Neil Grigg: ‘Must we be so conflicted that our decisions are made by federal officials, which was the case when the Two Forks project was vetoed?’

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CSU professor, Neil Grigg, has penned a guest column about the potential solutions to Colorado’s future water supply gap for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado will need much more water to prosper in the future…

What kind of management system will be best? First-in-time, first-in-right will stay with us, but what else is needed to provide the water while protecting our great environment? Must we be so conflicted that our decisions are made by federal officials, which was the case when the Two Forks project was vetoed?[…]

When flexibility can be added to water systems, innovative schemes to change water uses to meet needs come out of the woodwork. Cities, special districts, irrigators, and private businesses are involved in these schemes. They involve public institutions but they also involve private parties and resemble the public-private partnerships (PPPs) that are popular around the world. A PPP is an arrangement where private sector interests can be offered an attractive opportunity to partner with the government to meet a public need…

All kinds of PPP are available for water issues. They range from outright purchases like privatization of facilities to small-scale cooperative projects such as a utility contracting out part of its maintenance to a private company. The PPP that is most unique to Colorado is commodity water, or water that can be bought, sold, and traded as needed. Colorado’s system of water rights makes it hard to do this, but this flexibility is what we need. More flexible management of water helps it to move to its highest-valued uses. Highest-valued means from society’s point of view, not only when someone can pay high prices for this precious resource…

What is required is a good way to trade water — both long-term water rights and short-term uses of surplus water. There is no way to avoid government regulation because environmental needs, and what some call the water commons, require water but there is no identified paying customer.

Meanwhile, here’s a column about Colorado’s future water needs from Jeff Evans writing for the Grand Junction Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado water shortages in the future are expected to occur due to increasing pressure and demands from four primary areas of use: population and municipal growth, recreation and the environment, agriculture, and the energy sector. Estimating future demands in all of these areas is difficult at best. Adding to these uncertainties are drought and climate change, and competition with downstream states.

Colorado is considered a headwater state with snow and rain generated in the mountains flowing to large areas of downstream use. The Colorado River belongs to seven states. The 1922 River Compact allocated a portion of available water to Colorado. Historically, 85% to 95% of the states’ water consumption has gone to agriculture use. With Colorado population expected to double by 2050, municipal demands alone are going to increase dramatically, shifting water use to cities and the businesses that support them.

Tourism, a vital component of our economy, also requires water for its future. And it’s not just river and snow sports at issue. The hunting and fishing industry brings in more than $10 billion annually to the state. All these sectors require plentiful surface water with clean, undisturbed lakes and watersheds. How can we protect the viability of our lakes, streams, and rivers? This will become a serious issue in the decades to come.

What will happen to our water supply due to climate uncertainty? A warming climate doesn’t necessarily mean less water, but it does mean that more water will be consumed. As temperatures rise, both plants and humans will require more water. Crops will need more water, too. For the agricultural sector on the Western Slope, decisions will have to be made about the importance of protecting this resource.

Agriculture not only produces essential foods, but provides stewardship of our wild, rural areas. It is an integral part of protecting our natural resources. Agricultural lands support the largest share of our wildlife in open spaces of well-irrigated fields and become habitat for animals and creatures of all kinds.

In the energy sector, oil and gas development each requires high water usage. The Department of Energy estimates that development of western oil shale resources will require significant amounts of water, from 1 to 3 barrels of water per barrel of oil produced. At 2.5 million barrels per day production, this results in water use of 105 to 315 million gallons of water consumption per day (42 gallons per barrel).

More water law coverage here.

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