Nine river sub-basins. More than 10,000 square miles of drainage. Six water compacts and agreements. About 130 identified projects and processes ranging from repairing the spillway at Vallecito Reservoir to improving riparian habitat for three sensitive native fish, including the flannelmouth sucker. Differing, sometimes competing, uses for water, a scarce resource in the arid Southwest.
Water is a complex and controversial issue in Southwest Colorado, and more than 100 people showed up Wednesday night to share their thoughts and concerns with the Colorado General Assembly's Water Resources Review Committee. It's holding meetings around the state to collect comments about the Colorado Water Plan now being developed
"There is no group of people who appreciate a drop of water more than the people of Southwest Colorado," said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who sits on the Water Resources Committee. "If you ask people in Denver where they get their water, they'll say their kitchen sink. Or they'll say they get their food from the grocery store."
Mike Preston is the chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable, which is putting together Southwest Colorado's recommendations for this area's section of the plan. He shared highlights and summaries from the group's draft. And then attendees were off.
Among the most frequent comments:
Increasing storage is key because more of Colorado's water is leaving the state than we are required to release based on compacts and agreements. Increasing storage on the Front Range as well as here was one suggested answer.
"But we have to balance storage with environmental concerns downriver," said Jon Scott, who works with the Animas Watershed Partnership. "Fish don't have water rights, so it's easy to lose sight of their needs."
Practicing conservation is essential for Coloradans and people in downriver states who use Colorado's water.
"Individuals want to have nice green lawns," said Jesse Lasater, who farms 500 acres in the Pine River Valley. "But it doesn't make sense to take water away from the people who are putting food on the table for green lawns."
Protecting water rights might be required. Water is a property right in Colorado. Pending federal regulations may threaten those rights. There were concerns that federal regulations and this new Colorado Water Plan might trump existing, and valuable, water rights.
"There aren't a lot of examples of the federal government doing stuff efficiently," said Sharla Dyar, who farms with her husband near Oxford. "It's not a good idea to give them more authority over our water."