Water Lines: Comments needed on draft water plan for Colorado | PostIndependent.com

Water Lines: Comments needed on draft water plan for Colorado

Hannah Holm
Free Press Weekly Columnist

Last week in Glenwood Springs, members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board heard presentations from their staff on draft sections of Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan is supposed to chart a path for overcoming a large forecast gap between the state’s water needs and developed supplies. The governor has ordered the CWCB to complete a draft plan by December 2014 and a finished plan by December 2015.

Draft sections of the plan reviewed by the CWCB on Sept. 11 cover historical and projected water supplies; economics and funding; meeting the state’s water gaps; water demand by sector; interbasin projects and agreements; interstate compacts and equitable apportionment decrees; municipal, industrial and agricultural infrastructure projects and methods; watershed health and management; environmental and recreational projects and methods; state water rights’ alignment; and outreach, education and public engagement.

These draft sections draw on and are bolstered by plans for each of Colorado’s major river basins developed by “basin roundtables” made up of water providers and other water stakeholders. Draft basin plans were submitted to the CWCB in July and are due to be finalized in April.

The draft section on historical and projected water supplies shows the highly variable water supply across the state and depicts the “storage delta” for existing reservoirs. The storage delta indicates how much additional water storage could be gained from raising existing dams, whether or not any new ones are built.

The draft section on economics and financing identifies a need for $17-19 billion for municipal water infrastructure, as well as substantial additional funding for stream restoration activities. Board members debated the merits of recommending specific mechanisms for raising these funds. They also pressed for more nuance in the presentation of the need, noting that distinctions can be made between basic infrastructure and new projects and arguing that the up-front costs of implementing conservation measures should also be considered.

The draft sections on meeting water gaps and water demands by sector draw on individual basin plans. The largest anticipated municipal gaps are on the Front Range.

Currently, the state consumes approximately 39 percent of the natural flow of water in the state; most of that is consumed by agriculture. Approximately 61 percent of the natural flow exits the state, most of which is required to be allowed to flow downstream by interstate compacts and decrees. Statewide, 39 percent of municipal water is currently used outside, much of it for parks and commercial landscaping.

On the agricultural side, the Yampa and North Platte basin roundtables both seek to increase irrigated agriculture, and the Gunnison Basin plan focuses heavily on existing agricultural shortages. Basin plans across the state also identify many projects to meet environmental and recreational needs on rivers, although the water needs for this sector are not as well quantified as the needs for other sectors.

The draft section on demands also notes that higher temperatures due to climate change could increase water demands from crops and other vegetation and decrease cold water fish habitat.

The draft section on interbasin projects and agreements reviews existing interbasin agreements and includes a new draft conceptual agreement between representatives from both East and West Slope basins on future “multi-purpose and cooperative projects” that could take more West Slope water to the front range. A key feature of this draft agreement is the explicit recognition that any new transmountain diversion may only be able to take water in wet years, due to existing demands and downstream obligations.

The draft sections described above, as well as several others and the individual basin plans, are available for review at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com under the “Resources” tab. You can submit comments, as well as review comments received so far, by clicking on the “Get Involved” tab.

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 on Facebook at Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

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