REPORT: Colorado Water Supply Can Exceed Demand Without Building Large Infrastructure Projects

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Western Resource Advocates was the lead group on the new report Meeting Future Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin. Here’s the announcement from the WRA website:

Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin is the second report in a series from Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, and the Colorado Environmental Coalition. In this report, we outline a realistic and balanced water supply portfolio to meet the urban water needs in the Arkansas Basin while protecting Colorado’s waterways, economy, and quality of life. Employing widely accepted data, we explore four water supply strategies: acceptable planned projects, water conservation, reuse, and voluntary water sharing with the agriculture sector. Importantly, our portfolio more than meets future demands of the urban counties of the Arkansas Basin without the need for large, costly, and environmentally damaging transbasin diversions that have been a hallmark of traditional water supply planning.

Our balanced portfolio of water supply strategies more than fills the projected needs of Arkansas Basin communities…

To further explore our proposed water management portfolio, download the full report [or] executive summary.

The strategy relies on conservation, including reuse and cooperation between urban and rural water providers. During the TelePress call today it sounded to me like the groups would support more storage in the Arkansas Valley as long as it isn’t for another transmountain diversion from the west slope. They also indicated a “bank account” for conserved water, but did not know where the water would be stored. Colorado water law so far does not recognize “conserved consumptive use” so any bank would require a trip to water court — just the same as the rotational fallowing plans for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. Most ditch companies will tell you that they get killed in a change of use case in water court.

Also, in the South Platte basin at least, much of the water acquired over the years by municipalities is still in agriculture. I wonder if the report considered these changed rights that have not been implemented yet?

Update: Here’s a correction sent in by Jason Bane (Western Resource Advocates):

There was a misunderstanding it appears between what Jorge Figueroa was trying to say and how it may have come across to you. He was trying to use an analogy of a savings account in regards to the catch-all category of system reliability. Utilities generally do not sell off all of the water saved from conservation; rather, they allocated a specific percentage to the catch-all category. The analogy was intended to apply only in the context of system reliability (and definitely wasn’t meant to imply a monetary type of banking gain).

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The report “Meeting Future Needs in the Arkansas River Basin” was released Tuesday by Western Resource Advocates, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Trout Unlimited. It follows a similar report last year on the South Platte River basin.

Both reports counter a statewide effort by the Interbasin Compact Committee that also includes one or more projects to bring Colorado River water to the Front Range. The environmental groups timed the report to coincide with today’s meeting of the IBCC and a statewide water roundtable summit Thursday in Broomfield.

There may be a question whether water providers accept the figures used in the reports. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is still reviewing the final report for accuracy, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

The environmental groups said the timing was opportune since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week rejected Aaron Million’s application for a Wyoming-Colorado pipeline. The groups oppose multibillion water projects that run the risk of depleting Colorado River flows.

The report does not address two major threats to Arkansas River basin water supplies — future water raids by South Platte users, such as Aurora’s purchases on the Rocky Ford Ditch and Colorado Canal in the 1980s and ’90s, and water needed for energy development, such as shale oil fracking.
On the other hand, it does not include additional supplies the Pueblo Board of Water Works gained from its purchase of Bessemer Ditch shares, Figueroa said. It also excluded any storage benefit from reservoir enlargement under the Preferred Storage Options Plan, which has been stalled for several years.

Becky Long, of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said the environmental groups support rotational fallowing programs, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, as a way of keeping farms in production and while filling temporary needs of cities. “Ag transfers are the smallest piece of the pie,” she said. “There are increasing pressures on farmers and ranchers. We certainly do think there are additional ways to keep farmers on the land.”

More coverage from Kirk Siegler writing for KUNC. From the article:

The report recommends a mix of conservation and water reuse programs and small water development projects, namely a proposal around the Eagle River. Author Jorge Figueroa says if policy managers adopted these strategies, they could actually exceed projected water supply demands by 2050. “A huge amount of water can be kept in the system and resold at a much cheaper price than new, expensive and environmentally damaging infrastructure projects,” Figueroa said.

More conservation coverage here.

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