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Will Denver and the Front Range Drain the Colorado River and the West Slope?

For Immediate Release
April 16, 2014
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado River Campaign

Will Denver and Front Range Water Providers Drain the Colorado River and the West Slope?
Denver Water CEO Lochhead says large new Colorado River project must be “fundamental part” of State Water Plan

Denver, CO:  An April 3rd, 2014 letter written by Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, and representing the “Front Range Water Council,” has sent shockwaves through the Colorado Water Plan process (the letter is posted here).  After a year of discussion, meetings, state legislation, and negotiations to try and find common ground for how the entire state of Colorado should move forward with water planning, the Lochhead letter states:

“…the planning process should begin with the assurance, and not simply a hope, that a new supply project [from the Colorado River] will, in fact, be a fundamental part of the ‘filling the gap’ package.” (page 2)

The letter comes on the heels of two efforts to derail this exact kind of massive water-diversion project and controversy in the Colorado Water Plan process.  First, on March 28th two Western Colorado State Senators, Gail Schwartz and Ellen Roberts, pushed through Senate Bill 115 to get more public participation in the Colorado Water Plan process so that all Coloradans could have a bigger voice in the decision-making to protect the economy and the state’s rivers.  Second on April 10th, due to the threat of this type of massive project, the national river conservation organization, American Rivers, identified the Upper Colorado River as one of its “Most Endangered Rivers in America” and asked Governor Hickenlooper to intervene and make sure this kind of project is not included in the Colorado Water Plan.

The April 3rd letter from Lochhead, which was written on stationary of the “Front Range Water Council” – thus representing the majority of water agencies from Pueblo to Denver to Fort Collins – brings out the worst fears of the Colorado Water Plan process, that it will devolve into a massive water fight attempting to drain and destroy the Colorado River to slake the never-ending growth of cities along Colorado’s Front Range.

“This proposal for a large new Colorado River ‘Trans-Mountain Diversion’ would further drain the river and the West Slope economy,” said Gary Wockner, coordinator of the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “The future of water development along the Front Range should be in smart 21st Century solutions like conservation, recycling, and water-sharing with farmers, not in multi-billion-dollar river-draining boondoggles.”

Lochhead’s letter also flies in the face of recent climate change science and ongoing negotiations throughout the Southwest U.S. on how to address dwindling water supplies and growing populations.  The levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead – downstream along the Colorado River – are at their lowest point in history as federal water managers scramble to create a “contingency plan” for diminishing river flows.  In fact and ironically, at the very same time that Lochhead wrote the letter, the State of Colorado government has started discussions about a contingency plan to divert even less – not more – water out of the Colorado River so that water can run downstream to Lakes Powell and Mead to protect Colorado’s future allotment (that “contingency plan” memo is here and has generated significant concern in news stories here and here in Colorado).

“This letter flies in the face of science and economics,” said Wockner.  “At the exact moment in history when we need to focus on cost-effective and sustainable water supply solutions, this attempt to derail the Colorado Water Plan with a last-ditch and exorbitantly expensive water grab further threatens the Colorado River’s health and ratepayers’ trust.”

One of the massive proposed projects that has been considered is the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, which could cost up to $9 billion, pipe water 500 miles across Wyoming and Colorado, and remove up to 240,000 acre feet of water out of the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Signaling that this type of project should be discussed in the Colorado Water Plan, Lochhead’s letter states, “We also agree that some of the concepts discussed during the Flaming Gorge Task Force effort may be valuable in fashioning a workable solution.” (page 1)

The negotiations for the Colorado Water Plan are ongoing.  Each basin is supposed to have a draft available in July, with a first draft of the statewide plan expected in November of 2014.


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