Roundtable Summit: No consensus yet on securing a new water supply for the looming gap #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The most productive use of water may be drinking pitchers of it while having discussions about the state’s future. That could be the lesson of last week’s state roundtable summit, which brought together about 300 people ranging from state bureaucrats to water lawyers; farmers to water utility managers; county commissioners to fish lovers.

Oh yes, and a current and former governor of the state. Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Bill Owens spoke briefly at the all-day meeting.

As they have for the past 10 years, they talked about the “gap,” but did little to increase the state’s supply. Back in 2004, that gap was solely the municipal gap that would occur as the state’s population doubles over 50 years. As time went on, the gap has grown to include water for agricultural, environmental and recreational purposes as well.

“What sometimes gets lost in the discussion is that the gap is today,” said Alan Hamel, a Colorado Water Conservation Board member from Pueblo. “So we have to have interim solutions to address that gap.”

The roundtables — nine of them formed in 2005 — have been all about interim solutions. They have directed millions of dollars toward projects and studies aimed at patching up water shortfalls.

The Interbasin Compact Committee formed at the same time to look at the harder question: Where do we find the water to serve 5 million new Coloradans?

This year, Hickenlooper has given the group a new focus, asking the IBCC and roundtables to contribute grass-roots thinking to a state water plan now being developed by the CWCB.

During a panel discussion, IBCC members shared conclusions from a decade of meetings that has led to a broad-brush attempt to plan for various scenarios.

Summarizing reports from each committee:

Conservation:

Cities need to make full use of water imported to the Front Range from the Western Slope. The trade-off will be the reduction of return flows, said Peter Nichols, a water attorney.

Environment and Recreation:

Doing the minimum to protect the environment won’t be enough, and the state should look for ways to improve it as well, said Melinda Kassen of Trout Unlimited.

Identified projects:

As much as 200,000 acre-feet of new water — 150,000 for the Front Range and 50,000 for the Western Slope — could be attained by projects already in the works, said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Conservation District.

Storage:

Construction of new storage and better timing of releases from existing storage will improve water supply, said Bruce Whitehead, a former state senator.

Alternative transfers:

New methods of agricultural transfers need to be tested to avoid dry-up of farmland. Without new methods, 20-40 percent of irrigated acres could disappear by 2050, said Eric Wilkinson, executive director of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Compact issues:

Colorado has to be comfortable with the level of risk on the Colorado River in order to develop its full potential, said John Mc-Clow a CWCB member from Gunnison.

New supply:

“New supply has been the elephant wandering around in the room. We’ve been talking over it, around it and under it,” Wilkinson said.

“Sometimes the elephant isn’t all that polite,” McClow replied. “We often feel like we’re under it.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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