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Water: Does the Colorado River compact need tweaking?

Summit County Citizens Voice

‘Demand-cap’ concept could avert a compact call

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry. The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Water managers in the Southwest are considering all sorts of options to address what is expected to become a huge shortage of water in the Colorado River Basin. But one path they haven’t explored in detail is a fundamental re-allocation of water between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

That reluctance is understandable. Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact has functioned to the satisfaction of all the states using Colorado River Water. But persistently lower-than-average flows, the looming threat of an overall shortage and the uncertainties of climate change may require a new way of thinking, said Doug Kenney, head of the Colorado River Governance Initiative.

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#ColoradoRiver District seminar recap

From KREXTV.com (Brian Germ):

The Colorado River District held its annual seminar on Friday [September 18] at Two Rivers Convention Center to discuss water issues concerning the Colorado River Basin.

Each year, there is a certain topic of discussion at the seminar involving development plans or water-allocation. This year, District leaders and speakers focused on agriculture efficiency and conservation when it comes to water. Some of the challenges that are facing agriculture water users include climate change and drought.

The Colorado River District encourages the public and representatives to voice their opinions and get involved with them. They say it’s important to talk about the water in the Colorado River Basin and its use, priorities, and development.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Amy Hadden Marsh):

What would the Colorado River and Roaring Fork valleys look like without the ranches and farms? That question has been haunting me ever since I attended the Colorado River District’s water seminar in Grand Junction last week. Close to 300 people listened to speakers Brad Udall, of the Colorado Water Institute, Jeff Lukas, lead author of a report about how climate change could effect water management in the state, CSU’s Perry Cabot, Aaron Citron of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Mark Harris of the Grand Valley Water Users Association and author Kevin Fedarko.

Agriculture is a large part of life on the West Slope. But, it’s not just about bucolic landscapes; it’s also about what goes on behind the scenery – the rural lifestyle and economy that depend on agriculture to survive as well as a healthy, natural environment that supports animals, plants, and humans.

So, what could make West Slope farms and ranches disappear? No water. Or, at least, not enough water, which is what experts from all sectors agree could very well be Colorado’s future.

Here’s the numbers part. The Colorado River serves about 40 million people right now. But, that won’t always be the case. Two years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation issued the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, which predicted a population increase anywhere from 9.3 million to 36.5 million people within the Colorado River Basin. That means the amount of people living in the seven basin states could almost double within the next four decades. As a result, says the study, we could be short 3.2 million acre-feet of water…

…does that mean farmers and ranchers have to give up their livelihoods and thereby cause a domino effect around the rural West in order to satisfy Front Range urban needs?[…]

Basically, the answer was “no” but, according to most of the speakers, that doesn’t mean ag folks and Front Range municipal water users should stand on their respective ends of the tug ‘o war rope, arms akimbo, refusing to budge. “Efficiency” and “conservation” were the buzzwords of the day, meaning everyone basically needs to use less water. That’s sort of a no-brainer but the real conundrum is getting everyone to agree on what that looks like.

EDF’s Aaron Citron writes a sort of ag blog for the organization’s website and he said he thought people would laugh at the idea. When I asked him why, he said that in the West, environmentalists are seen as anti-agriculture or anti-growth. But, he added, that is changing. And, it’s all because of water.

“As we talk about the future of water in the West,” he said, “there really is an important alignment between agriculture who want to keep water in place and tend to be some of the best stewards of the land and environmentalists and conservationists who also want to see the protection of open space and who want to keep water in place.”

In other words, environmentalists and ranchers can be friends. And, in terms of the West’s water future, they have to be…

Solutions at this point are experimental and include new irrigation techniques and incentives to use them, and efficiency technology like smart ditches and soil monitoring. But, what it comes down to is education, open-mindedness (particularly about climate change), agreement, and respect.

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.