Colorado’s suffering a drought protection crisis
California can always correct its power shortage with more power plants. In contrast. Colorado may never recover its growing Colorado River losses that are being politically institutionalized for Southern California’s drought and growth needs.
All Coloradans on both sides of the Divide should be alarmed with the following facts:
Since their behind-the-scenes defeat of Two Forks Dam, Colorado’s appointed natural resource leaders have quietly followed extremist federal policies that assume new reservoirs for drought protection are “politically incorrect”;
Colorado is overdue for a devastating 1930s type drought that could last up to 10 years;
Colorado’s cities. farms, and environments are now in jeopardy with even a mild three-year drought;
Although Colorado’s mountains generate most of the renewable snowmelt for the Southwestern Region, its wet-year runoffs are largely saved in low altitude federal reservoirs for drought needs of down river states;
Colorado’s per capita reservoir capacity is now lower than at any time since the l950s. and no multi-year drought protection reservoirs are planned for the next 20 years;
About 90 percent of Colorado’s total river outflows are via the Colorado River and its West Slope tributaries, while about 85 percent of its citizens are located in the state’s much dryer South Platte and Arkansas River Basins;
Colorado’s tragic Colorado River losses have been increasing since the 1950s, and about four million Southern Californians now depend on Colorado’s unused legal share of the river:
Western water realists privately expect Colorado’s water losses to increase, in spite of Interior’s naive 15 Year Babbitt-Lochhead Plan to reduce California’s growth on Colorado’s water;
Coloradans are paying many millions of unnecessary dollars for stop-gap efforts to solve Front Range, Eastern Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska water demands, because of Colorado’s unauthorized, but de facto, refusal to store and use its surplus Colorado River entitlements;
Since Colorado’s Two Forks Dam debacle, Southern California has quietly doubled its offchannel reservoir capacity to save surplus Colorado River water for local droughts;
The latest federal initiative to increase bypass flows through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison will further flush Colorado’s entitled drought protection to California.
Probably the most devastating result from Colorado’s endless water wars is the recent federal defeat of Union Parkthe Western Region’s first true high altitude, off-channel, drought protection reservoir. During Union Park’s divisive 13 year Gunnison Water Court battle, Colorado improperly supported exorbitant federal fish flows and hydropower claims that artificially overappropriated Colorado’s Gunnison Branch of the Colorado River. The Gunnison is by far Colorado’s largest untapped water source.
Curiously, Colorado’s governor-appointed Water Conservation Board did not challenge the state’s politically motivated opposition to Union Park. This omission seriously violated the Board’s 1937 legislative mandate to “plan, protect, and develop Colorado’s interstate waters for future generations”.
To save the state’s water future, a Colorado Blue Ribbon Water Panel is now required to immediately correct the wasteful state and federal policy mistakes that have culminated in the landmark Union Park Case. Union Park is uniquely designed to save some of Colorado’s surplus wet-year runoffs in a high, glacier-carved bowl for efficient gravity distribution to Colorado’s Taylor, East, Gunnison, Colorado, Platte, and Arkansas River environments, when and where needed during multi-year droughts.
The expected benefit-cost ratios of Union Park would be at least 10-1, as compared to 2-1 for traditional western river dams. Because of senseless inter-basin politics, Union Park’s unprecedented values for both slopes were purposely not evaluated by either state agencies or Colorado’s unique water court system.
In short, Colorado must immediately unite behind a consensus strategy to assure its current and future drought protection needs. An impartial Colorado Blue Ribbon Water Panel could quickly compare the advantages of high reservoirs with the costly extremist alternatives currently being considered. The University of Colorado’s highly respected RiverWare Model would be ideal for simulating a comparison of Colorado’s drought protection options.
Today’s drought protection decisions will either permanently enhance or permanently damage Colorado’s environmental and economic future. All Coloradans should demand an emergency review of the above facts and warnings to generate public support for a non-political Colorado Drought Protection Program.
Independent Water Planner
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