Officials unveiled the details of a unprecedented water deal. The agreement took nearly five years to negotiate. In part, Denver Water will address environmental damage to mountain rivers and streams—committing millions of dollars. In exchange, western slope groups will not stand in the way of the utility's expansion plans...bringing more water to the Front Range. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus reports.
CEO and Manager of Denver Water Jim Lochhead has been in the water business for a long time. And he's never seen a deal quite like this.
Lochhead: It is easily, in certainly my understanding of the history of Colorado, the most far reaching complex, and really monumental agreements that's been entered into in the history of this state.
The agreement is a resolution of long standing disputes surrounding Denver Water's big expansion plans. Under the deal western slope communities won't protest the construction of key reservoirs and river diversion projects.
Lochhead says the deal had to be done.
Lochhead: Colorado, as a state, is in a state of paralysis. We're not able to move forward to develop water supplies effectively.
In the past, Denver Water drained mountain rivers to a point that depleted fish stocks and stressed the ecosystem. For it's part of the deal, the utility will regulate when and how it takes water to lessen the impact. It also commits 25 million dollars to the restoration of river habitats.
Lochhead asserts that this deal proves Denver Water is no longer a Goliath...trying to take whatever it wants.
Lochhead: But we also need to act with a sense of responsibility to the state as a whole, so the state as a whole moves forward in a positive direction.
One of the 33 western slope parties to the deal is the Colorado River Water Conservation District--comprised of 15 West Slope counties. General Manager Eric Kuhn says this is the best deal--under the circumstances.
Kuhn: Of course the perfect world, there would be no trans-mountain diversions there would be, the river system would be essentially pretty much the way they were 150 years ago, but that's not reality.
Kuhn says the money will go a long way to help rebuild some of the damaged areas—reshaping river beds and restoring wetlands plants.
Kuhn: We want to protect the fundamental health of the stream, the water resources in the stream, in stream, are what are important.
Like along the Fraser River—60-percent of which is sent to front range faucets.
Kirk Klancke walks out to the banks of the river which flows directly behind his office in the small town of Fraser, north of Winter Park. His dog Rocky plays in the water in front of him. Klancke is president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited...a national conservation group. He says this deal is a recognition that proper stewardship of western slope rivers is good for everybody.
Klancke: And I think that's a paradigm shift in Denver Water, they are Goliath, but they're not going to through their weight around. I'm quite proud of 'em.
He's still worried about the impact of future water diversion projects not covered in this deal. But he hopes it will set the tone for negotiations with other water utilities in the state.
Klanche: I think this is the kind of precedent I'd like to see for all rivers in the future.
But before that, this agreement must be ratified by all 34 parties—which includes a variety of western slope cities, ski resorts, and conservation districts.
[Photo by Anna Panoka]