McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Dry topic doesn’t mean it’s not important
As a reporter, I’ve always thought certain subjects lead to rather dry news stories. With apologies to those involved, the two that come to mind are school board meetings and the subject of water. I don’t mean to diminish the very important role played by the hardy volunteers who get elected to school boards; thank you for your service. But from my point of view, most of the actions at those meetings are policy and procedure, which don’t usually translate into interesting news stories.
As far as water (yes, I intended to use “dry” in this case) issues go, I’m not talking about stories about flooding. Those natural, even man made, disaster stories will always be among the most read. I’m talking about the agencies that monitor and manage the water we drink, bathe in and pour on our lawns and gardens. Again, mostly policy and procedure stuff. Pretty boring, but again, nonetheless important.
But my eyes and mind were opened, after listening to Louis Meyer, president and CEO of SGM (formerly Schmueser Gordon Meyer) of Glenwood Springs, who knows water issues forwards and backwards. He brought Rifle City Council up to speed on the very alarming projections of Colorado perhaps doubling it’s current population to ten million people by 2050, but no more water available for those extra five million people to drink, bathe in and pour on their lawns and gardens than we have now.
While the majority of that growth will, of course, occur on the Front Range, guess where that part of the state already gets much of its water? The Colorado River Basin is the major supplier, to the tune of between 450,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water a year to farms and cities in Eastern Colorado. (One thing I did learn from covering water issues is that one acre-foot of water is enough to cover a football field with a foot of water. So imagine up to 600,000 football fields with water a foot deep.)
The Colorado is, of course, the main source of water for municipalities like Rifle, too, and Meyer said the basin “has a target on our back,” because it’s the most desirable one – to Front Range interests – to continue to tap to meet those growth needs. As Meyer noted, the other basins are either too far away or geographically isolated over mountain passes. So building some type of transmountain diversion, while still costly and time consuming, is most attractive in the Colorado River basin.
Meyer showed some maps that graphically pointed out how the amount of land in the state used for agriculture has shrunk, after that water was bought to help meet growth needs. In the Colorado River basin today, ag uses 584,000 acre-feet to irrigate 268,000 acres. But there is already an average 100,000 acre-foot shortfall in meeting those demands.
Then there’s projected growth along the I-70 corridor in the basin that could be among the fastest in the state through 2050. Municipal and industrial demand is already at 68,480 acre-feet and could reach 179,440 acre-feet a year by that time along the corridor.
Another huge looming factor is the Colorado River Compact, which requires 70 percent of the annual flow in the Colorado River to reach downstream states like Nevada, California and Arizona. If Colorado doesn’t supply 7.2 million acre-feet over a 10-year period to downstream states, they can basically take it from us, legally.
Factor in the unknown of oil shale and other energy development’s water needs and maybe you can see why my eyes were opened. We’re talking about one of the two things every living, breathing organism needs to survive; air is the other. Take away one and it won’t matter if you have the other.
To quote from a draft “white paper” Meyer handed out:
“It has been rightfully stated that the past is no longer a guide to the future, and the old paradigms in water supply no longer work. The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, are no longer valid. We must develop a plan that is truly proactive, not reactive. We cannot afford to wait until crisis becomes the guide behind our decisions.”
Editor’s note: The Colorado River Basin Roundtable meets every other Monday through June 30 in the Glenwood Springs Community Center, 100 Wulfsohn Road, from Noon to 4 p.m. The meetings are open to the public.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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