Water compact manager looking for statesmen

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Eric Hecox is hoping to find diplomatic thinkers from across Colorado who will usher in a new era of water policy-making in the state.

Hecox is the manager of the office of Interbasin Compact Negotiations for the Colorado Department of Natural Res--ources. He spoke to about 25 members of the Yampa River Basin Partnership on Thursday night at Yampa River State Park west of Hayden.

Hecox has been charged with creating roundtables of residents in nine water regions across the state. Communities in the Yampa/White River Basin are naming people to serve on the roundtable. They will interact with a statewide committee that will attempt to balance future water needs by creating enforceable water compacts among the state's river basins.

Hecox admitted it would be a difficult, sometimes unwieldy process. But if each of the nine roundtables can send broad-minded people to serve on the Interbasin Compact Committee, he is confident Colorado will be better prepared to cope with projected water shortfalls of 20 percent due to arrive in 2030.

"It's our hope that the people who are sent to serve on the IBCC are people who are thinking like statesmen," Hecox said.

The state Legislature passed a bill last session known as the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. Part of its purpose is to create a way of making water policy that is driven at the local level, Hecox said. The 21st Century Act sprang from the Statewide Water Supply Initiative that sought throughout 2003 and 2004 to build a base of knowledge about Colorado's water supplies and the increasing demands being made on them.

Now, it's Hecox's job to implement the bill.

"I believe our water challenges are due to growth and because of variabilities in our water supply," he said. "Climate data indicates global warming is changing water supplies in the West. Whether you attribute it to cyclical snowpack conditions or global warming, our supplies have been changing."

The Colorado Water Act for the 21st Century doesn't pose the question, "What dam or pipeline should be built to fix the problem?" Hecox said. Rather, it asks, "How can we make better decisions?"

Traditionally, wa----ter storage issues in the West were solved by building large federal projects such as dams. But those projects have ground to a halt.

"We have had gridlock within the water community," Hecox said. "The traditional way of making decisions wasn't working for us, and people around the state were generally unhappy. So our focus at the state was how can we go about changing the way we make (water policy) decisions?"

Hecox said when membership of the nine roundtables plus the IBCC is complete, more than 300 people statewide, including 26 from the Yampa/White Riv--er Basin will be involved in shaping Colorado's water future.

"Our idea is to have the table big enough and our arms wide enough to include everyone that needs to be included," he said.

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