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Alvey reports on Colorado River Water Conservation District

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Tom Alvey, the Delta County representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board, met with the county commissioners Feb. 20 to give them a summary of the activities of the CRWCD for the past year.

Alvey spoke first of the new general manager for CRWCD, Andy Mueller.

"Andy has a legal background, with water experience from around the West Slope. He will be a committed advocate for Western Slope issues," Alvey said.

Mueller replaces Eric Kuhn, who spent 40 years with the CRWCD. Alvey said, "Eric shaped the Colorado River Water Conservation District as the entity we know today, a trusted source of accurate information about water issues."

Big river issues. Alvey said the CRWCD pushed for and coordinated efforts to perform risk analyses of the water supply in the Colorado Basin, with emphasis on dangers of curtailment -- a call on the river -- under the Colorado River Compact.

The original focus was to evaluate and understand effects of curtailment on the different sub basins of the Colorado River and the Front Range. There was political push back from the Front Range, so the study was broken into parts.

Phase I determined there is an increasing likelihood of triggering a compact call because of further development and the effects of climate change. In addition, the new risk of overuse of water in Lake Mead and falling levels in Lake Powell could disrupt power generation and the revenues that produces. Even if Upper Basin deliveries are sufficient under the compact, the falling levels of Lake Powell could cause disastrous consequences.

Phase I showed that, without other action, it is a matter of when, not if, this will occur. Storage levels are so reduced that in a 2002-2003 degree of drought, the level of Lake Powell would fall below the ability for power generation.

Alvey said, "There are actions underway to prevent this from occurring. Both the Upper and Lower Basins are developing drought contingency plans and are talking about demand management, which includes water banking."

The CRWCD pushed for Phase II of the study to look at consequences and effects of shortages on the river. The study scope was limited to consider just the question of whether the large-scale Colorado River Simulation System model the Bureau of Reclamation uses could work with the CRWCD state model to deliver accurate projections for individual basins.

Hydros Engineering succeeded in getting the models to work together. CRWCD is now in Phase III, studying the actual effects of any more diversions on deliveries to Lake Powell and the effects on individual basins of a call on the river.

Water banking. Water banking is the planned, voluntary and compensated reduction in use of water rights to allow unused water to be sent downstream, or stored as a saving account against shortages in deliveries to Lake Powell.

The water district has participated in pilot projects in the Grand Valley, as well as studies of the amount of water potentially available for this kind of program. The work so far shows there is potential to lower the chances of a call on the river, but not enough to be the main solution.

CRWCD believes a water bank must not make Western Slope agriculture the target for reducing use; any demand management must be shared by Front Range agriculture and municipal use as well.

Gunnison Basin. The river district has been instrumental in securing funding for several infrastructure improvement projects in the Gunnison Basin. Major expenditures will be occurring on the Fire Mountain system, the Fruitlands Reservoir system and the Uncompaghre system. The Bureau of Reclamation committed funds toward the repair of the Paonia outlet works. This will be a multi-year project to improve the operation of the reservoir and to reduce sediment buildup.

Alvey said, "Overall, in Delta County there will be over $20 million invested in improvements over the next several years."

Litigation. The River District recently won the Busk Ivanhoe case at the Supreme Court level, limiting transmountain diversions by Colorado Springs. CRWCD has a full-time legal staff of two lawyers and a paralegal. Cases pending involve the Northern Water Conservancy District Windy Gap Firming Project, from which the river district has achieved concessions. There are also several cases pending between the Western Slope and Colorado Springs and Aurora.

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