Drought contingency plan draws concern

RBC | Early this fall Upper Colorado River Commissioner James Eklund and staff from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Colorado Water Conservation Board presented draft Drought Contingency Plans (DCP) for the Upper Colorado River Basin states. The plans have drawn fire from a variety of water groups including the local Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.

Alden Vanden Brink, director of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, has voiced concerns about the plan which he says will impact nearly 100 percent of the state’s water users, regardless of water right priority.

“To be very frank, it is being suggested there will be across the board water usage cuts to all water users (calling it Equitable Apportionment) regardless of water right seniority, trumping the Prior Appropriations Doctrine at the primary expense of agriculture. In the White River the majority of water users rely on agriculture-produced return flows to the river from flood irrigation practices,” he said. “Within this DCP is the creation of a Demand Management criterion forcing all water users to cut back on usage allowing more water to flow out of state into Lake Powell to the lower basins. This is particularly concerning as so far there has been limited transparency from the State with the DCP which will supersede the Prior Appropriates Doctrine. For us, the White River will be particularly hit hard since agriculture is where most demand management cuts will be made and without a reservoir for protection, severe shortages even greater than we presently experience will become more pronounced and of greater likelihood,” he said.

The stated goal of the plan’s design is to implement a drought response to reduce risks associated with reaching critical reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The state claims it is, “Sensible to plan for the ‘worst case’ scenarios to avoid potential controversy, conflict and uncertainty.”

Vanden Brink is not alone in his concern about the Contingency Plan. The Colorado River District and Southwestern Colorado River District sent a joint letter to Colorado Water Conservation Board saying that it is critical that contributions to a Drought Management Program be generated voluntarily on a temporary and compensated basis. They also pushed for equitable implementation, stating that water must be derived from both sides of the Continental Divide. “Without commitment to these elements, the West Slope likely would bear the preponderance of the burden of contributing water to a Demand Management Program and would face an increased threat of speculative acquisitions of West Slope water,” the letter says.

The program will require federal legislative approval, something the water commission thinks it can obtain by early 2019.

Next Wednesday, Oct. 24, the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts are hosting the Colorado Watersheds meeting in Rangely where Vanden Brink will present how the Drought Contingency Plan and the proposed Demand Management would impact White River basin water users. Vanden Brink encourages water users to attend.

“I believe it is very important for the White River water users to understand how their river functions,” he said. He also plans to continue spreading the word about the plan. “My involvement is through the Colorado River District and Basin Round Tables where I continue to be engaged voicing concerns of specific components within the DCP, Demand Management, lack of transparency, involvement of other statutorily created state water conservation agencies and public involvement,” he said.

By JEN HILL | jen@ht1885.com