From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
As more people move to Colorado, the state is trying to make sure there will be enough water for them once they get here. Recognizing Colorado’s population will only continue to grow in future years, the state is developing a water plan encompassing all nine river basins including the Rio Grande Basin in the San Luis Valley. Last year the governor issued an executive order requiring the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to complete a statewide water plan by December 2015.
About halfway through a statewide tour of the river basins, the state legislative committee heading up the water basin plan effort held a public meeting in Alamosa last week to see what local residents thought of the plan so far. There will be further public meetings in the future and the public may submit comments electronically at the web site: http://www.colorado.gov/lcs/WRRC
State Representative Randy Fischer, who is chairman of the legislative water resources review committee, encouraged comments to be made by October 1. He said the legislature does not have a role in formally adopting the water plan. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will adopt the plan in draft form by December of this year followed by the final water plan next year after additional public meetings.
CWCB Member Travis Smith said the drought of 2002 prompted the state legislature to really look at water supplies and future water needs.
“We have a water shortage issue and we have more people coming to Colorado,” he said. “We would like to preserve agriculture and Colorado’s values.”
One consensus developing from the basins around the state is that each basin wants to keep the water it has, and each basin has future needs of its own on top of the statewide needs to serve a growing populace.
“Export is a big deal here,” Water Educator Judy Lopez told the legislators as a mes- sage from the group for which she served as spokesperson . “We will rise and fight it.”
The Rio Grande Basin water plan is being developed under the jurisdiction of the Rio Grande Roundtable, which hired DiNatale Water Consultants to develop the basin plan. Members of the roundtable and other local residents have spent numerous hours compiling a draft plan that sets out specific goals for the basin and how they could be accomplished in the future.
Of the 14 specific goals of the plan, highlights include: protecting and restoring sustainability , watershed health and water quality; abiding by existing water rules such as the doctrine of prior appropriation , state water regulations and the interstate compacts; creating infrastructure such as storage for long-term water needs; sustaining the basin’s agricultural economy; developing projects with multiple benefits ; preserving wildlife habitats and wetlands; providing water-related recreational activities; and continuing to educate the public about water.
The proposed plan also provides a template for those wishing to submit water projects for funding in the future. The template sets up a matrix of basin plan goals so the applicant can see how the potential project meets and measures up to those goals.
During last week’s public meeting regarding the plan, participants shared their ideas of how they believed the plan could be improved and what they believed was important to consider in future water planning.
Rancher and Colorado Parks/Wildlife Commissioner Dale Pizel urged the group to use the plan once it is formulated and not leave it on a shelf. He said he hoped this would be a plan that would be dog-eared with use and marked up for future changes to make it better.
“I want the plan to be used, and I want it to change, and I want it to go on because it is necessary if we are going to deal with problems of Colorado population and loss of agriculture,” he said.
Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson urged the legislative committee to be involved after the state plan is completed.
“Let this process continue. Present it to the governor. Then the legislature should step in. For the statewide plan to work we will need to be considering changing some of the constraints that are out there today that would prohibit it from being implemented ” like regulations about new infrastructure.”
Comments coming out of the group discussion process included:
• Be sure the plan recognizes and upholds the doctrine of prior appropriation.
• The plan calls for sustaining the confined and unconfined aquifers, but it should also call for restoring the aquifers.
• Using water for multiple benefits and diversified ways is critical and requires cooperation among water users and agencies.
• The plan should not only address future human needs but also the needs of wildlife and riparian habitat.
• Consider recreational and environmental water uses/ needs.
• Soil health is also connected to watershed health and should be considered.
• Perhaps the basin plans should address trans-mountain diversions, some of which are occurring already. However , there is concern about new diversions from this basin to the Front Range or elsewhere, and attempts to do so would meet with resistance. Perhaps the state should keep the status quo regarding current trans-mountain diversions.
• The Valley has many outdated water infrastructures requiring repair or replacement , and the basin water users hope the state plan and the Colorado Water Conservation Board will continue to financially support those needs.
• New and repaired reservoirs are crucial to meeting future water needs, and the state should be more flexible with its regulations to allow such facilities to be improved, expanded, replaced or newly constructed.
• There must be more storage in this basin. A reservoir at the state line would be beneficial , for example.
• It is important to find ways of making existing storage facilities more effective both in this basin and statewide.
• Give the water planning process sufficient time to develop sound, well-reasoned workable plans.
• Streamline the permitting process for water projects going before the state for funding.
• Accurate forecasts are crucial to this basin and the irrigators who are under constant call to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations, so it is vital to maintain technology and resources such as SNOTEL sites to provide as accurate forecasts as possible. Use technology to better measure water uses as well.
• If this basin uses its water more effectively and carefully it could help meet water needs in other parts of the state where the population is expected to increase in future years. However, if water is transferred from this basin to supply urban development, the water should be used effectively and not excessively in those developments.
• Consider the economic impact locally and statewide of increasingly more agricultural acreage being fallowed and take into account that some of that fallowing in this basin is an intentional means to restore the aquifer per state mandates.
• It is important to find ways to decrease water usage and conserve water, not just locally but throughout the state, so the existing supplies can be better utilized.
• Land use planning should be integrated into the water plan.
• Address climate change in the water plan.
• Maybe the state should look to outside water sources, such as the Mississippi River, for new water to meet increasing population demands.
• Consider the relationship of solar energy development to water, or the lack of it.
• Consider oil/gas development in the state water plan.
• It is important for this basin and its agricultural economy to prevent a “buy and dry” acquisition of farmland.
• The state water plan should acknowledge the unique characteristics of each basin and that each basin is different.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.