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Peter McBride

The wind-borne phenomenon known as “dust on snow,” shown here on Snowmass Mountain above the Roaring Fork River, causes snow to melt prematurely, before irrigators really need it. Captured runoff will suffer higher evaporative losses during a prolonged reservoir storage period. Many attribute the incoming dust to both climate change and the disturbance of desert soils associated with residential and industrial development throughout the burgeoning Southwest.

increasing demands. Our hope is that we can get ahead of the crisis and develop solutions for managing the river in an adaptive way.” Dick Wolfe, Colorado State Engineer, is likely to be the administrator who would be forced to rule on which water users are shut down if there were a curtailment where Colorado was legally required to use less water in order to meet downstream compact obligations. “You can imagine the complexities,” says Wolfe. He anticipates the rule-making process alone—which won’t start until the Colorado River Water Availability Study is completed sometime in 2011 or 2012—will take three years. Water planners are also preparing for a potential curtailment by studying the creation of a West Slope water bank. West Slope irrigators with pre-1922 water rights could fallow a portion of their farms and store their unused water for use by West Slope or Front Range utilities if those utilities are forced to shut down. Farmers would be paid for their water and have the ability to use it again when the river’s flows were higher. “A water bank could act as broker, as a temporary exchange of water rights,” says Hawes. “Our hope is that we would have a year or two of warning so that we could fallow these rights in advance.” Balancing future water supply needs

If Colorado and its namesake river have never faced so many challenges, never have so many people been working cooperatively to reshape how the river’s supplies are doled out. Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, tracks almost every water study underway. “Now we have better information and better tools to analyze possibilities for the future than we ever have before,” she says. “And we have the Interbasin Compact Committee, where people are actually talking about this rather than ignoring it.” 24

The IBCC was established in 2005 to facilitate water supply discussions between Colorado’s eight major river basins and metro Denver area. The group is also being used as a sort of think tank to help Gimbel and the CWCB develop water policy. Currently, three of the nine gubernatorial appointees on the CWCB’s board of directors are also part of the 27-member IBCC. The most recent CWCB board addition is none other than the man who conceived the IBCC in the first place, Russ George. There is some consensus from the IBCC, Gimbel says, that any approach the state takes must look concurrently at conservation, re-use, non-permanent farm to city transfers, completion of existing projects and new water development. But even as the IBCC and CWCB work to plot a strategic and agreeable path forward, individual water providers continue moving to secure scarce water supplies. Denver Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District, along with county governments, irrigation districts and watershed groups, have been diligently working to resolve various disputes surrounding Colorado River Basin water, knowing that without definitive action in the next three to five years, shortages are possible. “We’ve been in negotiations with the West Slope for the past several years on an agreement that deals with a number of different issues, from Grand County to the Grand Junction area,” says Denver Water’s manager Jim Lochhead. The terms of the tentative Colorado River Cooperative Agreement benefit the West Slope by buffering streams during periods of low flows and supplementing its future water supply, but also pave the way for Denver to divert more from the headwaters during high flow periods. While Denver Water awaits permits on a project that will take an additional 10,000 acre feet each year from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers in the Colorado Basin—plus 5,000 acre feet annually via its other system on the Blue River—and deliver it through the

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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...

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