Colorado River Basin: Yesterday’s US Senate hearing recap #ColoradoRiver

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The hearing was chaired Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, who knows first-hand what is at stake, from the headwaters in the mighty Rockies down to the Gulf of California. Business as usual just won’t cut it, Udall said, advocating for a short-term focus on conservation, innovation and better management of supply. A video of the hearing, as well as the written testimony of the witnesses, is online here.
“These strategies … will help us prepare for the future and reduce the River Basin’s vulnerabilities,” Udall said in a statement released after the hearing. “In the near-term, we need to focus — and I think we must — on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling. In short, we need to make every drop count.”
Udall’s leadership on the issue was music to the ears of conservation advocates, who for years have been urging for smarter water use to help protect the river’s natural resource values…

In late 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study showed that demand in recent years has already outpaced river flows. The future looks even more challenging, with an 8-9 percent reduction in flows forecast by 2060, due to climate change, persistent drought and other factors.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, supply water used to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land and are also the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes, seven National Wildlife Refuges, four National Recreation Areas and 11 National Parks.

From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

“Water is literally what makes the West as we know it possible, from our ski resorts in places like Vail and Powderhorn, to cities like Gunnison and Grand Junction to farmers in Utah, California and Arizona,” Udall said during the hearing…

Water experts say it isn’t too late to reverse the trends. The supply and demand study includes costs and benefits of a range of proposals to ensure the region has enough water to support its economy, environment and quality of life. Senator Udall said reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply, will help reduce the basin’s vulnerabilities. He also expressed the need to focus on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling…

Colorado residents will play a large part in shaping the overall health of the basin as the state commences work on the Colorado Water Plan, [Bart Miller] said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will submit a draft of the plan for the governor’s review in 2014, and will work with the governor’s office to complete the plan in 2015. “There are a lot of interested parties that are going to be engaged in making the plan the best it can be, and reflect the modern values of people in Colorado,” Miller said.

From the Cronkite News (Emilie Eaton):

Kathleen Ferris pointed to Arizona’s years of successful water management policies that have kept water use at virtually the same level since 1957, despite an exploding population. But while conservation and reuse are essential, Ferris said other measures need to be taken, such as the augmentation of supplies…

She was one of several government, tribal and expert witnesses who appeared before the Subcommittee on Water and Power to discuss the Bureau of Reclamation’s December study on water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin…

Taylor Hawes, the director of the Colorado River Program at the Nature Conservancy, told the hearing that states in the basin are heading into uncharted territory. “The future will not look like the past,” she said.

Besides the environmental issues at stake, Hawes said the Colorado also needs to be preserved because of the recreation it provides and the jobs that come with that. Hawes said the Colorado River contributes $26 billion to the economy and supports about 234,000 jobs in the six basin states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

She also said famers need to be consulted about prospective solutions. Hawes said that the Colorado River Program works with farmers to ensure that any measures taken to protect the Colorado River do not infringe on property rights…

Witnesses said one part of the solution is conservation – an area that Arizona has been particularly successful at, Ferris said. A large part of the state’s success is due to the Groundwater Management Act, which regulates the use and conservation of groundwater in Arizona’s most heavily populated areas. “Since 1980, Arizona has pursued a comprehensive approach to water management,” Ferris said. “We implemented many programs to reduce consumption and increase efficiency.”

In addition to the conservation of water, Arizona has treated and reused water and required new residential subdivisions to prove they have a 100-year assured water supply.

From The Durango Herald (Paige Jones):

A two-year study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found the river and its tributaries will not be able to provide enough water for its nearby communities in 50 years. The water supply will continue to diminish because of climate change and growing population, the report said. “There’s strong evidence of the increasing temperatures, and these are projected to occur over the next 20 years,” said Mike Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation…

The study also offered possible solutions to address the basin’s future, including water conservation, reuse and augmentation efforts. However, there was some disagreement about these options concerning the suggestion of large-scale augmentation programs, Connor said…

The study cost approximately $7 million, which was shared among the Bureau of Reclamation and other regional agencies, Connor said. “Availability of funding to do studies such as this was extremely helpful,” said Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The Department of Interior allotted $8.2 million to the WaterSMART program, which in part funded the Colorado River Basin study, in May to begin resolving this issue. However, a House bill proposed cutting WaterSMART funding by 53 percent for the next fiscal year, Connor said…

The Colorado River and its tributaries supply water to about 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, the report said. “We use that water to produce food with,” said [Reagan Waskom] of the Colorado Water Institute.

Here’s Reagan Waskom’s written testimony.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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