This is part two of a two-part series by General Manager, Ralph "Terry" Scanga. To read part one, click here.
Threats to Water Use
In terms of water supply the greatest threat for the future would be a loss or erosion through legislative or administrative action of the time-tested Colorado Doctrine of prior appropriation. Actions are underway to use the water plan as a framework to advocate instead for the use of policy to appropriate water. Using policy for water appropriation would give the administration and legislature a pathway or initiative to utilize legislation in lieu of the more deliberate Appropriation system that is designed to protect existing water rights from injury. This strongly suggests that the legislature and administration may attempt to act upon perceived crises to garner support to move future appropriations or changes of current water use through legislation instead of the water court system.
Already underway is a Demand Management Plan that will allow administrative policies to transfer water rights from agriculture through Deficit Irrigation or by utilizing an undefined process termed “Conserved Consumptive Use” to Lake Powell or to municipal use. In the Arkansas Basin most irrigation is already in a deficit so there is no water to be saved. Under Colorado’s pure form of prior appropriation, in low flow periods, water rights are curtailed automatically to force reductions in use. There is no need to use state policy to create conservation. The frightening part of these actions is that if successful the only way for water right owners to protect themselves from injury will be expensive court action. If legislation is successful in adopting the concept of “Conserved Consumptive Use” it is possible we will see lower flows in the Arkansas River due to a reduction in trans-mountain diversions. These diversions support all uses in the river such as the voluntary flow management program. Instead of water flowing to the Arkansas River some may flow down the Colorado River to Lake Powell for storage and eventual evaporation there under a plan called Demand Management.
In the Upper Arkansas Basin water quality has been addressed is various ways. The Arkansas River was polluted by mining runoff and is normally by natural geologic formations. Most of this pollution has been cleaned-up and today there are large sections of gold medal fishing. Studies conducted by the US Geological Survey have concluded that most of our ground water is of good quality. These are good things. But the threat to water quality from sediment runoff from burn areas in our forests are real. Due to the beetle infestations and decimation of the forest stands in the US Forest lands fire is more likely and has occurred. The after effects of fire is larger than normal storm runoff. This will and has already caused heavy sediment loading on our streams and the Arkansas River. The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District (UAWCD) and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable is working with the US Forest Service and local entities to address some of these areas. Locally, the UAWCD is working with the Forest Service on a pilot project to remove beetle killed forest stands and make it a commercially viable resource. If successful, this may be be part of the solution. In the lower part of the Upper Arkansas River Basin, in Eastern Fremont County, there is a geologic formation that contains selenium that contributes to contamination in this part of the Arkansas River. At this time simply identifying these areas is a challenge but is being worked on by the US Geological Survey. Most of this type contamination mostly affects the Lower Arkansas Basin. Delivery of good municipal drinking water supplies is being undertaken by the South Eastern Colorado Water Conservancy District with the construction of a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to the Lower Basin communities.