Water in Colorado's high country, likely destined for use for agricultural, municipal, industrial or environmental purposes.
Water in Colorado\ Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a draft Colorado water plan Wednesday and, after minor revisions, will send it to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.

“Now there is a product for Colorado to talk about, where we got it right, where we didn’t get it right,” said James Eklund, the director of the Water Conservation Board, which is a state agency charged with drought planning, water-supply planning and water-project financing.

The Water Conservation Board members present at the meeting in Berthoud, south of Fort Collins, unanimously approved the draft plan after offering limited comments to Eklund as he gave a light overview of the 11 chapters in the plan.

“I think the plan strikes a pretty good balance between the various interests,” said board member Patricia Wells, who is the general counsel for Denver Water. “You’ve walked a very fine line. There are clearly disagreements around the state as to what we should be doing or what other people should be doing.”

The board also took brief comments from members of the public, including Mike Sampson, a Garfield County commissioner who also was representing the Associated Governments of Northwestern Colorado, including Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” Sampson said, reading from a letter sent to the Water Conservation Board. “We strongly urge you to oppose any transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado as you develop the Colorado water plan.”

After his presentation, Drew Beckwith, the water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates, was asked a pointed question by Water Conservation Board member John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River Basin.

“Of the last four presenters, we’ve heard the cry to have no more transbasin diversions, but three of you said no more large transbasin diversions,” McClow said. “So what’s large, and why is that a qualifier? You said no more large transbasin diversions. Is a small one OK?”

Beckwith replied that Western Resouce Advocates has previously said relatively small-scale transbasin projects, from 20,000- to 40,000-acre-foot projects, might be acceptable, but above that, no.

“From our perspective, large-scale is 70,000 acre-feet and up,” Beckwith said, referencing conceptual projects that would pump over 100,000 acre-feet a year to the East Slope from the Green, Gunnison or Yampa rivers.

Russ George, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the Water Conservation Board and is the architect of the basin roundtable process, made the motion to approve the draft Colorado water plan, noting that it was a historic day.

He said that when the Colorado Constitution was written in 1876, the framers knew Colorado was a state with “not enough water.”

George said many people, including those serving on the nine basin roundtables, have put a lot of time into the water plan, whether it has been by going to meetings or talking in coffee shops or on the phone.

“You know it, you can feel it, all across the state,” George said, “and they have tried to find today’s answer to this old question and have really helped move the marker forward.”

The draft chapters of the Colorado Water Plan are online at www.coloradowaterplan.org.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on covers of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, Nov. 20, 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...