Expert discusses future of water

Water is a big issue in Colorado and, according to the state natural resource director, Russell George, it will continue to be a hot topic.

George recently was appointed the position after have served as the director of the Colorado Department of Wildlife for the past four years. Before that he was the representative for House District 57 and served as the speaker of the house. He also was an attorney specializing in water law based in Rifle. One of his clients was the Rio Blanco water conservancy district.

"My history with Rangely goes back even farther, when Rifle and Rangley high schools were in the same league," George said.

George was the guest speaker Tuesday at the Community Networking Meeting held monthly at Colorado Northwestern Community College at the Rangely campus.

George said he spoke about his personal history with the region to make a correlation to the importance of water history in Colorado.

"Delphus Carpenter was the genius behind water law in Colorado," he said." He was way ahead of his time."

George said the model Carpenter used in developing the Colorado River Basin Compact in the 1920s was worth emulating during water discussion on the West Slope.

"We have to look at what we have, who wants it and what they are willing to give to receive it," he said.

The compact is the agreement that governs water flowing in the Colorado River. Had it not been for Carpenter's vision, which pulled seven states together to establish a process for determining water flows, Colorado may have surrendered some control to California and other states on the lower Colorado, George said.

Such collaboration and compromise will be necessary to ensure that all stakeholders are satisfied with water allocations.

"Default or doing nothing is not way to go," he said. "With water it's been first right-first use, and that is the way the courts see it."

George said conservation and storage were a huge part of the picture. And funding likely would not be coming from the federal government. "They have been out of the dam-building business for a while," he said, putting the onus on water districts to form cooperative ventures.

George thinks it is unlikely that the state will provide much funding. He sees projects funded by districts that need water and those that benefit from the arrangements. George also is motivated by gossip, such as the rumor that Colorado players never will come to a consensus on the issues. He is adamant that the participants can come together.

"We can make this happen," he said. "It will take time, but it will happen."

He does not see the state in control but as the facilitator for the process.

He also wants to encourage dialogue. He said because water, like real estate, can be bought and sold, it is very important for everyone to have a voice in the process.

"We need all the input we can get," he said.

The next meeting is at noon Nov. 23.

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