Thinking about water problems
By Bill Coates
Published Thursday, November 9, 2017 7:56 am
Another dry summer has passed. It appears that there will be no end to the increasing water demands of the Front Range cities. Water diversions from the Colorado River drainages are already limiting the viability of agriculture on the Western Slope. Energy companies also require water for their drilling operations, and they are an important year-round contributor to the local economy. Further limitations seem to be coming as the USFS wants to get water rights from the ski industry. Continuation of past diversion practices would convert the Grand Valley area from productive agricultural lands back into desert, destroy its economic base, and leave us with a seasonal economy of bed-and-breakfast operations. It would be a great leap backward.
What can be done to preserve agricultural operations, maintain the flourishing wildlife in the valleys, and supply the needs of a slowly-growing population with its own energy and food needs? These are a necessary support for the recreational and hunting opportunities that Colorado is known for. Some irrigation is being piped, and drip irrigation is coming to vineyards and orchards, but the expense of miles of pipe and tubing is something that can only be borne at a gradual rate when crops have been good.
Colorado as a whole has an outflow problem. Treaty obligations to Mexico require delivery of a fixed amount of water with agriculturally usable salinity levels at the border. A compact with Kansas specifies that certain flows will leave at the eastern border. The Ogalalla aquifer in the eastern plains is dropping.
Transmountain diversions are expensive to construct and operate, even after acquiring the water rights. There is a larger water resource that can be tapped, with easier construction conditions, which drains a much larger area of mountain watersheds. At the northeastern corner of Nebraska, on the Missouri River, is a flood-control reservoir some 60 miles long called Lake Francis Case. It is about 400 miles from Denver. It could bring more water than a couple of costly transmountain projects. If brought to the Front Range, it would not disappear; it would add to the flow of the North Platte and help recharge the Ogalalla. It would stabilize the Colorado River flows to Mexico by ending future diversions.
This would seem to require an interstate compact with Nebraska, and some studies by the Army Corps of Engineers which seems to be in charge of most water projects. It seems that the regulatory environment will become less of a roadblock in the near future. Endangered species should not be a problem, since anything living or growing on that 400-mile route would also be found on the adjoining hundreds of square miles. Pipeline companies would have plenty of practice after the Keystone project, and steel industry employees would also benefit. It might help if you send a copy of this to the Denver Water Board.