This week I attended the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s tour of Transmountain Diversions in the Arkansas Valley. The tour was timely because of the ongoing conversations about the Colorado Water Plan and how the state will address growing demand for a diminishing supply of water around the State.
Because QQ works to address environmental (and resulting economic) impacts from transmountain diversions, the best part of the tour for me was gaining a better appreciation for how interconnected the State is through transmountain diversions.
Ewing Ditch diversion
The Arkansas Valley is the recipient of water that is diverted through complex tunnel systems, or simple diversion ditches, from the western side of the Continental Divide to water population centers on the Front Range. The tour focused primarily on the benefits that historic transmountain diversions (TMDs) have provided to the Eastern Slope. Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese even thanked the West Slope for the water that makes their recreation and ranching economies thrive (a touching gesture that does not happen enough in
dialogue across the divide).
We saw the first-ever TMD, the Ewing Ditch, and walked along the ¾ mile ditch from the diversion point to the point it crosses the Continental Divide. We saw TMDs of a much larger scale too, watching water blast from the side of a mountain, bringing water from Homestake Reservoir in the Eagle River basin through a 5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River basin.
Outlet into Turquoise Lake from Homestake Reservoir
We met business owners and state land managers in Salida and Buena Vista who praised the Voluntary Flow Program, where water providers pledge flows during peak rafting and angling season to meet demands in the Upper Arkansas basin. The program helped make the Arkansas River the most rafted river in the country.
But before the Voluntary Flow Program were transmountain diversions that bring water to the Arkansas for farming, ranching, rafting, fishing, and for drinking water for Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Aurora, and many other Front Range communities. Early transmountain diversions provided these benefits without adequate environmental protections for West Slope rivers.
We did not trek to the West Slope because, simply, there is not enough time in a two-day tour to squeeze it all in.
But the Colorado Water Plan does have the time and space to really delve into both sides of the transmountain diversion conversation. The Water Plan should highlight not only the benefits from TMDs, but the historic environmental damage from those same diversions. Painting a picture of both sides of the Divide will capture the interconnected economies and community on both sides of the mountains, which will help set the Colorado Water Plan on a better path forward.
Thanks for a great tour!
Fall colors were amazing!