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Two joggers run along the embankment of Aare river during the first snowfall in Bern November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich Two joggers run along the embankment of Aare river during the first snowfall in Bern November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich  

Colorado’s Front Range told to quit sucking the rest of the state dry

Water managers in western Colorado have had enough of Front Range communities tapping into the state’s most precious resource to accommodate their growth, telling them “don’t goddamn come here any more” for their water needs.

Grand County Manager Lurline Curran uttered the sentiment at a meeting of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable last week, bluntly summarizing the conclusion of a report on water resources in the Colorado River.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran is quoted as saying by the nonprofit news organization Aspen Journalism. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The roundtable is one of several working in various areas of the state to try accommodating competing needs. Water has always been a source of contention in Colorado; the only water that comes into the state falls from the sky and flows to neighboring states. The Colorado River flows west and has long been tapped as a resource for communities east of the Rockies.

Front Range river basins proposed filling their gaps in water needs by developing “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”

But water managers in the west have had enough, noting that keeping enough water in the Colorado River for recreation and other purposes is important to West Slope economies.

“[T]he scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range,” according to the conclusions of a paper unanimously approved by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

The work of the various roundtables will be used to set state water policy, which, as the conflicting conclusions of the early reports show, is bound to be hotly contested.

Eastern water basins say that based on future grown projections, they’ve already run out of water and that without an infusion from the Western Slope — which would be done through a complex trans-mountain diversion system up, over and through the Rockies — the only option is to let eastern farms dry up.

“The bottom line is we have reached the point in our state’s development where we need to make plans for a state water project if we want to save our east slope agriculture,” the Front Range roundtables said, according to Aspen Journalism. “This is the essential trade-off that the state water plan must recognize and address.”

But the position of western water interests is equally hard-nosed.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper concludes.

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