Colorado River Agreement signed by major players

In the American West, the battle for control of water never really ends, but on Tuesday a major agreement among key Colorado players promised greater future cooperation to get more water to more people more consistently. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed by Denver Water and representatives from Grand County, Summit County, the Colorado River District and the Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Company.

The agreement, which calls for millions in spending by Denver Water on Western Slope projects and creates a limit on how large Denver Water’s service area can be, had already been signed by Eagle County. Ultimately, the agreement will involve more than 40 parties across the state.

The agreement was first reported more than a year ago by The Colorado Independent and Mountain Town News, but it has taken awhile for details to be agreed on and signatures obtained.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter applauded the signing of the agreement as a major shift in how water is managed and developed in Colorado.

“This is a significant turning point for our state,” Perlmutter said. “Through five years of work, more than 40 parties came together to form an agreement to protect our environment and ensure more reliable supplies of water for millions of Coloradans.”

The CRCA resolves historic disagreements over water management and development and creates a new approach based on cooperation. The agreement brings environmental benefits to the Colorado River Basin and provides additional water to communities from the Denver Metro and across the Continental Divide to the West Slope.

“Denver Water and West Slope leaders put us on the path toward a more secure water future,” Perlmutter said. “I support their effort to work together to the benefit of all Coloradans.”

Perlmutter noted that CRCA enables Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project to move forward. The project addresses a looming supply shortage in the Denver Metro area and improves the reliability of Denver Water’s system.

“The Moffat project will address serious problems that threatened the water supply for many of my constituents in the 2002 drought,” Perlmutter noted. “The CRCA will enable it to move forward while protecting and improving the health of Colorado’s rivers and streams. The partners to this agreement created a model for how water issues should be handled in the West and are to be commended for this historic achievement.”

Sen. Michael Bennet was equally laudatory.

“Today’s signatures on the cooperative agreement mark a significant step towards the consensus-based and sustainable future development of Colorado’s water resources. This document puts Colorado on a cooperative path for the future that protects the health of our state’s rivers and streams, the quality of life for Coloradans and the state’s economy. It is my hope that these important discussions will continue so that all of the stakeholders will be able to sign and the agreement can be fully implemented.”

“Water is the lifeblood of Colorado,” said Sen. Mark Udall in a prepared statement. “Our ability to sustainably use it to fuel economic growth and preserve our Colorado heritage is critical for the state,” Udall said. “This cooperative agreement between Western Slope water users and Denver Water embodies the kind of solution we should strive for in response to our water challenges. This agreement — and the process that shaped it — is a high water mark for cooperation on water issues and should be a model for the entire state to follow. I commend Denver Water, Grand and Summit Counties and others who have negotiated this agreement for their leadership.”

A statement issued by Denver Water almost makes the agreement seem like the beginning of a Colorado watertopia:

A secure and sustainable water future for Colorado is essential. It is vital for those who live in our cities and towns, for a healthy economy, for farmers and ranchers across the state, for wildlife and the aquatic life in our rivers and streams, and for those who enjoy the wonderful recreational opportunities our state offers. In short, it is essential to all that makes Colorado special.

Yet, competition for our water resources continues to increase. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Colorado River Basin, where conflicts between these competing interests have existed for generations.

A different approach is possible. It is an approach that provides proper balance among competing interests, a shared vision for better river health, reliable supply for all water users, and a future of cooperation, not conflict. It is precisely that approach that this agreement — among more than 40 water providers, local governments and the ski industry — embodies.

(Image of the Colorado River: Protect the Flows)

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.