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Environment

East West Divide Apparent At Colorado Water Meeting

ColoRiverGlenwoodSprings.jpg
Don Graham
/
Flickr-Creative Commons
The Colorado River near Glenwood Springs.

Water managers are taking the next steps in formulating a statewide water plan, following a meeting where representatives from Colorado's eight water basins met and presented drafts of their individual plans.

There have been longstanding tensions between the state's Western side and the Front Range over water transfers, and those differences came through in some of the presentations.

"We are already a major donor of water to the Front Range of Colorado," said Jim Pokrandt, a representative from the Colorado River District, which manages water for six counties in that basin on the Western Slope.

Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, represents the South Platte and Metro interests in the state water plan discussions. In his presentation, Cronin pointed out the Front Range will likely need additional sources of water from the Colorado River.

"The South Platte Basin is in favor of further development of Colorado's [Colorado River] entitlement," Cronin said.

The difference between Pokrandt's western perspective and Cronin's eastern one has been in existence for decades, say water experts.

"The dynamic in Colorado is all the people live on the eastern slope and all the water is on the Western Slope. And the eastern slope wants to take more water from the Western Slope," said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates.

Beckwith and others in the conservation community praised the Colorado River District Basin plan for emphasizing a high level of water conservation in its plan. He also noted that the Colorado River plan pointedly discusses land use planning, which he said had typically not been part of the water discussion.

The Western Slope's Pokrandt said that while he appreciates existing conservation efforts from certain entities like Denver Water, Aurora, and Colorado Springs, the Front Range could do a lot more overall to use its water more efficiently.

"That's going to include addressing your urban conservation, how we landscape, appliances and things that we have in our house. And Colorado hasn't totally embraced that," he said.

From the metropolitan side, Cronin said he saw the South Platte as a "model throughout the state" from a conservation standpoint.

"We agree, we feel there can be more done in the way of conservation. Where it starts to get controversial is to what degree."

Cronin said the Metro/South Platte roundtable favored the preservation of local control over water, shying away from any measures that might force municipalities to use water in certain ways.

Another big focus for the South Platte is keeping water in agriculture, rather than doing what is called "buy and dry," allowing farmland to go dry while the water is used in cities.

On the flip side, the desire to keep water in agriculture in the state's eastern side is part of what drives the need for more transfers from the west, noted Pokrandt.

"The big question is, how's it all put together. Certainly the rubs are going to be, save Front Range ag, develop the Colorado River. Or do you pursue the alternatives -- conservation, land use, and those are difficult topics," he said.

An earlier version of this story mistakenly described the Colorado River Basin plan as the Colorado River District Plan.

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