Thirsty country looks for water


Dean Gent grew up in Maybell, and he knows how dry Western Moffat County is.

He is concerned that North--west Colorado is not storing enough water, and he went to the workshop at Northwestern Community College on Tuesday evening looking for some answers.

"There's not enough storage," Gent said. "We've been fighting that forever and ever."

Water storage was one issue discussed at the workshop, sponsored by the college and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

Topics included historical perspectives, including the 1922 Compact and the creation of the conservation district in 1937, and the newest projects, including the Elkhead Reservoir expansion project scheduled for completion this month.

"There are only two states in the U.S. where all the water flows out of the state and none flows in," river district education specialist Jim Pokrandt said. "That's Colorado and Hawaii."

Colorado water has been coveted since the first homesteaders arrived a century and a half ago, and it is still argued over today.

Part of the problem with Colorado water, Pokrandt said, is 80 percent of the people live on the Eastern Slope, where 20 percent of the water is, and 20 percent of the people live on the Western Slope, where 80 percent of the water is located.

"Water is such a valuable commodity. If enough money gets behind it, anything can happen," Pokrandt said. "Only 35 percent of the Fraser River water flows downhill. The rest is sent to Denver."

Pokrandt pointed out that there are currently 12 different holes cut through the continental divide to divert water to the Eastern Slope.

He said that municipalities can trump agriculture for water when need be, and agriculture trumps industry when it comes to water use.

Moffat County Commis--sioner Darryl Steele was concerned about states below Colorado in the lower river basin district.

"If a call comes on the Colorado River by the lower states, we could be the sacrificial lamb for the Front Range," Steele said. "They won't cut off Denver. We need to work with the Eastern Slope on a deal for storing water here. We have the water, and they have the money to store it."

Pokrandt said that as water gets scarce, only people with very senior water rights are allowed to tap into the river.

Calls on the South Platte River this spring had claims that were filed after 1879 and were denied water for a time.

Although the Yampa River carries four times the water of the South Platte, population is always a driving force when it comes to demands on the state's water.

Steele would like to see more of the Yampa's water used here, saying that 40,000 more acres of Moffat County could be irrigated for agricultural use.

Commissioner Saed Tayyara agreed.

"It's a use it or lose it thing," he said. "If we're not using the water, it's hard to tell the people downstream or in Denver that we need it more than they do later on."

Plans to pump water from a proposed reservoir near Maybell to the Eastern Slope were met with resistance, although Gent said he might consider it for a reservoir to be built in Moffat County.

I'm not in favor of giving them water for nothing," he said. "Maybe if they put a reservoir here, or multiple ones."

That's how the Green Mountain Reservoir was built, Pokrandt said.

"People on the Western Slope got the lake, because people on the Eastern Slope needed the water," he said.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or

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