Western States Water Council: 2009 Symposium day two recap

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Opening Remarks

Governor Ritter kicked off the second day of the conference with a presentation about the opportunities and challenges facing the state and the western U.S. “Water is the most important resource to Colorado,” he said, citing the importance of water to recreation, tourism, agriculture, energy development along with the basic needs for the population.

Ritter mentioned the possible effects of climate change (climate disruption to some) on statewide water supplies. A 10-20% reduction in availability is the current long-term estimate. Ritter said, “How we manage our scarce water resource will determine how successful we are.”

The governor — a farmer in his youth — reminded the crowd that agriculture is the 3rd largest economy in Colorado as well as part of our heritage, saying, “It helped shape our culture.” He also made the point about the importance of a, “Sustainable locally produced food supply,” to the well being and health of Coloradans.

West slope water observers will be happy to note that the governor is opposed the transbasin diversions unless Colorado can find a “win, win, win” for all involved. He advocates thinking about land use planning as part of transportation planning and water planning. Ritter — through Harris Sherman at the Department of Natural Resources — has been asking people to consider, “How will we need to change to build the kind of west we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?”

State Efforts

This session was a panel discussion with representatives from California (Rod Walston), Arizona (Sandy Fabritz-Whitney) and Washington (Brian Walsh). The panelists related experiences and plans for the integration of land use and water planning back home.

Walston said that the traditional conversation focused on quantity and quality but now includes integrated land use and water. He outlined several legislative initiatives in California. The legislature has tried to mitigate the impacts of development by setting up statewide requirements for developers. For example, an environmental impact report for developments must be completed and approved prior to project approval and cities must create an urban water management plan which is updated every five years with a running 20 year supply.

Arizona, according to Fabritz-Whitney, requires a 100 year water supply for new developments and speculators cannot sell a lot for development unless they demonstrate a 100 year water supply. She told the group that Arizona’s first drought plan was adopted in 2004.

In Washington State the issues vary depending on location, according to Walsh. The west side of the state averages nearly 50 inches of precipitation a year while the eastern part of the state is much dryer. In addition, endangered species effect planning for virtually the entire Columbia River basin. The state has seen a good deal of success with local watershed planning groups that consist of county, city, tribal, state government and other local stakeholders. Some of the challenges going forward are the completion of a statewide water plan, a clearer definition of water rights (along with the cessation of new appropriations in some watersheds), navigating or unifying a patchwork of planning efforts, overcoming the “use it of lose it” aspect of prior appropriation, the need to permit domestic exempt wells and the effects of climate change. He listed conservation, reclaimed water, rainwater harvesting, aquifer storage and recharge and low impact development as opportunities for the state.

Local and County Efforts

The panel moderator, Julio Iturreria (Long Range Program Manager, Arapahoe County), stated that, in his career, “I have been doing planning with the idea that water will always be availiable.” He said that now is a good time — with development at low levels across the state — to approach local planning officials and ask that they include water planning in their processes going forward.

The panel included Peter Pollack (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy), Lorna Stickel (Portland Water Bureau) and Mark Shively (Executive Director, Douglas County Water Resource Authority).

First up was Pollack a former City of Boulder planner. He maintains that we can do a better job at the local level. He advocates water planning at all levels. Transportation planning drives land use, according to Pollack. He mentioned that Boulder and Boulder County were able to come to agreement about growth by using the concept of “urban services” (fire, water, sewer, police, etc.). The county agreed to stay with its rural character and drive growth to the cities and towns since they provided the urban services.

Stickel started out by saying that, “Water Supply is one of the most important aspects of planning.” There are many layers of planning in Oregon, most driven by legislation. She mentioned Portland’s gray water efforts. Homeowners are required to use “Off the shelf pre-designed systems.” She also talked about the Portland Sustainability Center which may be the largest green building in the world, according to Stickel. The building will recycle 100% of its water and generate much of the electrical demand using solar.

Shively listed some of the events that got Douglas County to where it is today — heavily dependent on the Denver Basin Aquifer system. Douglas County’s two dozen or so water providers depend on fossil water as do all of the individual domestic wells. The county was depending on Denver Water’s Two Forks Reservoir which was defeated in the late 1980s, and is still looking for a sustainable supply.

Shively told the attendees about the county conservation efforts. 40% of the county is open space. The county has implemented a rigorous review of plans. Castle Rock has reduced consumption to 134 gallons per capita per day. The county has implemented a “water ambassador program” where high school students present water education to fourth graders. The county is also part of an IGA with the South Metro Water Authority, Denver Water and Aurora Utilities that aims to share infrastructure and planning. He highlighted the Sterling Ranch development which hopes to use rainwater catchments (authorized by H.B. 09-1129 in the last legislative session) to cut gpcd for watering common areas.

Shively stressed that he wants to see people, “Work together to plan energy and water projects for our kids and grandkids.”

Two Sides Talking

The luncheon panel was moderated by Peter Nichols, an attorney with Trout, Raley, Montano, Witwer and Freeman. Panel members were Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Denver Water Manager Chips Barry, Aurora Water Manager Mark Pifher, Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn and Grand Junction Utilities Manager Greg Trainor.

Barry said, “Increased density is the way to reduce gallons per capita per day,” and greater density means, “higher per capita consumption per acre.” He said that Denver Water and west slope interests have come to understand that the two big issues are certainty of supply for Denver and a fixed total diversion number for the Colorado River Basin.

Trainor wants certainty or agreement about the water data that the basin roundtables are collecting, saying, “We have to be able to believe the data in front of us.”

Kuhn: “The tools of the past will probably not meet the uncertainty of the future.”

Pifher said that Aurora’s short-term strategy is to develop infrastructure to reuse their effluent. The project, Prairie Waters, filters water at the South Platte River. Water will then travel 30 some miles for treatment and distribution through Aurora’s potable water system.

Mayor Tauer said that for Aurora and Denver, “The drought was a catalyst,” regional cooperation is the name of the game now. Commenting on conservation efforts he joked that, “Denver Water’s campaign says, ‘Use only what you need,’ [while] Aurora says, ‘Use what you think you can afford with our new rate structure.'”

More Colorado water coverage here.

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