Western States Water Council: 2009 Symposium day two recap

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Speaking at a conference on water and population growth, Ritter restated a water policy he’s had since his first campaign for governor: look first to conservation and sharing water among cities and farmers, and to trans-basin diversions only as a last resort…

Thirty years ago, it was an era of plenty, Ritter said. Colorado had fewer than 3 million people, and three of its four major river basins were open to claims of new water rights. Today, the state has 5 million people, and only the Colorado River has unappropriated water. “We’re in an era of water scarcity and tradeoffs,” Ritter said…

On Tuesday, Ritter urged water planners to slow down and ask questions about Colorado’s future before dedicating more water to urban growth. “What will Colorado and the West look like in 50 years if we continue business as usual? Is this the world that we want our children to inherit?” Ritter did not define under what conditions he would back a transfer of water from west to east, but he said his administration would oppose it unless it improved all parts of the state.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Water must be a part of the conversation when it comes to creating vibrant, liveable communities,” Ritter told the Western States Water Council symposium on water and land use. “Any growth plan we have must acknowledge the scarcity of water.”[…]

The state needs to be smart about how it grows, and so it is rightly investing money through the Colorado Water Conservation Board in studies of water availability, water scarcity, conservation plans and sharing water. “There is no silver bullet,” Ritter said.

Ritter also lauded Aurora for pioneering water reuse through its $700 million Prairie Waters Project, which seeks to recapture flows from the South Platte River for direct reuse. “Aurora bought a lot of water from around the state, and a lot of people looked at Aurora as recklessly growing,” Ritter said. Since the 1980s, Aurora has purchased most of the Rocky Ford Ditch, part of the Colorado Canal, shares in Twin Lakes and ranches in Lake County in order to export the water from rights on those lands. Since it imports the water from another basin, it can theoretically reuse it to extinction, but that requires investment in infrastructure – a well field, pipeline and treatment plant in the case of Prairie Waters. “There is an ability to reuse that water, and that decreases the need for water from other parts of the state,” Ritter said.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

While Boulder made a decision years ago to limit growth despite having an adequate water supply for a city three times its size, Douglas County has maintained an aggressive growth policy with skimpy water supplies.

“The vision was a compact city surrounded by open space,” said Peter Pollock, who worked for 25 years as a planner for the city of Boulder. Boulder used every tool available to regulate growth and invented a few, determining where growth would come and how fast. The city worked with the county to maintain the rural nature of its outskirts, Pollock said. Pollock called the conflicting needs within the community useful in evaluating the trade-offs needed to obtain the desired results. Unlike many others at the conference, Pollock said water should be used as a tool to reinforce sustainable development, saying no community would be built if roads could not serve it…

“Efforts to control growth through water are futile,” Shively said. At least 50 percent of the state’s growth is from natural increases – from raising families and having children and grandchildren remain in the state. Communities like Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch already have per-capita water rates lower than most other areas of the state. The community is looking at rainwater harvesting, but the solution is to bring in more water from outside the Front Range to meet needs, Shively argued. “We have to teach our kids about water, and that we can’t conserve our way out,” Shively said.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

“The moment Douglas County or Aurora gets into trouble, it affects the value of every home on the Front Range,” Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper told the Western States Water Council symposium on water and land use Tuesday. “We’re having a discussion on regionalism.”

Denver has entered an intergovernmental agreement with two of its large neighbors to share resources, but that stops short of a commitment to supply water, added Chips Barry, director of Denver Water. “We’ll share our resources, but not our customers,” Barry said. For example, Denver and other communities generate return flows that it cannot physically reuse, but may be able to recycle through Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project, now 80 percent complete. Those flows could be captured for later reuse, with cooperation, Barry said…

“The West Slope is beginning to understand having a Front Range that is distressed for water is not helpful,” Barry said. “What we’re trying to do is settle 50 years of dispute. Denver wants certainty on the Blue River.”[…]

Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, said the marketplace may be the driver for conservation. “Water is too scarce, and what you have to do to provide infrastructure is too expensive,” Pifher said. “The costs to the consumer and the developers will come to a point where they are self-regulating.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

Over in Texas…there might be enough water, but it’s not in the right place. Parts of the state have been in drought since 1996. Dallas has grown faster than its supply of water, said Carolyn Brittin, deputy executive administrator of the Texas Water Development Board. In the past, water was a top-down activity in Texas, with permits issued for use wherever that use popped up. Groundwater is still not administered. Now, the state is trying to incorporate local decisions in its long-range water planning for storage and delivery, Brittin said. Conservation and reuse are becoming popular concepts, but Texas still doesn’t mess with land-use planning. Before it’s all done, 1.5 million acre-feet will have to come off farms unless the state can develop some of its 20 identified reservoir sites. Land regulation appears to be a last resort. “We’re going to grow . . . I find it fascinating that you would contemplate permits for subdivisions based on water availability,” Brittin said. “That’s pie in the sky for me, because I’m from Texas.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka). From the article:

…state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, encountered a surprising amount of friction over a bill in 2008 (HB1141) that simply asked local governments to take water into account before issuing permits. “Local control is something that is in the fabric of this state and that’s not going to change any time soon,” Curry told the Western States Water Council symposium on water and land use Tuesday. While the state has a role, there are also issues of private property rights and water rights that play into these decisions.

And, judging from a parade of speakers at the conference Tuesday, a wide spectrum of what can be accomplished building-by-building, lot-by-lot, throughout a community and along a watershed. Planners discussed everything from low-flow appliances to rainwater capture to stormwater runoff on a small scale. Larger-scale solutions included high-density development, filling in empty urban spaces and locating essential businesses near homes through zoning to create pedestrian-friendly communities. “The danger of imposing the solution that we can all fit our hands around is that it isn’t going to work in every situation,” said Andy Hill, a Colorado Department of Local Affairs specialist in sustainable community development…

A report by Drew Beckwith looked at communities in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah that analyzed how techniques like using recycled water from homes to irrigate, reducing water use by appliances and Xeriscape landscaping significantly reduced water use. For instance, the Civanno community near Tucson, Ariz., used 35-45 percent less water than the already-low levels in the area, while reducing peak demand, Beckwith said.

More Colorado water coverage here and here.

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