From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):
As the Colorado population grows — from people moving here or new families starting — water must be found to meet that hugely increasing demand, said Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs.
He was speaking during the annual meeting of the Morgan Conservation District at the Country Steak Out in Fort Morgan on Thursday evening. After speaking on the history of Colorado water-law, he addressed the challenges facing water use in the state.
Between the year 2000 and today, Colorado’s population grew by about 500,000, and is expected to grow another 5 million by 2050, Yahn said.
More specifically for Morgan County, demographers project that the population will increase by 73 percent along the South Platte River Basin, he said.
Water leaders are trying to find ways to meet the water needs of the state, but also trying to avoid just selling off agricultural water rights to meet the needs of Colorado’s cities, Yahn noted.
If agricultural water rights were just bought up and transferred to city use, as has been the historical trend, from 22 to 32 percent of agricultural water along the South Platte River would be taken for use by cities by 2050, he warned.
That would mean the loss of production on 180,000 to 270,000 acres, Yahn said.
It is the state population that uses the water, not agriculture, because the water that goes into agricultural products eventually goes back to people in the form of food, he said. Water that does not go into the food largely soaks back into the underground aquifers after use for crops.
That means the state needs to develop new water strategies, and that is underway as various groups work on a state water plan, Yahn said.
Those working on the plan hope to address the expected water shortages in ways that will not dry up farm land and still preserves the state’s rivers.
The basin implementation plans which will be part of the overall plan are due back to Gov. John Hickenlooper this coming summer, and the draft of a state water plan is expected by the end of the year, Yahn said.
The trick is creating a plan that will be of actual use, not just another glossy report on the shelf, he said.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.