MEEKER | One hundred twenty-five people attended the White River Conservation District annual meeting and Water Expo in Meeker on Jan. 17, to learn more about the “Big River” issues and how they will impact water rights and uses in the White River Basin. The District partnered with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District to bring this event to Rio Blanco County.
District Executive Director Callie Hendrickson said, “We know Rio Blanco County landowners are busy and don’t have the time to attend meetings in other parts of the State so we brought these conversations to them so they could ask questions and be a part of the discussions and decisions that will impact them in the future. We are very pleased with the turnout!”
The first speakers set the stage by providing an overview of Colorado’s water law, the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, and the Colorado River Compacts of 1922 and 1948. This was followed by the discussions that are taking place among the Colorado River Water Conservation District (River District), Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and the seven states involved in the Colorado River Compact. Afternoon speakers drilled down to how to protect your water rights here in the White River.
“The 19-year drought has all of us very concerned,” said White River Conservation District Board President Margie Joy. More water is being used and consumed than is being produced by Mother Nature. While most people focus on the potential “call” on the river due to the Colorado River Compact, the reality is that the greater risk is the power generation pool dropping below functional levels at Lake Powell.
Andy Mueller, River District General Manager, laid out the big picture and reminded the attendees that the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, Brenda Burman, has made it clear that the seven states must have a plan to deal with the expected shortage by Jan. 31, 2019, or she will do it for us. Mueller says, “Mandatory curtailment will bring disproportionate risk for the Western Slope” and expressed concern that it will result in significant “buy and dry” for Front Range augmentation and significant reduction in late season return flows.
Brent Newman, Section Chief—Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section for CWCB noted: “From a responsible planning standpoint, variable hydrology and declining storage at Lake Powell are a real and immediate concern, with potential operational impacts and compact implications in the upcoming years. Don’t panic, but plan!”
While there has been a push by some for the CWCB and State Engineer to immediately curtail junior water rights to help fill Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the River District pressed the CWCB to adopt policy that ensured demand management efforts to prevent a “call” on the Colorado River would be voluntary, compensated, and temporary. Newman noted this is now CWCB policy as they move forward in an effort to avoid mandatory curtailment.
The Keeping Your Water Rights presentation was made by attorney Sara Dunn and Division 5 Water Referee and District Court Magistrate Susan Ryan. Great information was provided followed by good discussion and clarification. One of the key points is that water court documents, maps, diversion records, and administrative call information can be found at the Colorado Decision Support System website at: https://dnrweb.state.co.us/cdss.
Later in the day, the presentations and discussion turned to Integrated Water Management Plans (IWMP) and other plans that are being completed on the White River. Greg Peterson, Executive Director for the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Erin Wilson of Wilson Water Group explained the value of ensuring that agriculture is at the table as these plans are developed. Hendrickson announced that the Conservation Districts will proceed with leading this effort and ensure that this is a locally led effort. She assured the audience that all landowners and water right holders and other stakeholders would be involved.
During a great lunch provided by Ma Famiglia’s and sponsored by Colorado Ag Water Alliance, the District provided an overview of their 2018 activities and recognized their 2019 sponsors including Enterprise, Williams, and XTO. Each company received a plaque in appreciation for their generous support of the Districts. The sixth grade poster contest winners were also recognized: first place—Montey Franklin, second place—Drew Drake, third place—Sam Hightower.
The district board and staff thank all who attended for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend and engage in these critical conversations.
Special to the Herald Times