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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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December 21, 2002: Colorado's Water Future

Q: Oh, water guru, please look into your crystal ball and tell us what you see happening in Colorado. I guess that I am cynical, believing that all this sound and fury generated by the continuing drought will signify nothing in 2003.

A: My crystal ball looks a bit muddy or dusty (I can't quite tell) as I look into its murky depths. But this is what I "divine" happening during the next twelve months.

Do not look for any one magic solution that will solve the problems arising out of the alphabet soup of suggestions being sprayed about by the so-called water experts. Colorado has been traveling back and forth on its water road for over 145 years with many legal, social, and political road bumps and pot holes having been put in place during the last 25 years.

Extra storage capacity will be somewhat obtained. With over 1,200,000 extra Coloradans living here since 1990, and given the fact that in general terms three-fourths of all available water enters our river systems during about 60 days in late spring, catching and holding water has always been essential. And even though water is over subscribed (more demand than supply), there is always water that can be legally lassoed and corralled as it stampedes by during that short window of opportunity, especially during wet years.

An agreement will be reached this year to use excess capacity for storage purposes in the big, flood-control reservoirs upstream from Denver. It appears that with some cooperation from the feds, the mandated use of the facilities for flood control and for recreation can coexist with storage and thereby generate extra storage capacity.

As for other storage solutions, do not be lead astray by water articles in various newspapers about all those water projects on the planning boards. Almost all will never be built. Too many political, environmental, and social snags will scuttle them, with the primary stumbling block being, as the Denver Post recently pointed out, that there is just not enough money available to pay for the projects. However, one or possibly two projects in our area are on the very short list of projects that could happen—not next year, but sometime.

In 2003 water will continue to be absorbed by cities and water entities, continuing a major economic transition in Colorado. Eighty-three percent of Colorado's population lives in cities. Without new supplies of this "liquid gold" and major strides in conservation of water by farmers and cities, water will move to where the money is and the "Great American Desert" that explorer Long saw in the early 1800's will continue to return, even more so than now. Additionally, more farmers will merely lease water and not farm, leaving the ground barren.

The year 2003 will see more cloud seeding but the old issues of whether such activities really do increase the overall supply of water or merely "steals" water from downwind areas and of the environmental effect on wildlife and habitat will surface and be fought all over again.

Some of the local reservoirs are or will be dredged but overall such activity may have little impact. The legal and environmental processes to gain permission to remove sediment, plus the cost, have priced this option out of the reach of smaller reservoir companies. Additionally, many companies have found that if the reservoir is scooped out, dams will have to be rebuilt or be re- enforced to accommodate the increased water pressure, thus stopping any plans to excavate.

Expect to read about Colorado getting its legal butt kicked yet again. But so many water cases have been lost by us over the last 25 years, this latest setback will only reinforce the rupturing that has already occurred and won't open new cracks.

I need to stop because I am out of column space but unfortunately I see much money being spent on water lawyers, engineers, and water consultants, who will come up with the same old ideas, most of which I first heard mentioned back in the 1950s because everyone is still thinking in "the box." If Colorado wants to keep the water boat afloat, paying people to move deck chairs around or using a soldering iron to plug a few leaks may be somewhat beneficial and give us all a sense of motion (so does a rocking chair) but does not generate any lineal progress down the water road. There, that is what 2003 looks like to a grumpy old water buffalo.

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