Colorado Water Plan: ‘Why a water plan?’ — Kathy Chandler-Henry

Cheesman Dam via Denver Water
Cheesman Dam via Denver Water

From The Denver Post (Kathy Chandler-Henry):

We’re hearing a lot about the Colorado Water Plan these days. What does it mean for our state, and especially for our headwaters counties? Because approximately 80 percent of the state’s water comes from the Western Slope, and about that same percentage of the population lives east of the Continental Divide, we have a vested interest in the plan’s process and outcomes.

Why a water plan? Based on predictions for population doubling by 2030 and growing demands for water throughout the arid West, Gov. John Hickenlooper assumes there is a coming gap between the demand for water and available supply, and has directed his staff to develop a plan for the future.

Five factors that must inform the Colorado Water Plan are: advances in “smart” land use planning and development; unrealistic estimates of water availability (and there really isn’t any “new” water); the interdependence of water in the stream and our lives and livelihoods in the headwaters and Western Slope; the importance of conservation and re-use of water to meeting demand; and the imperative of working together rather than independently throughout our river basins to develop a workable plan.

We’ve learned a lot from the recent decades of growth: Local governments know the cost of sprawl and are increasingly instituting advanced land use planning that reflects our dry climate and water-short conditions. Colorado’s Water Plan should take into account these advances when estimating future demand for water. We don’t have to assume that new development and population distributions will or should mimic the patterns of the past 30 years.

Past estimates of the water available for future growth may be overstated, especially water from the Colorado River Basin. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation announced this year that it will reduce the amount of water released from Lake Powell in 2014 to the lowest annual release since filling Lake Powell in 1968. Estimates of available water must be revisited in the water plan.

The Colorado Water Plan must not require some areas of the state to sacrifice their economy, environment, and quality of life to become the water supply for other parts of the state. Impacts of transmountain water diversion projects can be devastating. In Eagle County, we are hyper-vigilant in protecting our water quality and quantity, agriculture, open space, and water/snow-dependent recreation. We also understand that the Front Range needs water for future growth, and have initiated historic agreements with major Front Range water providers.

The Colorado Water Plan should encourage Front Range local governments to narrow the gap between predicted supply and demand through smart growth practices, conservation, and reuse before looking to other areas for additional supply.

Finally, the current planning process charges water leaders in each river basin with independently defining their basin’s future need for water through a roundtable process. As each roundtable works alone, we run the risk of Front Range roundtables planning on water supply that either doesn’t exist, or that other roundtables have planned for their own local needs.

Perhaps most important, the people of Colorado have a seat at the table if their local elected officials are brought into the water plan process. It is critical that local government land use plans and authority throughout the state be respected. Sessions of the Interbasin Compact Committee should allow for public comment and discussion, and roundtables should encourage dialogue among diverse perspectives. We need an opportunity to understand each other’s views and seek common ground. Only then will Colorado be able to join together in a water plan that addresses our water supply needs.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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