- Water Re-use.
- Stopping Policies and Practices that Dry-up Farm Land.
- Trans-basin Water Diversion.
- Water Storage and Capacity.
"It's in all of our self-interests to save every drop of water we can" --John Hickenlooper
The way we use and manage our water remains one of the biggest challenges facing our state. The basic facts of water supply and demand are sobering:
- Eighty (80) percent of the people in Colorado reside on the Front Range while 80 percent of our water originates on the Western Slope.
- Colorado's population is projected to grow by three million people by 2035 and will double to 10 million by 2050. While most of this growth will occur on the Front Range, the Western Slope will actually be growing at a faster rate.
- Water demand is outstripping water supply. The Department of Natural Resources projects a 20 percent statewide gap between water supply and demand by 2030.
- Many of our streams are over-allocated (i.e. in most years, not every water right or need is satisfied).
- Some climate change models project as much as a 20 percent reduction in our water supply in the future.
- We use one-third of our water; the other two-thirds exits the state either through practical necessity or due to the operation of one of our nine interstate compacts and two Supreme Court decrees.
- Colorado is approaching the limits of its allocation under the Colorado River compact and is at the limit of its allocations under interstate compacts in Arkansas, Republican and Rio Grande river basins.
- The pressure to take water from agricultural use to meet municipal needs threatens the agricultural economy and the viability of our rural commuities.
When it comes to water and our economy, we are one great state, not a loose confederation of regions. A Governor has to be sensitive to the needs of each basin community, but also work for the interests of the entire state. But that doesn't mean urban communities with greater numbers of people should have more clout. Colorado's Governor has a special responsibility to see that the whole state benefits from our wise use of water resources.
We know that Western Colorado sells more than $5 billion of its economic output to Eastern Colorado, and the Front Range sells more than $7.5 billion of its economic output to Western Colorado. We know that much of Colorado's economy depends on our mountains and Western Colorado continuing to be a place people where people want to live and visit. In addition to having water for our cities, we must have water in our streams, snow on our ski slopes, and for the green pastures, orchards and fields in the Eastern Plains, the San Luis and Arkansas Valleys and the West Slope. We are one state and all regions are economically connected to the others.
We will protect Colorado's water. The dryer it gets and the faster our downstream neighbors grow, the more they may be tempted to test the body of law that governs interstate water use. It's crucial that we safeguard and protect our water from encroachment, just as we will ensure that Colorado honors its compact commitments to our sister states.
Strategies and Solutions
Addressing Colorado's water issues will require innovative thinking and strong leadership. We need to understand that water is critically important to every part of the state. We must continue to develop processes that allow resolution of the many conflicts over water that exist across the state, bringing individuals, communities, businesses, and non-government organizations (NGOs) together to work out comprehensive solutions.
By 2030, the Department of Natural Resources estimates Colorado will need to find an additional 630,000 acre-feet of water to serve future population growth. We need to plan for a safe, adequate, and reliable water supply. At the same time, we must preserve the Colorado values that make our state special, such as a vibrant agriculture, ranching, rivers, and open space. We will need to be strategic and use every tool at our disposal.
Conservation: Denver has reduced its water consumption by 20 percent since the 2002 drought. Prior to the 2002 drought, Denver Water set a goal of reducing water use by 29,000 acre-feet by 2050. This goal was in addition to the 30,000 acre-feet of reductions Denver Water users had achieved since 1980. Denver Water's Tap-Smart program now aims to achieve that conservation goal by 2016. In 2005, Denver introduced GreenPrint Denver, a plan to improve Denver's urban environment by increasing efficiency and decreasing emissions, promoting "green" urban design, and implementing an aggressive waste reduction campaign. So far, this project has reduced water use at City Hall by a million gallons per year. Water conservation is very important but, make no mistake, it cannot solve all of our water problems.
Water Re-use: We must take advantage of new water treatment technology, so that we can maximize the use of all water, including that which is diverted from Western Colorado. The Prairie Waters project is an example of one that uses nature and technology to treat water for reuse in the South Platte basin.
Stopping Policies and Practices That Dry-Up Farm Land: The practice of "buy-and-dry" as a large-scale solution to our need for more water is unwise and unjust. Drying up wide swaths of agricultural land puts our agricultural economy, food supply, open space, stream flows, and rural communities at unacceptable risk. Where they make sense - and only where farmers and ranchers agree to engage in them -- market-driven models such as leasing agricultural water from a farmer/rancher in dry years on a temporary or rotational basis is a far better solution. It compensates the farm/ranch for lost income and helps resolve municipal water demands, while helping to preserve our agricultural economy.
Similarly, water banking would allow agricultural interests to store water and sell it for municipal use in water years that make sense. Water banking may also be a tool we can use to allow flexibility in our compact compliance efforts.
Trans-basin Water Diversion: Within the confines of our system of prior appropriation, we must recognize the importance of retaining as much water as possible in the basin of origin to meet demands for the economy, future development, recreation, and the environment. Keeping water on the Western Slope is good for the Western Colorado and Eastern Colorado.
Trans-basin diversion projects from the basin of origin should only be developed based on cooperative agreements that maximize the benefits to the affected regions of the state. Examples where this type of cooperation is working include the Clinton Reservoir agreement in Summit County, the Homestake Partnership involving Aurora, Colorado Springs, and Eagle County, and Colorado Springs' Blue River substitution agreement.
Water Storage and Capacity: These tools (conservation, reuse, agricultural water leasing, and new water projects) all depend on our ability to store water in Colorado. We will support efforts to pursue new, sound storage options and a more effective use of our existing water storage facilities in order to make the most of our water. Whether we enlarge existing reservoirs or build new ones, store water behind dams or in groundwater aquifers, store water on the Eastern Slope or the Western Slope, we need to think critically about how water storage can address the looming gap between supply and demand while continuing to address the water needs of the environment. The potential for climate change makes even more important the need to focus on how we use water storage in our water supply planning.
Consensus Building: On an issue like water, fraught with so many different needs, goals, and expectations, we must insure full citizen participation in proposing solutions. For that reason, we support the Basin Roundtable process, where for the past five years, citizen-water users from around this state have been meeting in community centers and conference rooms. They are debating water issues and what kind of state we will pass on to our children. The Basin Roundtable process includes water roundtables in each of our eight major river basins, plus the Denver Metro area. These groups need to continue to work on consensus-based solutions to the shortfall in Colorado water supplies.
Download a complete version of all of our issue papers here.