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of the Colorado Plateau in Utah. It emerges hundreds of miles later in a huge “delta” for the serious desert hydraulic civilization bounded by Phoenix to the east and Los Angeles to the west, connected to the river’s flow only through hundreds of miles of pipelines and canals. For all of the 20th century, Colorado inhabitants along the river’s mainstem have felt pressure from both directions, upstream and down. Some 30 million people depend to some extent on water from the larger Colorado River Basin, nearly a quarter of which originates in the mountains above the tributary valleys just described. More than four million of those people live across the Continental Divide in Colorado and get roughly half a million acre feet of the river’s purest water, about the same as what is used within the mainstem basin itself. Downstream, “the Law of the River”—a series of interstate compacts and federal laws—commits Colorado to annually let millions of acre feet of Colorado River water leave the state for the desert empire below. An average of 2.6 million acre feet of the mainstem basin’s water crosses the state line each year. From the perspective of Coloradans who live along the mainstem and its tributaries, those 2.6 million acre feet are easier to let go of than the half-million that leave the headwaters to cross the Continental Divide. They, and their friends and customers from other regions, get to fish in, float on and otherwise “use” that water as it passes by, while

Role of the Roundtable Faced with growing demands for domestic water supplies and energy production plus the recognition that sufficient water flows are needed to maintain water quality and strong local agricultural and recreational economies, the Colorado Basin Roundtable comes to the statewide discussion advocating against further transmountain diversions, at least for now. Their belief in the degree of influence they wield is tempered with the recognition that they hold no official authority. “It’s all about the power of voice at this point,” says Jim Pokrandt, chair of the roundtable and communication and education specialist for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Pokrandt likens the process to a chamber of commerce, where the business leaders in a community establish a vision for economic development. ”We’re trying to create a blueprint for the future.” The blueprint the Colorado Basin Roundtable is holding up, through its draft vision statement, presses Front Range roundtables to push conservation and reuse to the top of the list as strategies for meeting their basins’ large “gap” between forecasted water supply and demand in 2050. The roundtable believes more transmountain diversions from its wetter basin should be the Front Range’s last resort or “the last tool out of the toolbox, not the first one,” says Pokrandt. “When you’re looking at the last increment of water development, if you maximize transmountain diversions now, 8

By Jayla Poppleton

in 2050 you’ll have to go back and do what California, Las Vegas and Arizona are doing already: hyperconservation, less grass. Why not work harder on conservation now rather than wait for the crisis and have to resort to the extremes?” Front Range water users, while pursuing conservation to a degree, also appear determined to move forward on some type of large project to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population, knowing it could take decades to complete. In December 2010, the Interbasin Compact Committee, composed of two members from each of nine regional roundtables plus gubernatorial appointees, presented a framework for closing the state’s water supply gap to outgoing Gov. Ritter and incoming Gov. Hickenlooper. The framework identifies new water supply projects as well as conservation and reuse alongside alternative agricultural water transfers and completion of current water supply projects as four strategies that must be balanced with protecting flows for recreation and the environment—water’s nonconsumptive uses. More than 300 people discussed the draft framework on March 3, 2011 at the first Statewide Roundtable Summit. Many said the framework needs to be more specific before they would feel comfortable supporting it. This call for specificity in planning the way forward belies a major concern summarized by Grand Junction utility director Greg Trainor from

Kevin Moloney

Glenwood Canyon, where the river turns the turbines of the old, but very important, Shoshone hydropower plant. With a senior, 1902 priority for 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs), Shoshone ensures that a substantial flow remains in the river from its headwaters tributaries. Below Glenwood Springs and the mainstem’s confluence with its second-largest tributary, the Roaring Fork, “the middle river” meanders between Grand Mesa on the south and the Roan Plateau on the north, rich in rock-bound oil and gas. It works its way past more agricultural fields and towns—Silt, Rifle, Parachute—and more recently, a lot of gas wells, until it drops down the DeBeque Canyon to the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam. There, the beginning of a complex of major irrigation works moves up to 2,260 cfs of water in irrigation season—in average or low years, at least as much as the river would naturally be carrying—out of the river and onto the high desert of the Grand Valley, in canals big enough to make one think of the term “hydraulic civilization.” From Palisade and Clifton past Grand Junction to Fruita, the basin’s largest and most productive agricultural area features fruit, vegetables and vineyards as well as hay fields and horse pastures. After its “Grand Junction” with its largest tributary, the Gunnison River, the Colorado mainstem meanders west through cottonwoods along Interstate 70 before dropping into the canyons

Jim Pokrandt chairs the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

the Colorado Basin Roundtable: “What demands get fulfilled and what don’t? How are the consumptive and nonconsumptive priorities going to be hammered out?” Bringing more of the public into the process would help ensure a balanced solution, believes Jeff Crane, executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly and one of two public members serving on the

Colorado foundation for Water Education

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Headwaters Summer 2011: The Mighty Colorado  

As the Colorado River flows through its seven-state, canyon carving traverse, it is tapped and retapped-- supporting acres of irrigated agri...

Headwaters Summer 2011: The Mighty Colorado  

As the Colorado River flows through its seven-state, canyon carving traverse, it is tapped and retapped-- supporting acres of irrigated agri...

Profile for cfwe