Surge of water projects show little coordination

Some plans overlap rivers as federal officials worry about the potential impacts.

By Mark Jaffe The Denver Post

A $3 billion scrum of water projects is being developed along the Front Range — but their cumulative impacts, and whether there is water enough for all, remains to be sorted out.

Still, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, the projects are moving forward, powered, attorneys and water managers say, by Colorado water law's first-come-first-served principle.

"In water law, it is still the Wild West," said Sarah Klahn, a water attorney and University of Denver law professor. "You can be a dreamer, and if you make it come true, it's yours."

The concentration of projects worries federal officials who are left to sort out the multiple impacts.

"It is the combined projects' effect on water quality that concerns us," said Larry Svoboda, environmental assessment director in the Environmental Protection Agency's Denver office.

"There is also the risk of over-allocation. We really think this needs to be looked at carefully."

"We don't have a water plan; prior appropriation is our plan and it's every man for himself," said Melinda Kassen, a director of Trout Unlimited's Western Water project.