Governor gets a tall drink

BY CHRIS WOODKA The Pueblo Chieftain
CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/FILE Rafters and a kayaker negotiate the rushing waters of the Arkansas River west of Parkdale. A state water plan seeks to strike a balance between urban, agricultural, environmental and recreational needs.

It's a different kind of draft for the former brew pub owner. Let's hope there's something good under all the froth. A hefty draft of a state water plan landed on Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk Wednesday -- more than 400 pages that attempt to boil down more than a year of discussion into a comprehensive plan of attack. Rather than conclusively saying what that plan of attack is, the plan will be given another year to ferment. At its heart, the plan advocates less fighting and more cooperation over future water moves. "It's an important step in securing Colorado's water future," Hickenlooper said. "This draft reflects a collaborative, statewide effort; the culmination of years of conversations across Colorado with basin roundtables and people of all backgrounds: urban and rural, Eastern Plains and Western Slope, environmentalists and industry, agricultural producers and municipal water interests." The goal of the plan is to head off the impending crisis caused by booming population growth and limited water resources. In a preface to the plan, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director said five principles were used in crafting the draft plan: Strengthening the prior appropriation doctrine, Colorado's constitutional guarantee to protect senior water rights. Identifying alternatives to the permanent dry-up of agricultural land to provide future supplies to cities. Honoring interstate compacts with neighboring states. Reducing the regulatory burden of water projects. Using state policies to support values and objectives contained within the plan. The plan itself recommends a variety of strategies, with few specific suggestions for implementation, including conservation, alternative agricultural transfer methods, developing more storage and projects to preserve the environment and recreation. Passive and active urban conservation could reduce demand by up to 320,000 acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons) per year by 2050. Alternative transfer methods, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, could provide 50,000 acre-feet annually to cities without taking the water permanently off farm ground. In terms of future infrastructure projects, the plan includes wish lists developed by basin roundtables. The Arkansas River basin had about $2 million in 10 projects, with storage as a primary goal. Other basins dreamed bigger. For instance, the Gunnison River basin identified $414 million in 34 projects, with the primary goal to protect its existing uses. Cost estimates also were associated with recreational and environmental projects, which create wetlands or preserve flows in streams. Arkansas basin projects totaled $445,000, with most other basins appearing ready to tap into millions, with the Gunnison basin again at the high end, $79 million. The plan gives no assurances of when or if any of those projects would be funded, but sets criteria for cooperation and multiple purposes as guiding principles. The release of the plan was marked with a celebration at the Governor's Mansion in Denver Wednesday evening. It also elicited a flood of reaction from conservation, recreation and environmental groups across the state, asking for those values to be emphasized. In Pueblo, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable continued to toil away at its basin implementation plan, part of the larger state water plan. Gary Barber, former chairman of the roundtable and now one of its consultants, mapped out how the basin plan will be finalized in the next four months. Meanwhile, roundtable members learned that 33 projects totaling $5.87 million have been approved in the last 10 years through the roundtable, underscoring the importance of collaborative effort. "This has got to be a living document, it should inspire people to work together," said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. cwoodka@chieftain.com