Front Range Water Council: Water and the Colorado economy

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Click here to download a copy (pdf) of the report.

Here’s a look at the presentation at the Colorado Water Congress’ 52nd Annual Convention where the report was discussed, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A study by Summit Economics, working in conjunction with Tucker Hart Adams’ group, was commissioned by the Front Range Water Council to explain the relationship of water to the Colorado Economy. The council is made up of the state’s largest water providers, who are also importing most of the water from the Western Slope. Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Twin Lakes and the Northern and Southeastern water conservancy districts are members of the council. “The trade between regions operates like gravity,” economist Tom Binnings told the Colorado Water Congress this week, describing the report, Water and Colorado’s Economy. “The larger two regions are and the closer they are means the more likely they are to trade.”

So, in the solar system barnyard of Colorado, what results is a Jupiter-sized chicken surrounded by a bunch of smaller inner planet eggs. Well, OK . . . Binnings didn’t exactly put it that way, but chart after chart in his presentation showed how Front Range counties — the area used in the study stretched along the Front Range from the Wyoming to New Mexico — dwarf the economies of the Eastern Plains, Central Colorado, San Luis Valley and Western Slope. With 82 percent of the population and 86 percent of income, the change has been readily apparent in the past 50 years.

Perhaps the most alarming computation in the report was the economic output of a region divided by the amount of water diverted. By that yardstick, the Front Range showed a value of $132,268 per acre-foot, with Central Colorado (the Upper Arkansas Valley, Huerfano and Park counties) at $12,326, and the Western Slope at $7,200. The two areas most dependent on agriculture fell behind distantly: the Eastern Plains, $3,342, and San Luis Valley, $1,209. The study admits agriculture is more dependent on water for value, while other sectors of the economy use relatively little water for the value of their output…

Members of the Front Range Council on the Water Congress panel said the study brought home the idea of interdependence in the state. “We live in a great state with a strong economic base and a bright future,” said Bruce McCormick, water services chief for Colorado Springs Utilities. “The industrial and municipal uses have high productivity, but it’s not the intent of this study to put one use against another. Our planning has to include agriculture, the environment and the lifestyle. What we learned is that we’re more interdependent than we thought.”

“One of the reasons people come here are the things that occur in the areas outside the Front Range,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water. “So, it’s all tied together.”

More Colorado water coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: It may be time to be getting a ‘little concerned’

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From the (Ryan Budnick):

“I would think for some of the northern basins you have to be a little concerned,” said Chris Pacheco, assistant snow survey supervisor. “The likelihood of getting back to normal is pretty slight.”

The snow surveys showed the South Platte river basin at 73 percent and the state at 86 percent of average. Denver and much of the Front Range receives its water supply from the South Platte and the Upper Colorado river basins. Pacheco said the northern part of the state is hurting most particularly. The Colorado and the Yampa river basins are currently at 72 percent of its normal snowpack levels…

The Front Range could also find a reprieve with good reservoir levels. Denver Water’s storage system is at the same levels it was last year — which was considered to be a good snow year. “The reservoir storage is in good shape,” Pacheco said. “If we are running a little short reservoirs can supplement that.”

Stacy Chesney, spokeswoman for Denver Water, said the company’s public outreach efforts in promoting water conservation will be affirmed this year. “This is one of the reasons we ask customers to conserve,” she said. “It helps us in drier years. It is the right thing to do in a dry climate and this will help illustrate.”

Southern Delivery System: First phase to tally $800 million including $160 million payroll

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The water pipeline project will employ an average of 380 workers per year through 2016 with the peak hiring anticipated to come in 2014 with an estimated 700 jobs, according to Colorado Springs Utilities. “As you can imagine, once construction begins this year, a project of this scope and magnitude will have a significant impact on local economies,” said John Fredell, SDS project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

