Time to take a hard look at how we use water
Like so many before me, I choose to call the Roaring Fork Valley home for a variety of reasons. I was wooed by the community of doers, the stern but humbling peaks, the stunning spectacle of the seasons, and the awe-inspiring rivers that have allowed us, all too generously, to play and drink with little thought to their exertion. Regardless of where you call home in the valley, the Colorado, the Roaring Fork and the Crystal rivers are flowing only a short distance away. We are fortunate to be amid some of the best boating and recreation in the state.
The Colorado is a mighty river, but it is being overworked to a breaking point by increasing municipal demands unchecked by a lack of practice in water conservation.
To quote the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado’s, “current statewide water trajectory is neither desirable nor sustainable.” It is time for us to take a hard look at how we use our water, and to put some teeth to the process. In response to severe drought, Gov. Hicklenooper has tasked the CWCB with creating the state’s first-ever water plan.
With this plan, we have the opportunity to set a precedent for how we use, and do not use, water here in Colorado. We are projected to have a 600,000 acre-foot gap in our water supply by 2050. Given that our increasing demand is largely due to population growth, we have a real opportunity to fill that gap by conserving water in and outside our homes.
As was stated by several engaged citizens during the SB 115 hearing with the Water Resource Review Committee held in Glenwood Springs, developing new supply, i.e. building new trans-mountain diversions, is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Front Range providers feel the option must be kept open, while the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan makes it clear we have no more water to give, and that the Colorado River cannot afford another trans-mountain diversion. At the very least, every other option, including reuse and conservation, must be exhausted before we consider the possibility of diverting more water to the Front Range.
In our community, we feel first-hand the very real effects of diverting water from our rivers. It diminishes our quality of life and negatively impacts our vital, local outdoor recreation economy. Worse of all, it strains and degrades our most precious resources flowing through our own back yard.
The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, crafted by our own Basin Roundtable members, advocates for a statewide commitment to a high conservation goal. With that said, the decisions made in a separate basin could affect our ability to reach or even implement said goal. We are all in this together, and must all recognize and act on the need to conserve water statewide.
What is healthy for recreation is healthy for our rivers and streams. Conservation is the only long-term, forward-thinking solution to an impending water crisis. It solves the problem more quickly and costs significantly less than new, large pipelines and other projects that ship water from basin to basin. Before making hasty water allocation decisions, there should be a statewide initiative to decrease consumption and identify and support water conservation goals. By supporting measures to do so, we will be ensuring the future of the ever growing recreation based economy, which boasts $9 billion annually; this is especially true for the Western Slope. Most importantly, conservation enables us to meet our water demands without sacrificing the health of our rivers. If we set a high conservation goal of a 1 percent reduction per person per year, we can fill the gap without turning to more costly, invasive measures.
We must redefine what stipulates beneficial use. The intrinsic value of our river ecosystem is beneficial use, albeit non-consumptive. It has become increasingly imperative that we re-evaluate water law to reflect the projected impacts of both climate change and population growth as opposed to historical use data. In turn, continued opportunities for recreation will ensure a future of innovative conservationists compelled to act on behalf of the inherent values of the Colorado landscape.
On Dec. 10, the governor will receive the first draft of the water plan. I strongly encourage the CWCB to consider the conservation goal from the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan into the full Colorado Water Plan as we move toward working on a final draft in 2015.
Annie Henderson is a co-founder of the Upper Colorado Private Boaters Association, an affiliate of American Whitewater. She lives in No Name.
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