Western States Water Council: 2009 Symposium

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Water Use and Land Planning for a Sustainable Future: Scaling and Integrating

Opening session

The Western States Water Council, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Western Governor’s Association are putting on a 3 day symposium this week taking up water and land use planning issues.

Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the CWCB kicked off the afternoon with a presentation about the agency and its role in the state’s water picture. She told attendees that the CWCB is the “water policy” group. She lined out the various responsibilities of the CWCB saying that she has, “The most fascinating job to in the state.”

Financing water projects is a major role for the CWCB using funds from severance taxes and federal penalties to fund low interest loans, primarily to rural and small municipalities. The CWCB does get into larger projects such as Aurora’s reuse project, Prairie Waters.

Another role of the CWCB is compact protection. Around two thirds of the surface water available in Colorado must be left to flow out of state according to the various compacts that the state has signed.

The CWCB is involved with the Upper Colorado, San Juan and Upper Platte River recovery program for endangered species. In 1973 the board received authority to hold water rights for instream flows. They are also involved with flood mitigation, floodplain mapping, water conservation, drought planning and planning future projects.

Gimbel outlined the responsibilities of the Interbasin Compact Committee which was established by the Water for the 21st Century Act. The committee is tackling state needs, basin needs and is working to come up with solutions to the gap in supply indentified by the Statewide Water Supply Inititative (pdf) in 2004.

The Executive Director of the Western States Water Council, Tony Willardson, introduced the organization and its initiatives. The group was formed by the Western Governor’s Association to determine how to move water from the water rich northwestern U.S. to the water poor southwestern U.S. He said that the original group consisted of, “five members wanting to get the water, five members wanting to kill the project and one member working both sides.” The project didn’t get built but the group goes on.

Willardson said that 5 of the fastest growing states are in the west. He added that planners need to face up to the fact that, “We may not be able to sustain unlimited growth,” and, “We have not looked at water when determining how we would grow.” He is pushing “integrated” water and land use planning with water weighed very heavily in the process.

His group is actively trying to identify present and future water requirments while advocating that states do the local planning. Local, regional and state planning should ideally roll up to multi-state regional and and national plans, he said.

Willardson and the WSWC are hoping to see all states start to regulate groundwater.

WSWC has signed agreements with eighteen states and five federal agencies. Willardson says that the states, “have the primary and critical role.”

Monday keynote

John Tubbs, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of interior was the keynote speaker today. He listed some of the challenges that the nation faces in the 21st century.

One challenge is our water institutions. In the U.S. they are built to divide the resource. Water is divided by quantity and quality, by federal and state policy and statute. It is divided by watersheds, recreation and on and on. Necessity is now forcing water and land use planners to work together as demand outstrips supplies in many areas and climate change adds unpredictability snowpack and runoff. Pollution is effecting many drinking water aquifers.

Tubbs quoted Winston Churchill: “Americans, after exhausting all other possibilities, will always do the right thing.” The right thing, according to Stubbs, is to bring institutional resources together at the watershed level along with the federal government. After all, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, “Provides water to one out of every five [irrigated] acres in the west.”

Planning for Water Demand in the West

Jennifer Gimbel moderated a panel discussion on planning. The panel consisted of Kay Brothers (Deputy General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority), Carolyn Brittin (Deputy Executive Administrator of the Texas Water Development Board) and John Longworth (Bureau Chief, Water Use and Conservation Bureau, New Mexico State Engineer’s office).

Brothers went back in time to set the stage for current Las Vegas water issues and policy. She said that in the 1980s there was competition amongst the various water suppliers in the area. The Southern Nevada Water Authority was formed in 1991 when those involved realized that they needed a regional entity to find and secure water resources. With the SNWA all water and wastewater purveyors are under one roof. They’ve instituted a “Growth Pays for Growth” policy.

Conservation is a major component of policy. They had hoped to reduce consumption to 250 gallons per capita per day by 2012 but realized the goal in 2008. They are now eyeing 190 gpcd by 2020.

The SNWA plan includes developing resources such as groundwater, pursuing pre-Colorado River Compact water rights and ocean desalination.

Brittin said that Texas has a consensus driven bottom-up process for water planning. Current plans call for conservation to meet 23% of future requirements. While reuse is being emphasized environmental concerns for lagging or missing return flows have led to the creation of an environmental flow regime for Texas rivers. Planners must now mesh their plans with state and basin watershed plans, according to Brittin.

In New Mexico 90% of municipal and industrial needs are met with groundwater sources which are very junior in priority, according to Longworth. Groundwater is generally mined. Permits are required for all groundwater appropriations. Utilities must submit non-speculative plans for development. Although state law requires the State Engineer to give a positive or negative opinion on new development the final decision is left up to the counties.

Land Use Planning and Water Demand (Colorado Report)

The final session of the day dealt with water and planning issues in Colorado. Jacob Bornstein, Program Manager, Intrastate Water Management and Development Section, detailed Colorado’s planning efforts. He explained the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act and showed the CWCB planning tool used to analyze the effects of water decisions as they will play out in the future.

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