Denver Water and Western Slope leaders announced Thursday they will stop fighting and start playing nice with Colorados water resources.
The terms of the legal settlement among some of the states biggest water districts will provide water for Denver and its thirsty suburbs while protecting the environment in mountain towns.
State leaders are hailing it as a model for the rest of Colorado, which has a long history of water wars and is home to the nations largest concentration of water lawyers.
It really does demonstrate that collaboration worked and collaboration can move mountains and move water lawyers, said Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The agreement does not involve water from Southwest Colorado, although it will help the entire western half of the state by creating a new culture that requires agreement from everyone before water can be pumped east, said Eric Kuhn, head of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
The West Slopes interests were very simple and that is to preserve what makes Western Colorado special and unique, and that is the ecosystem, and the Colorado River is key to that, Kuhn said.
Denver and 33 Western Slope groups, including towns and ski areas, signed on to the agreement. But other major Front Range utilities did not join in the accord.
Under the agreement, when water is scarce, Denver Water agrees not to use its legal right to draw down streams in Grand County unless Denver has banned residential lawn watering.
In return, Denver secured Western Slope agreement to expand its service area by providing recycled water to its suburbs. The southern suburbs have been among the fastest-growing areas of the country the last 15 years, but they lack a reliable long-term water supply.
Denver also agreed not to drain Lake Dillon its main reservoir too low, and to support a kayak park in Glenwood Springs that would require water to flow downstream, away from Denvers system of pumps and reservoirs.
Western Colorado has long been wary of Denver because the city owns legal rights to pump Colorado River water east over the Continental Divide. The Denver suburbs are also on a desperate hunt for water, and their high populations give them the money to buy the rights to even more Western Slope water.
Thursdays agreement is historic because Denver agreed to take less water than it has the legal right to use. The city will devote some of its supply to Western Slope ski resorts and communities.
Hickenlooper was involved in the negotiations when he was mayor of Denver, and he made clear Thursday that he wants the rest of Colorado to approach water disputes with the same spirit of cooperation.
It allows us to set a model for how we can have these discussions without pitting one part of the state against another, Hickenlooper said.
He reiterated his call Thursday for the state to develop its first-ever long-term water plan within the next five years. A high-level water group called the Interbasin Compact Committee is meeting today to talk about the statewide strategy.