Rio Grande Basin Roundtable described
The Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable (RGRT) was established in 2006 through HB 05-1177 as one of nine basin roundtables in each of the river basins in Colorado and in the Denver metro area.
The legislation made it very clear that it did not change existing Colorado water rights law or property rights.
The genesis of the law was that there had been a prior study, the Statewide Water Supply Inventory (SWSI), which had indicated there would be a shortfall of water as early as 2020, because of the expanding population in the municipal areas of the Front Range. A solution to this situation had not been determined.
There was and continues to be tension between the Western and Eastern Slopes as some feel water should be moved to the Front Range, and many on the Western Slope do not share these ideas. Similarly, these diverse opinions were held in other river basins.
The roundtables were “To facilitate continued discussions within and between basins on water management issues, and to encourage locally driven collaborative solutions to water supply challenges….”
To do this they were to use “…data from SWSI…develop a Basin wide consumptive and non-consumptive water supply needs assessment…..propose both structural and non-structural projects or methods for meeting those needs…Seek advice of local governments, water providers and other interested stake holders….” In addition, they were to “….serve as a forum for education and debate regarding methods for meeting the water supply needs…”
The roundtables were to be made-up of local community members, some of whom would be knowledgeable of water matters and others who would be introduced to the issues through the roundtable process. The membership consists of appointees from counties and cities, Water Conservancy and Conservation Districts, state appointees, and members “at large” covering environmental, recreational, agricultural and other diverse interests.
The basin member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) would also serve as liaison between the roundtable and CWCB. Each member serves a term of five years.
From the membership of each of the nine roundtables two would be appointed to serve on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), which also had appointees by the Governor, State and House Agricultural Committees, etc. The IBCC was to draw up a Charter to “…….cover voluntary negotiations between Roundtables, including present and future consumptive and non-consumptive water uses and policies to ensure that compacts or other agreements between Roundtables do not conflict or not conform with one another…..”
The RGRT has considered the issues facing the Rio Grande Basin, including Rio Grande Compact Compliance, drawdown of aquifers, reservoirs that are not able to store at their designed capacities, continuing drought conditions, and the possible effects of climate change.
Members of the RGRT have participated in discussions to address the issues facing other basins and the state. It has been concluded that meeting the shortfall in municipal water (600,00 acre-feet by 2050) will be achieved by conservation, implementation of projects under construction or design, new projects in the future, such as new reservoirs, potential new sources of water, and transfers from the agricultural sector. While the latter may be the easiest way to meet the shortfall, there is general consensus that such transfers should be minimized to preserve the agricultural lifestyle and economy of the State. These deliberations also considered the necessary water for recreational use and maintenance of the natural environment.
The legislature recognized a need for funding of water related projects across the state. These could be studies and projects that had been identified but either for a lack of funding or a mechanism to implement had been set aside. In 2006, SB 179, “Water Supply Reserve Account” was passed and originally appropriated $10.0 million for 4 years, a total of $40.0 million, from State Severance Taxes for:
* Competitive grants for environmental and feasibility studies,
* Technical assistance regarding permitting, feasibility studies, and environmental compliance,
* Studies or analyses of structural, nonstructural, consumptive, and nonconsumptive water needs, projects, or activities,
* Structural and nonstructural water projects or activities.
The Water Supply Reserve Account has been funded to $41.8 million of which $4.8 million has come to the Rio Grande Basin. The process to obtain these funds is for the proponents to discuss their project with members of the roundtable and its chairman. If it is determined the applicant and their project will meet the necessary criteria for funding, a formal application is completed and presented to the roundtable for their endorsement. The request is subsequently reviewed by CWCB staff and finally presented to the CWCB for approval.
The WSRA funds that have come to the Rio Grande Basin have covered a variety of “water projects” across the Basin, including reservoir studies and rehabilitation; on-site improvements to diversion structures and head gates; repairs of water conveyance structures; river restoration; the conservation of agricultural land and its associated water; and outreach and education. Recipients have included irrigation and reservoir companies and non -profits involved with conservation and restoration. The projects have been geographically widespread, from Creede, to Fort Garland, to San Luis and have been completed on the Rio Grande, Alamosa, and Conejos rivers and their tributaries. Since WSRA funds have been available, the Valley has addressed many outstanding issues that were known but did not have a mechanism to be implemented.
The RGRT meets regularly on the second Tuesday of the month at 2 p.m. at the Ramada Inn, Alamosa, (formally The Inn of the Rio Grande).
For further information contact Mike Gibson, Chair, RGRT, (719)-589-2230.