Lost Man Lake is in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. About 40 percent of the Roaring Fork's water is diverted east for use by farms and cities on the Front Range. The statewide water plan is grappling with how much more West Slope water should be, or will be, sent to the East Slope.
Lost Man Lake is in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. About 40 percent of the Roaring Fork\ Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

A nearly final draft of the Colorado Water Plan, which cites demand for new water projects, is on the agenda Wednesday for approval by the Colorado Water Conservation Board at a meeting in Berthoud.

In May of 2013, Gov. Hickenlooper called for a draft statewide water supply plan to be his desk by Dec. 10, which is three weeks from Wednesday.

“The state faces the possibility of a significant water supply shortfall within the next few decades even with aggressive conservation and new water projects,” the draft plan states.

However, the 358-page draft plan does not include a list of specific water projects the state sees as necessary to meet a projected water supply gap in the year 2050.

Instead, for project specifics it points to eight “basin implementation plans,” or BIPs, developed in the last year by members of the Conservation Board’s nine regional river basin roundtables and written with the help of professional water planners.

But the BIPs from each of the roundtables are not expected until April, as the roundtables are still fine-tuning their initial drafts, which were submitted to the Conservation Board staff in July with over 400 projects listed between them.

“In 2015, CWCB will review the BIPs to develop a list of priority projects,” the state’s water plan says. “The criteria for a priority project include funding, if it is multiple-purpose, if it has multiple partners, or if it has shared uses.”

Meanwhile, the basin implementation plan submitted jointly by the South Platte and Metro river basin roundtables has put forward the clearest call for new water storage and diversion projects.

The Yampa River, below Maybell.
The Yampa River, below Maybell. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

“The essential trade-off”

“A good Colorado plan needs a good South Platte plan,” is one “key point” in the draft South Platte/Metro basin plan.

In the short term, the South Platte plan calls for projects already in the works, such as the Windy Gap Firming Project, the Moffat Collection System Project, and the Eagle River MOU project, to be swiftly completed.

Together, those three projects would add 58,000 acre-feet of water to the 400,000 acre-feet that already flows from the headwaters of the Colorado River to the South Platte River basin.

The South Platte/Metro basin plan also calls for a conceptual review of a 400-mile pipeline to move 150,000 acre-feet of water a year from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River for use on the Front Range.

Other conceptual projects mentioned in the plan include a 250-mile pipeline to move water from the Yampa River near Maybell, and an 81-mile pipeline to move water from Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River to the east.

“A point has been reached in our state’s development where a state water project needs to be considered in order to minimize impacts of buy and dry,” the South Platte plan states. “This is the essential trade-off that Colorado’s Water Plan must recognize and address.”

“Buy and dry,” or “agricultural transfer,” is when municipal water suppliers buy irrigated land – from willing sellers – so the irrigation water can be used for municipal purposes.

“The South Platte and Metro roundtables seek to develop solutions to use new Colorado River supply and agricultural transfer in a coordinated manner to reduce recreational, environmental and social impacts to equitably spread project benefits and impacts between the East and West slopes,” the South Platte/Metro plan states. “The roundtables are proposing the building of projects that develop dual sources of supply – from new Colorado River supply and agricultural transfers – rather than focusing on either as a single source.”

Map showing conceptual pipelines from the Green, Yampa, Gunnison and Blue rivers.
Map showing conceptual pipelines from the Green, Yampa, Gunnison and Blue rivers. Credit: Source: South Platte/Metro BRT BIP

“Cannot be reconciled”

On Oct. 10, the Colorado River District sent comments to the Conservation Board about the forthcoming draft of the state water plan, voicing its concerns about using West Slope water to slow up the pace of dry-up of Front Range fields.

“It is clear from reviewing all of the draft BIPs that, at this stage, while they share many common goals, there are vital components that simply cannot be reconciled,’ the district told the Conservation Board. “The issue of a new transmountain diversion is of course paramount among those differences.

“If a new transmountain diversion results in overdevelopment under the (Colorado River Compact), West Slope agriculture will be at risk of buy and dry,” the district said. “Thus, in attempting to solve one problem on the East Slope, the potential exists to create the same problem on the West Slope.”

The Conservation Board will get more feedback on its draft plan on Wednesday afternoon, when it is set to hear eight public presentations. The state agency has already received 13,000 comments to date on the draft water plan, which is online at www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story online on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014.

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...