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Water district considers global warming effects

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. The growing concern with global warming and the drastic climate changes that could occur in its wake are resonating here in the Colorado River Valley. And water managers are worried.This week, at a meeting of the Colorado River Water Conservation District board of directors, river district general manager Eric Kuhn said recent research findings by nationally recognized climatologist Robert Balling suggest annual runoff from spring snowmelt in the Colorado basin could decrease 35 percent by 2050.How decreases in water flows due to climate change will impact an already strapped supply in the Colorado River can only be surmised. Nevertheless, it must be factored in to projections of future water demands, especially with the growing population on the Front Range.”The issue of future climate change on water resources is just now beginning to get attention within the water community,” Kuhn said.The Statewide Water Supply Initiative, commissioned by the state legislature in 2003, quantified existing water supplies and projected future demands. It found the state will need more than 600,000 acre feet of new water supplies by 2030.An acre foot – enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep – is equivalent to the average amount of water a family of four uses in a year. To fill the gap between present supply and future demand, several water transportation and storage projects are under study. These so-called “straws” would suck water out of West Slope reservoirs and rivers and pipe it across the mountains to the Front Range. In one – the $4 billion Yampa Diversion Project – the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District aims to pull about 300,000 acre feet a year out of the Yampa River at Maybell and transport it through about 200 miles of pipelines and tunnels under the mountains to the plains, where it would serve Front Range cities.”If climate change were to reduce stream flows, is there really a reliable water supply for these projects?” Kuhn asked. “The difficult challenge (will be) how to incorporate climate change into water policy decision making in a reasonable and understandable manner.”

Both Kuhn and Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) in Carbondale, are involved in the Colorado Climate Project, a bipartisan initiative to study the effects of impending climate change across the state and how to lessen its impacts.The aim of the initiative is to develop a plan to reduce emissions of global warming pollutants – greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.”There is a lot of urgency to get started on an intelligent policy” that will steer the state through future climate change, Udall said. “The intelligent policy will be how to transform global energy systems in the next 50 years, to lower emissions.”Of paramount importance is the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from such large-scale users of fossil fuels as coal-fired power plants, he said. Cleaner ways to burn coal, such as coal gasification, which removes pollutants before it’s burned for fuel, should be put in place. Alternative and greener sources of energy must be brought online, Udall said, such as hydroelectric power.CORE has been involved in “microhydro” projects on Ruedi Creek and on a private ranch near Snowmass that both supply individual homes and have excess power that’s sold to the local electric cooperative, Holy Cross Energy.

Holy Cross, which is headquartered in Glenwood Springs, has won accolades from sustainable energy advocates for its programs that give customers incentives for buying green energy and being more energy efficient.”Holy Cross Energy has developed a voluntary carbon reduction strategy designed to offset carbon dioxide emissions created in the generation of electricity used by our consumers,” said Holy Cross spokesman Steve Casey.A renewable energy rebates program pays customers $2 per kilowatt generated by solar power systems they install in their homes or businesses. Last year, the co-op paid out $150,000 in rebates on a total of 18 solar systems.Holy Cross also offers rebates on new energy-saving appliances and devices and will provide free energy audits of customers’ homes. And customers can also purchase wind and locally generated hydropower.Glenwood Springs city government has also jumped on the energy-efficiency bandwagon, adopting the Cool Cities program promoted by the Sierra Club.In December, Bob Millette, who chaired the initiative in Glenwood Springs, and who is also the chair of the Roaring Fork Group of the Sierra Club, brought the proposal to City Council.The program, which City Council adopted on Dec. 21, outlines steps for energy conservation and use of renewable energy to cut down on greenhouse gases.Millette said the first step was to get the mayor and council to agree to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which allows communities to tailor their own climate action plans. On Dec. 21, council voted to sign the agreement.According to the plan, the city should conduct an energy audit of its buildings to determine how much wasted energy is occurring and how much can be saved.”We would also like to see the city’s vehicles be more green,” Millette said, which would mean purchasing hybrid electric-gasoline cars and trucks.Whether local or statewide, efforts to make climate policy in Colorado are sure to reverberate across the country. Colorado, Udall said, is the epicenter for energy resource development, including coal, natural gas and, in the not-too-distant future, oil shale.”Climate policy will be determined in the Rockies,” he said. “The decisions we make will have local, regional and national consequences.”



Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605dgray@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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