A Water Plan for the Future
Colorado stewardship director of American Whitewater
By now we all recognize that our arid state depends on what little water Mother Nature provides, and on the wise management of this increasingly scarce resource. As state leaders plot a new course through the Colorado State Water Plan, we see a few bright spots, and some real causes for concern, particularly for Western Slope communities and the state’s vibrant recreational economy.
First, the good news: a conceptual agreement among all seven Colorado River basins is looking good, and it will effectively make any potential construction of major new transmountain diversions more rooted in reality. That’s the only sane course of action, because we know the Western Slope and our downstream neighbors do not have another drop of water to spare for Front Range cities. Those cities can and should get more serious about conservation and water recycling. We’re hopeful that this conceptual agreement will hold for the final water plan, to be released in late 2015.
Now for the challenges: We all know that Colorado depends on the recreation economy. For the Colorado River basin alone it’s a $9 billion per year economic engine for our state. That means any water planning should include whatever it takes to keep our rivers at healthy flows. We have the knowledge and data about the amount of water that needs to stay in rivers. That data isn’t currently integrated into the state plan, and it should be.
Beyond that, it’s way past time for a more visionary approach to water management. For centuries we’ve been pumping water out of rivers, hitting shortages, and only then waking up to the reality of water conservation. That’s so 19th century.
The new state plan is a major opportunity to set a new strategy in play: one that prioritizes innovative conservation at every level, and in every sector. We’re already in shortage, and we’re going to be for the indefinite future. We cannot dam or pipe our way out of this one, unless you believe we can afford to pump water from the Missouri River.
The challenge for Colorado is to deal with reality and start aggressively pursuing the most cost-effective and least environmentally destructive water solutions. These solutions are within reach. But implementing them will require pushing back on Front Range water hogs that continue to turn our beautiful high plains into Kentucky Bluegrass and super-thirsty residential developments.
But that time has passed. Just one example of the ingenious alternatives already available: the American Society of Golf Course Architects spoke recently to the Western Governors Association on using recycled water rather than municipal water for irrigation. That kind of innovation can reduce demands from our rivers and is a no-brainer, as are incentives, turfgrass replacement programs and data-driven approaches to preserving healthy flows on our rivers. Getting from here to there will require political will and investment, which is what we must demand of our state leaders.
Visionary thinking can be the centerpiece of the state water plan; we have nine months to help Gov. Hicklenlooper and the Colorado State Water Conservation Board see it that way too.
Nathan Fey is the Colorado stewardship director of American Whitewater.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
It has been well over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed all our lives dramatically. The social restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic have left most of us feeling exhausted and stressed…