The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.
During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.
In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.
The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.
More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.
Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.
A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.
“…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”
Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.
Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.
So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…
A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.
And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…
Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.