Community Ag Alliance: An open letter to Colorado water users
August 13, 2015
Dear Colorado water users:
When the waters get rough, the rough retreat. So it was when the Yampa/White/Green Roundtable met in Meeker in a first-ever retreat to discuss where to go from here now that the Basin Implementation Plan for the Colorado Water Plan is complete.
As these plans wind their way downstream to the confluence of completion (comments are due on the second draft of the CWP by Sept. 17), the Roundtable convened to outline its next steps. The goal on everyone's mind was how to implement the elements outlined in the Basin Plan. Where to start and how to tackle the deep and rapidly changing subject are the challenges.
Pre-meeting agenda discussions had settled on two thorny issues that need in-depth discussion and will have to be worked on indefinitely. The first was non-consumptive water use, or in plain speak, what to do about the fish, which get squeezed and warmed up. The other is the Colorado River Compact and its attendant concerns within this basin, particularly as to how regional decisions affect future development at home.
On the subject of the fish, the concerns are awful murky as they are caught up in a legal and physical environment that is hard to imagine, let alone understand. Beyond a purely simplified political stance, the limits placed on everyone due to the physical nature of the water in this place require very subtle and careful deliberation that is beyond the ability of the Roundtable to fully discuss at any one, or even several meetings.
The question, how much is enough, can drown one. The flood of information required to understand the trade-offs is both incredibly boring and intricately fascinating at the same time.
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Stepping back from the questions on endangered fish, the broader conundrums converge with the equally difficult issues arising out of the interrelated nature of the Colorado River Basin and the economic behemoth that is the southwestern United States, a region that continues to grow and dry out.
The now most popular book in California “How to do a Rain-dance for Dummies” does little to help inform the policymakers on how to manage a physical deficit in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Roundtable can be comforted by the fact that the upper basin is meeting its legal obligations to the Colorado River Compact, but that does not resolve the issue that the whole basin is now using more water than nature provides.
Just a short time ago these reservoirs were full; now these water banks are tending toward bankruptcy. Since the Yampa, White and Green rivers play such a major role in providing to the system, this is no little matter. The future of development at home is at stake.
Concerns include not only what is happening downstream but what is happening in the east. Growing cities, expanding populations that need food and property rights protection are just a few of the factors that have to be considered.
Due to a brave pair of facilitators, these concerns were discussed and next steps were outlined. Often plans are made and then sit on the shelf. While the Roundtable can only identify the best paths forward, facilitate discussion and influence policy to resolve these problems, it is not just putting its plan on the shelf. It has the players in water policy at the table; they are discussing the issues, have ideas and are putting forth solutions.
While one can never know what the future holds, the Roundtable is not waiting to be swept downstream to see where we pop up. It is confronting the future, for without water there is none.
Just one of the poor souls participating in the innumerable hours of discussion.
Jeff Devere is a member of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Roundtable.
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