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Saturday, March 29, 2014
Summit County harbors concerns over Front Range’s future water needs
In the 1880s, Summit County miners started diverting water. Today, residents drink, fish in and ski with that water. In 2050, how will that water be used and will we have enough?
Those are the questions Colorado is trying to address with a statewide water plan.
Summit County’s struggle is meeting the water needs of growing communities while satisfying Front Range water rights established here in the 1930s and ’40s.
“They need to be making land use plans for themselves,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “instead of relying on us to save them.”
With the state projected to grow from 5 million people to 10 million by 2050, mostly between Denver and Colorado Springs, Stiegelmeier said she worries about groundwater issues people in that area face and their dependence on water from the mountains to solve their problems.
The Colorado Basin needs to rally around the idea of no additional water for other basins, said Peter Mueller, of the Nature Conservancy.
Both Stiegelmeier and Mueller are part of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, one of nine groups of stakeholders created in 2006 by the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act.
Eight roundtables represent the water basins on the Western Slope, and one was given to the Denver metro area.
The nine basin roundtables were charged with evaluating water needs in their areas, finding the gaps between water need and water supply and figuring out ways to fill those gaps.
Each roundtable will create a report and deliver it to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in July. That board has until the end of this year to fuse the reports from the nine roundtables and create one document, the Colorado Water Plan.
The plan must show how the basin will produce the projected water needed by 2050, said Louis Meyer, the project manager for SGM, the civil engineering and surveying firm in Glenwood Springs creating the plan.
Meyer explained issues the roundtable is considering, including water obligations to other states, agriculture needs, energy production, development, drought, climate change and endangered species. He spoke about a current lack of collaboration among people involved in land use and water planning. And he urged the public to give input on how to address water challenges.
Residents at the public meeting wrote down concerns about water quality, population growth, wetlands conservation and water use by agriculture and golf courses. A few spoke up about fracking, draining groundwater and fishing.
Stiegelmeier emphasized the importance of effective water conservation practices like xeriscaping. Conservation is not just water-saving toilets, she said, it should also include land use and development practices.
The seniority of water rights is another big issue.
“Colorado is a state where you can die of thirst sitting next to a stream that crosses your own property,” said Ken Neubecker, the roundtable’s environmental representative. Without the water rights, he said, “you can’t even dip a cup in it legally.”
“The environment just simply has no rights,” he added, lamenting a resistance to define and prioritize the water needs of healthy ecosystems.
SGM has already identified more than 60 potential projects in Summit County, and more than 1,300 projects in the Colorado Basin, that could help meet water challenges.
The firm is compiling data and creating a plan that includes common themes from the roundtable’s extensive public outreach, said Suzanne Stewart, SGM’s marketing director.
“The kids have been filling out the same surveys the adults are filling out,” she said, adding that the respondents include everyone from first-graders to people on the street who’ve lived in the area for decades, and every comment will be included in the plan’s appendix.