A series of two educational workshops on water specifically tailored for people in the Surface Creek Valley were held last week in Orchard City and Cedaredge.
The workshops were hosted jointly by the Gunnison Basin Water Roundtable and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.
Their purpose was to help educate local water users about issues facing Colorado, the Gunnison River Basin and the Surface Creek Valley.
The range of topics was broad. The sessions started with an overview of super-regional and national issues that have impacts on local water usage. Those issues include the 1922 Colorado River Compact that divides Colorado River flows among seven Western states. Also impacting local water use is the thorny and contentious problem of Colorado's own east/west water divide, and the political and economic factors that create and complicate it.
(Two other general topics discussed at the sessions – the management of water in Surface Creek Valley and the operations of the valley's four domestic water providers – are dealt with in related stories.)
Beginning with an outline of the 1922 Colorado Water Compact as his background, Austin Keiser, president of the board of the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District, explained Colorado's "water gap." The water gap is an increasingly contentious issue between the Front Range and the Western Slope.
Stated simply, the state's water gap is caused by the fact that 80 percent of Colorado's population, and at least that much of its economic activity, is located on the Front Range. But, 80 percent of the water in the form of annual precipitation needed to support that population and economy falls on the Western Slope.
The water gap is the resulting deficit between increasing municipal and industrial water needs in the state and limits on available supplies.
Western Slope water interests, particularly agriculture which uses 86 percent of available water supplies statewide, see themselves being squeezed by water needs of a thirsty Front Range, and by growing communities in downstream Colorado River Basin states, especially Nevada, Arizona, and California.
Keiser explained that Colorado is trying to plan for dealing with water needs of the state as defined by the water gap. All of the easy answers to the problem were put into practice years ago.
Numerous tansmountain water diversions already supply the Front Range with about half of its water from the Western Slope. But the need keeps growing.
Keiser noted that water users in the Arkansas River drainage want the Western Slope to deliver 200,000 acre feet annually from Blue Mesa via a transmountain diversion. But, while the idea is not favored by the Western Slope, it being discussed even though this year the recent dry period has nearly emptied Blue Mesa and no one can predict when it might fill again.
The Front Range thinks it is doing its part to help solve the water gap. In response to Western Slope complaints, Front Range communities have begun metering and drastically cut their water use. Colorado Springs residents use 55 gallons per person per day. In Denver, the amount is 60 gallons per day. But the Western Slope average is 160 gallons per day, Keiser said. Other estimates of per capita daily water use on the Western Slope run as high as 200 gallons. So, an argument for the Western Slope that the Front Range wastes water has been undercut. And, both the Front Range and downstream states are now looking closely at the Western Slope's own water use and wastage.
Keiser illustrated: "Front Range officials tell us at water conferences, 'We are the economic engine of the state. When are you going to give us the water?"' And, they are becoming more insistent on the point.
The Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District is working with other organizations to try and create a plan for dealing with the water gap. The 35-member local Gunnison Basin Water Roundtable, on which Keiser also serves, is involved in the effort. So is the Colorado Interbasin Compact Committee, a super assemblage with representatives of the nine separate basin compact roundtables along with state government officials.
The goal is to have a plan for dealing with the water gap drafted by 2016 for the Governor, General Assembly, and the public to evaluate.blog comments powered by Disqus