Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Climate and Water Policy — When is the right time to Adjust Course?

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Brad Udall moderated this session. The panel was made up of water managers from both Colorado and Australia.

Mark Waage from Denver Water started things off by stating that, instead of climate change, “I like to call it the unknown climate..It’s going to warm — the question is how high and how much.”

The dilemma comes from the, “overwhelming range of possible outcomes,” we’re, “waiting for actionable science,” he said.

Denver Water has chosen to use scenario planning in their approach. They put the drivers of change into a plan and build multiple possible outcomes for the future and, “try to find the ‘no regrets’ plan.”

He mentioned regional cooperation between Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority where the WISE project is designed to leverage Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project to maximize the use of the three suppliers’ reusable water available in the South Platte basin.

He joked that in solving the problem, “We have to get rid of plants to make way for people.”

Mark Pascoe (CEO, National Water Centre, Queensland) said that South Queensland has spent more than $6 billion since the onset of the mega-drought. They are now looking at recycled water, groundwater and stormwater as future supply sources. Their research shows that in most years at least as much rain falls on the cities as they use. The current thinking is to store that stormwater in aquifers for later recovery.

Mark Pifher from Aurora Water noted that higher temperatures are being recorded around the globe and asked, “What does that mean for our regulatory regime?”

“If regulatory constraints are flexible we may not need changes in the statutes,” however, if the rules are subject to strict interpretation then, “we may be in trouble,” he said. He sees conflicts brewing around expansion of reuse programs, additional use of enhanced treatment technologies like Reverse Osmosis with its attendant problem of brine disposal and current wastewater treatment plant capacity limits.

Scott Ashby (Chief Executive, South Australia Department for Water) said that water suppliers up until recent history tended to, “manage on averages.” The drought in Australia has shown that climate change is occurring and that has spawned a change in the game plan as policy makers now manage the entire (Murray-Darling) basin as a whole.

Recent work on the Murray-Darling agreement recognizes that, “extremes are not extremes but the new norm,” he said. He cautioned that, “adherence to regulations can lead to a do nothing option so you have to have a far more flexible system,” to deal with the extremes.

Education is at the heart of South Australia’s water policy as well. They’ve created a strong education program in the schools — getting the young students on board so that when they reach teenage they are supporters of the policy. With education they try to, “keep inventing news things,” such as feedback on water bills about usage compared to the goals set by the authority.

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