Of the total, about $550 million will go for construction of the connection to Pueblo Dam, the 50-mile pipeline, three pump stations along the route and a treatment plant east of Colorado Springs. About $400 million of that will go for the El Paso County portion of the project and $150 million will go for the Pueblo County portion. The remaining $330 million will go for property acquisition, legal, engineering and permitting costs. The first phase is scheduled to be completed by 2016. Labor costs are estimated at $160 million. “We are committed to hiring as much local labor as possible,” Fredell said. “We expect average employment of 380 workers between 2010 and 2016 with a peak employment of 700 workers anticipated for 2014.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

The Water Infrastructure Network sounds a funding alarm

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From The Denver Post (David Olinger):

WIN-Colorado, an acronym for Water Infrastructure Network, says the unfunded tab for projects statewide has grown $1 billion over two years to $4.3 billion, despite an infusion of infrastructure money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year. Perry Fowler, a program director at the Associated General Contractors of America, said ARRA brought more federal money for infrastructure work than communities had seen in years but that it still covered a small fraction of their needs. “The situation is not unique to Colorado,” he said. “Everywhere in the country, people are struggling with the problem of paying for water.”[…]

In southern Colorado, Monte Vista faces a different dilemma. The city is relatively poor, its population is shrinking, and it may be unable to finance “projects we desperately need,” said city manager Don Van Wormer.
Monte Vista estimates it will need $48 million, or nearly $10,000 per resident, for future water, sewer and storm projects. It plans to replace water lines throughout the city and repair sewer lines. It wants to connect its two wastewater-treatment plants. And it faces a state order to chlorinate its drinking water, a project of unknown cost.

More infrastructure coverage here.

HB 10-1159: Mitigation for water exports

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Geography trumped party when the House Agriculture Committee voted 9-4 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1159 by Pace, D-Pueblo. Pace got support from most Democrats, plus Western Slope Republicans Scott Tipton of Cortez and Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs. Meanwhile, Eastern Plains Republicans and a Denver-area Democrat joined against it. Pace’s “little water bill” would place new requirements on anyone – namely Denver, its suburbs and other Front Range cities – who wants to import water from out of the basin. The bill would require importers to work with water conservancy districts in the basin of origin to figure out a way to compensate for the loss of water.

On the Western Slope, a conservancy district could require the Front Range cities to pay for a new reservoir in the originating basin. On the Eastern Plains, where cities have been buying up farm water rights for years, mitigation could mean payments to school districts for lost tax revenue from the dried-up farms, Pace said. But the bill would not block water transfers. “If I were running the perfect bill, we’d be stopping the transfer of water. This bill does not stop the transfer of water,” Pace said…

“Your ideal bill would be the bill from hell for the Lower South Platte,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling…

Pace’s bill would send the cities to local water districts to strike a deal, but if an agreement couldn’t be reached, a water court still could impose a solution. But that process could get in the way of longstanding Colorado water law, said Sara Duncan of Denver Water. “This is a very difficult bill to make consistent with the prior appropriation doctrine,” Duncan said.

Meanwhile, The Aspen Daily News’ Brent Gardner Smith caught up with Representative Kathleen Curry to talk about her switch from the Democratic party to unaffiliated late last year. From the article:

So now when the 27 Republicans and 37 Democrats in the House huddle behind closed doors, Curry is left behind, like a nerdy student alone in study hall while all the cool kids are at football practice. But the former Democrat and rancher from Gunnison County doesn’t sound like she minds all that much. “I just feel that voting as a bloc is not how I want to do the job,” she said. “I’m really happy with my decision. And I’m just kind of running my life the way I always have, which is hectic.”[…]

Curry’s legislative effectiveness will be put to the test on Monday when the Judiciary Committee hears her proposed “Commercial Rafting Viability Act,” [HB 10-1188] which seeks to clarify existing Colorado law on whether commercial raft companies can float down a river that happens to run through private land. “There are a lot of people who feel there are two sets of rights,” Curry said. “But I feel we ought to find a way to make it work for both. And I think the committee will give it a fair hearing.”[…]

“I will be voting the way I think is best for my district,” Curry said this week. “If it happens to be Republican, then so be it. I think these bills should be looked at their own merit and not based on how the party votes on them.”

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.