This morning the final version of Colorado’s Water Plan was presented to Governor Hickenlooper. This final plan comes after a long history of water development in the state, a decade of state-coordinated cooperation between and within Colorado’s river basins and a 2013 directive from Governor Hickenlooper setting the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a hard-working fast-paced course to develop the water plan. The plan is a roadmap that intends to put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative and cooperative path toward managing water in the face of constrained supplies and growing population.
Colorado’s population is predicted to grow exponentially, rising from around 5.4 million people in 2014 to between 8.3 and 9.1 million by 2050, according to predictions by Colorado’s State Demographer, as reported in the Colorado’s Water Plan issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine. If population grows as expected, and the state continued to fill those emerging needs without planning, the status quo would result in a water supply gap of up to 500,000 acre-feet by 2050, leaving the equivalent of some 2.5 million people’s water needs unmet, or met in undesirable ways. Then pile on the challenges of rising temperatures, drought, the unpredictability of climate change, and others… and the state’s water future looks increasingly uncertain.
So Colorado’s Water Plan set out to grapple with those water supply challenges and today reflects agreement from water interests statewide on broad, near-term actions needed to secure Colorado’s water future, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Those actions include efforts to conserve and store water, additional water reuse and recycling, and providing options to agriculture to avoid permanent dry-up of farm and ranch operations. The plan includes a set of measurable objectives that provide goals regarding water for farms, for the environment, and for cities and industry. The Denver Post reports:
The plan contains:
• A water-saving target of 130 billion gallons a year for cities and industry, left largely on their own to cut water consumption using methods from low-flow appliances to limits on lawn irrigation.
• A goal of increasing reservoir and aquifer storage space for 130 billion gallons and encouraging re-use of wastewater.
• A framework for assessing possible unspecified new trans-mountain diversions of water from the western side of the Continental Divide, when conditions permit, to Front Range cities and suburbs.
• A proposal to develop stream and river protection plans to cover 80 percent of “critical watersheds” by 2030.
• A strategy for slowing the loss of irrigated agricultural land as Front Range utilities buy up water rights — which state officials said threatens 700,000 more acres, or 20 percent of currently irrigated acres statewide. The strategy is to facilitate temporary transfers during wet years with farmers and ranchers retaining water ownership.
• Proposals for streamlined permitting of water projects designated by state planners for official support.
And so implementation will begin, and as the state moves forward, the plan will continue to be a living document that will adapt to ever-changing circumstances. From ABC News:
State government doesn’t have the power to force the plan on anyone. Instead, it will depend on the help of local governments, water utilities and farmers and ranchers. The Legislature would also have to pass laws and appropriate money, and the executive branch would have to steer some of the initiatives.
The plan would also require cooperation between the eastern and western halves of the state, which are often at odds over water.
Still, the plan holds promise, said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, the state’s largest utility.
“The Colorado water plan is our state’s best hope for a secure water future,” he said.
Be sure to read the full plan here, stay involved as implementation begins, and thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Governor Hickenlooper for taking action toward a secure water future.