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Where do we stand with our water?

Lots of issues, but few solutions at daylong event

The Western Slope is supplying the Front Range with water at the expense of many in the region’s agricultural industry.

That was the sentiment of some attending the 32nd annual Water Seminar hosted by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. The seminar featured several panels on a variety of topics, including recent state legislation, drought conditions, water banks and a state water plan.

Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

“Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

“About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient.

Paul Kehmeier, an alfalfa farmer from the Grand Valley, amused the audience with his story about a 2012 Colorado State University study he participated in.

He was paid for not watering his crop to look at deficit irrigation. He had three plots of alfalfa; one was watered three times a year, one was watered twice and the last was watered once.

“I didn’t have enough water to irrigate my fields anyway,” Kehmeier said. “So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll take your money.’”

Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water.

The two-year study showed the alfalfa would spring back if neglected, which was not the same result for Kehmeier’s wallet.

Having proper irrigation produced enough tonnage for a nice profit, less irrigation led to less profit. He said he would lose money if he irrigated only once a year.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

smueller@durangoherald.com

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