East and West Look to Store More Water

When it comes to water, the east and west often do not align. That is until an unlikely pair recently introduced a water proposal to find storage solutions on the eastern slope.

House Bill 16-1256 proposes a comprehensive study on how much water is leaving the South Platte River basin into Nebraska in excess of what the state is required to send downstream.

The idea comes from Representative J. Paul Brown and Senator Jerry Sonnenberg. Brown is a Republican from Ignacio, a small community in southwestern Colorado that is also home of former US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Sonnenberg, a Republican, is the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and hails from Sterling in northeastern Colorado, the other corner of the state.

The proposal calls for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to conduct a hydrology study of the river basin, specifically estimating for each of the past 20 years the volume of water that has been diverted to Nebraska. The study will take particular note when there were heavy flood years, such as the massive floods in northern Colorado in 2013.

The study will also examine how to save Colorado’s water in the future, either by recharging aquifers or in new or expanded reservoirs. Brown is hopeful the study will prompt new ideas for water storage on the eastern plains. “If we can do that, we will need less Western Slope water, we won’t dry up area farm land and we’ll have bigger supply for municipal, industrial, environment and agricultural uses,” Brown told the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee.

Christian Reece, Executive Director of Club 20 testified in support of the measure arguing that, “In 2015, more than 2 million acre feet of water left the state that could have been stored for use here in Colorado.”

The Democrat controlled House Committee unanimously approved the measure last week. The bill heads to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration of its $250,000 funding request from the State’s Water Supply Reserve Fund.

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