
The seven principles include concepts such as making sure a new transmountain diversion, or TMD, does not increase the likelihood of a compact call from states in the lower Colorado River basin, ensuring the eastern slope has other sources of water in dry years, and establishing guidelines for when diversions may need to be curtailed to keep enough water in Lake Powell.
The framework also says new diversions should not limit Western Slope development, that it’s important to increase both municipal and agricultural water-conservation efforts in Colorado, and that steps should be taken repair damaged river ecosystems with or without new diversions.
The water plan says the CWCB will “use the conceptual framework as an integrated package of concepts to: encourage environmental resiliency; set high conservation standards; develop stakeholder support for interstate cooperative solutions; and establish conditions for a new multi purpose and cooperative transmountain diversion (TMD) project if proposed in the future.”
The framework was drafted and adopted by the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six gubernatorial appointees, two legislative appointees, and the director of compact negotiations on the IBCC.
The group’s “main charge is to work with the basin roundtables to develop and ratify cross-basin agreements,” the water plan says.
The water plan describes both the conceptual framework and the lingering geographic differences of opinion about future transmountain diversions.
“Generally, eastern slope roundtables identify the need for a balanced program to preserve the option of future development of Colorado River System water,” the plan says.
“Western Slope roundtables express concern regarding the impact on future development on the Western Slope, as well as the potential for overdevelopment related to both a Colorado River compact deficit and critical levels for system reservoir storage, such as the minimum storage level necessary to reliably produce hydroelectric power at Glen Canyon Dam,” the plan states.
The water plan also finds that the Colorado River basin roundtable, which meets regularly in Glenwood Springs, and the S. Platte and Metro roundtables, which meet in Longmont and Denver, respectively, have the “greatest divergence” when it comes to the idea of more TMDs.
“In its BIP, the Colorado Basin Roundtable points out the variability in hydrology, stating that TMDs ‘should be the last “tool” considered as a water supply solution, once the many and complex questions are addressed over hydrology,’” the plan says.
On the other side of the divide, the water plan says that “in the South Platte/Metro basin implementation plan, the roundtable advocates to ‘simultaneously advance the consideration and preservation of new Colorado River supply options.’”
“Both viewpoints recognize the constraints of water availability and Colorado water law, but differ in their beliefs about whether such a project fits into water supply planning,” the plan concludes.
The members of the Front Range Water Council also have made it clear to the CWCB that they don’t see the framework as binding.
In a Sept. 15 letter to the CWCB on the water plan, the council said that the framework “’has no regulatory force or effect. Rather, it is guidance, the implementation and use of which will depend on the positions taken by the parties who engage in good faith negotiations on the construction of future specific proposed projects.”
The Front Range Water Council includes Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.
The concept of “environmental resiliency” is also laid out in the framework and is done so on terms that are as environmentally staunch as any other statement in the water plan.
The framework says that “Colorado’s Water Plan, basin implementation plans, and stakeholder groups across the state should identify, secure funding for, and implement projects that help recover imperiled species and enhance ecological resiliency, whether or not a new TMD is built.“
In terms of next steps on the conceptual framework, the water plan only says that “the CWCB will monitor ongoing discussions” at the roundtable and Interbasin Compact Committee levels “that involve the topics associated with the seven principles of the conceptual framework.”
The seven principles in the conceptual framework
Principle 1: Eastern slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion (TMD) and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.
Principle 2: A new TMD would be used conjunctively with eastern slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver basin aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-Western Slope water sources.
Principle 3: In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River system.
Principle 4: A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River system, but it will not cover a new TMD.
Principle 5: Future Western Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.
Principle 6: Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.
Principle 7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.
Major Transmountain Diversions in Colorado*
Grand River Ditch 18,000 AFY
Adams Tunnel 226,000 AFY
Moffat Tunnel 55,000 AFY
Roberts Tunnel 62,000 AFY
Blue Mountain Project 9,000 AFY
Homestake Tunnel 25,000 AFY
Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel 5,100
Boustead Tunnel 56,000 AFY
Twin Lakes Tunnel 41,000 AFY
San Juan-Chama Project 83,000 AFY
Aurora Homestake Pipeline 16,000 AFY
* Source: Colorado Water Plan
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water.