Metro Roundtable Summit: Conservation, economic development, new supplies, transmountain water and bait fish

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The Colorado Water Conservation Board, “is the technical backbone to facilitate the work of the IBCC [Interbasin Compact Committee] and basin roundtables,” said Jennifer Gimbel, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, during her remarks preceding the panel discussion.

After the 2002 drought it, “was clear that we did not have enough information.” The state legislature acted and the IBCC and roundtables were established by HB 1177, The Water for the 21st Century Act, she said.

She listed the top five recurring questions about Colorado’s future water supplies.

Can’t we just control our population? Gimbel answered, “It’s not a question of if we grow its how we grow.” Most of the projected increase in Colorado’s population will be internal growth not people moving here, she said. “Land use planning and water planning need to get together.”

Can’t we just use less water? Most systems have seen, “lower per capita consumption. We just don’t know what is causing it.”

“Conservation is very important,” in meeting future needs, she said.

Do nonconsumptive needs really deserve equal treatment with consumptive needs? “We have an economy established around nonconsumptive uses,” she said. “How do we ensure that these needs are met and that the needs of people are also met,” she asked.

Does it really matter if Colorado agriculture dries up “Ag is important [because] we need to feed the people that are coming,” she answered.

Do we really need a portfolio of solutions? “There is no silver bullet,” according to Gimbel. Colorado needs conservation, build out of projects already on the drawing board, alternative methods for moving ag water to cities and new supplies. “Do we care where we are going, I think the answer is yes,” she said.

Gimbel then introduced the first panel member, John Sanderson, Water Program Director and Senior Freshwater Ecologist from The Nature Conservancy.

“Rivers and streams are part of the landscape of Colorado and the reason many of us are here,” he said. He mentioned two companies in the Fort Collins area that told him that the, “Poudre River is an important part of how we get employees to come to work for us.”

“We are in a new phase in Colorado where we are not so much deciding how to develop water but we’re deciding on priorities,” he said. “It’s very clear that we have to let go of some of the old ways…we have to be more collaborative.”

Another panel member, Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District used his time to talk in part about the importance of irrigated agriculture in Colorado. He said he is, “as optimistic about agriculture as any time in the past.” He mentioned the, “ever increasing pressure on ag to meet the future needs of municipal and industrial needs,” and stated, “but I think we have to step back and question whether this is the right place to look for water supplies.”

Colorado agriculture represents a $17 billion wedge in the state’s economic pie, according to Frank. He reminded everyone that much of the dry up of land is still to come as water acquired by cities from farm purchases has yet to be moved off the land.

Return flows help make the lower South Platte River in Colorado a perennial stream, Frank said, while detailing the benefits of irrigated agriculture.

“A live stream is not necessarily a good thing,” countered Sanderson later in the discussion. “The fish that are living in the perennial stream are from Virginia and are eating our bait fish [native species],” he said. He added, “I don’t have any illusions that we will have pristine streams.”

“I believe it all boils down to conservation,” Frank said, “doing more with less water, individually,” and, “capturing and storing water to use in times of need.”

Rod Kuharich, executive director of the South Metro Water Authority board of directors, is part of a group advocating direct state involvement in future water projects. The, “state [needs] to step up and support new water projects,” he said.

He is also a proponent of the new major transmountain diversion. He names the Aspinall Unit in the Gunnison River basin and two Green River main stem reservoirs, Flaming Gorge and Fontenelle as sources for undeveloped water available for the Front Range. During the 2002 drought both Flaming Gorge and Fontenelle filled and spilled, he said.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.