Grand County is “ground zero” for trans-mountain diversions, and the idea that another may be in the offing raises concerns for those who live and work near the Colorado River.

Trans-mountain diversions (TMD) are tunnels and ditches that run through the Continental Divide and carry water from Western Slope rivers to the eastern part of the state. The state has relied on these diversions for a century to supply water to agricultural communities and increasingly, to growing Front Range municipalities. More than 30 TMDs operate in Colorado, supplying a half-million acre-feet of water to the Front Range annually.

The TMD on the Colorado, the largest in the state, begins in Grand Lake, travels through Rocky Mountain National Park and exits through the Alva B. Adams tunnel in Estes Park. The water flows from there to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and on to Loveland, Fort Collins, other northern Colorado communities and area agriculture.

Wednesday evening, members of the legislative Interim Water Resources Review Committee concluded three days of hearings on the second draft of the state water plan. They heard from residents who rely on the Colorado River for their livelihood, and who believe the plan should rethink the TMD idea.

“Another trans-mountain diversion is not in Colorado’s best interest,” according to Jim Pokrandt, the chair of the Colorado River basin roundtable. The roundtable is one of nine across the state, representing eight major river basins (regions) and a ninth group that represents Denver. The roundtables include representatives of local governments, water conservancy districts and water providers; plus people who hold water rights or have interests in agriculture, recreation, the environment and industry.

About two dozen attended Wednesday night’s meeting in Granby. The committee this week also visited Alamosa and Salida, with similar attendance.

“The fate of the Colorado River hangs in the balance” if the next five million people look like the five million already here, Pokrandt told the committee. That refers to estimates that the state’s population is expected to nearly double between now and 2050. Another diversion would jeopardize recreation and agriculture on the Colorado if the river is overdeveloped.

It also could put other rivers at risk, such as the Big Thompson, he claimed.

Fifth-generation Coloradan Paul Bruchez is a farmer and rancher in Grand County. He irrigates his land in the morning and takes people on fly-fishing trips on the Colorado in the afternoon. Bruchez told the committee, and The Statesman after the hearing, that people do not connect their water usage to how it affects the state’s rivers, and that a cultural change is in order. “We all live in Colorado for a reason – its beauty,” he said. “They don’t understand the same water that they use inappropriately [to water their yard] or to take long showers is the same resource” used to support agriculture or recreation or the environment.

Pokrandt also raised concerns about the overreliance of the South Metro area (Douglas County, for example) on groundwater, which is found in aquifers along the Front Range. Development in the past 20 years has put some aquifers at risk, particularly in the South Metro area.

Pokrandt urged support for a project underway that would take pressure off the Colorado River. The WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) project is a collaboration between Denver Water and Aurora. It would take unused water supplies from Denver and Aurora, and in years when that water is not needed, sell it to ten Douglas County entities, to reduce their reliance on the Denver basin aquifer.

The water plan did get kudos from Tori Jarvis of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. Jarvis said her group believes the CWCB has been respectful of their comments, and they’ve noticed some incorporated into the plan. She said the group supports a new goal in the plan that suggests municipalities reduce their water consumption by 400,000 acre-feet between now and 2050, an idea that has raised eyebrows among legislators and others.

But she also supported those who want the plan to rethink the TMD idea. “It isn’t appropriate for the state to support a new TMD without strong support from local governments,” she added.

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