Water Lines: Colorado water leaders set ambitious conservation goals
Free Press Weekly Columnist
Discussions and disputes over how to meet the water needs of Colorado’s growing population typically revolve around the proper balance between taking additional water from agriculture, taking additional water from the West Slope to the Front Range, and conservation.
Conservation would seem to be the low-hanging fruit, but the nuts and bolts of how to conserve enough to avoid more transfers from agriculture or the West Slope is not as easy as it may at first appear. That scale of conservation is more than can easily be achieved simply through newer, more efficient appliances and tactics like Denver Water’s highly effective “use only what you need” campaign.
Cutting deeper into household water demands would likely require some kind of mandate, on either personal behavior or land development patterns (smaller lots equal less outdoor watering), and that flies in the face of deeply held values on private property rights and local control. From a planning perspective, it’s also harder to calculate how much water you can save from possible future changes in people’s behavior than how much water you can get from a new pipeline or water rights purchase.
These reasons played into the modest approach to conservation in the part of the first draft of Colorado’s water plan that set out “no and low regrets actions,” which are those actions that should be helpful no matter what the future brings in terms of population growth, climate change and public attitudes. This portion of the plan calls for establishing a “medium” level of conservation that would achieve 340,000 acre feet per year of water savings. An acre foot is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep, and it is enough to serve two to three households for a year at current use rates. Following a number of public comments and statements calling for higher conservation goals from the West Slope “basin roundtables” of stakeholders and water managers tasked with planning for their own river basins, state leaders are moving towards setting the bar higher.
On June 22, Taylor Hawes of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), which includes representatives from basin roundtables across the state, told the Colorado Basin Roundtable that the IBCC’s subcommittee on conservation was developing a “stretch goal” to achieve an additional 60,000 acre feet per year of savings for a total of 400,000 acre feet per year. Hawes reported that the committee is proposing that this goal be pursued in a way that respects local control and involves additional monitoring to determine what really works and whether the goal needs to be adjusted up or down.
Depending on how this work is received by the full IBCC and the basin roundtables, this is one of the changes that may make its way into the next draft of the Colorado Water Plan, which is due to be released in the middle of July, with a public comment period lasting until Sept. 17.
To learn more about the Colorado Water Plan and find out how to submit your own comments, go to http://coloradowaterplan.com. You can also plan to attend one of the public hearings the legislatures Water Resource Review Committee is holding on the plan. West Slope hearings will be held July 20 in Durango, July 21 in Montrose, July 22 in Craig, and Aug. 12 in Grandby.
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.
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