Republican gubernatorial candidates all making water storage a top priority — The Greeley Tribune

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative
Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A top priority for all four Republican gubernatorial candidates struck a chord with the audience at a forum this week. All of the candidates talked early and often about developing more water-storage infrastructure for Colorado, doing so during a gubernatorial candidate question-and-answer forum Tuesday at the Protein Producer Summit, where livestock and water experts had already spent much of the day discussing water shortages for agriculture and the need for more water storage.

“It seems to be something no one else has the courage to talk about,” said Republican candidate Bob Beauprez, a bison rancher and former U.S. Congressman, noting that, to his knowledge, Gov. John Hickenlooper has spoken only of expanding current water storage by about 10 percent.

Referring to 10 percent increases in storage and Colorado’s population having doubled since the 1970s, and being expected to double again before 2050, Beauprez said, “We can’t keep going there, unless you want to keep drying up agriculture.”

Beauprez also spoke about making better use of Colorado’s aquifers for underground water storage, while fellow Republican candidate Scott Gessler — Colorado’s current Secretary of State — also stressed the need for a two-pronged approach that also includes water conservation measures.

All four Republican candidates made different points during the forum on other topics — for example, Gessler said he wants changes to Colorado’s constitution to require approval on a ballot in two consecutive elections before being approved, while former Colorado Senate minority leader Mike Kopp said, if elected, he’ll initiate a two-year study of regulations in Colorado, and will work to reduce regulatory costs by 25 percent for businesses.

But when it came to water storage, all four Republicans stood in unison. This week’s three-day Protein Producer Summit was hosted by various Colorado livestock groups.

Hickenlooper, currently leading a delegation in Mexico, joined the gubernatorial candidate forum Tuesday via video.

In his answer to the water-shortfall question, he didn’t refer specifically to water storage.

He listed conservation as the leading way to start addressing water shortages in Colorado, and otherwise talked about the Colorado Water Plan, which he initiated last year in hopes of letting local water officials and various users from across the state develop a statewide, long-term plan.

In Colorado, those looking to build reservoir storage have run into pushback, largely from environmental groups, and have battled long federal permitting processes.

For example, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, if approved, would build two new reservoirs — one near Fort Collins and another near Ault — and would provide 40,000 acre feet water per year to 15 municipalities and water districts in northern Colorado. But the endeavor — expected to cost about $500 million, if built — has been in the federal permitting stages for several years, and it’s still unclear how soon it will come, if it does.

The project hasn’t been supported, or denounced, by Hickenlooper, but all four gubernatorial candidates — Beauprez, Gessler, Kopp and former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo — stressed that such projects would have their support, if elected, and are much needed.

Colorado’s municipal and industrial water supply gap by 2050 could be as much as 630,000 acre-feet annually and, by that same year, the state could see as many as 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up, with cities continuing to buy more water from ag users, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative report, released in 2010.

That same report estimates the South Platte River basin alone, which covers Weld County and much of northeast Colorado, could face a municipal and industrial water supply gap of as much as 190,000 acre feet by 2050, and see as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmground dry up.

The stakes are particularly high for the agriculture industry, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s water.

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