From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Water conservationists are calling on Colorado leaders to set a clear target in the state’s first water plan: reduce use by 1 percent a year through 2050. But state officials crafting the plan to address a 163 billion gallon projected shortfall are reluctant to commit — even though Gov. John Hickenlooper has called conservation a priority.
An aggressive water-saving goal, if it spurred action, could put Colorado on course to closing its growing gap between water supply and demand, which looms as a barrier to future economic and population growth. Conservation as a strategy also would ease degradation of Colorado’s Western Slope, where water in mountain streams increasingly is siphoned to sustain Front Range cities.
“We definitely can save more water,” Conservation Colorado director Pete Maysmith said. “The state needs to put into the plan a high conservation goal if we’re going to fill that gap. It’s not like everybody has to get to a certain number. It’s just that, overall, we’ve got to be cutting 1 percent a year.”
Other states have set targets: Utah committed to cutting water use by 25 percent before 2025. Texas aims for the same. California plans to cut use by 20 percent by 2020. Oklahoma plans to cap water use at today’s level through 2060.
Colorado not only has yet to set a target but also remains the last of the arid Western states to complete an official water plan.
However, Hickenlooper consistently has cast water conservation as essential. State planners’ efforts over the past year have embraced water-saving in principle — increased efficiency from low-flow toilets to smarter irrigation — to avoid massive projects that divert more mountain snowmelt out of rivers for people and industry.
“Conservation is definitely part of the package. But it is not the silver bullet,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who is coordinating state planning.
A nearly completed draft of the Colorado Water Plan, to be unveiled next week, does not set a specific goal because “that doesn’t keep with what we are trying to do” in regional river basin discussions, Eklund said. “And each basin is unique.”
The state still may end up committed to a water-saving goal after further deliberation, he said. The plan is to be finalized next year.
Among the complications: Some areas are drier than others, requiring more water to sustain people. Climate change is affecting natural water flows. And residents in some cities who already have reduced water use could be hard-pressed to make further cuts.
The 1.3 million metro Denver residents served by Denver Water cut average daily use to 85 gallons a person, down from 104 gallons in 2002 — compared with an estimated 123 gallons a day in Parker and 111 in Grand Junction.
While comparisons can be difficult due to different counting methods, utility data showed Denver’s average daily use ranked less than water use in Salt Lake City (117 gallons), San Diego (136 gallons) and Los Angeles (123 gallons), but more than in Albuquerque (70 gallons).
Historically, Colorado has relied on massive federally funded engineering projects, dams and diversions that pump about 500,000 acre-feet a year west-to-east under the Continental Divide with devastating consequences for ecosystems.
Agriculture uses the largest share of water in Colorado, roughly 85 percent of developed supplies. But Colorado’s population of 5.2 million is expected to reach 10 million by 2050 and companies seek water for industry, including the oil and gas boom.
Denver Water was taking the same position as state planners on water-saving goals. The utility favors a “tailored approach” rather than a statewide water-saving target because some communities conserve more than others, spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.
“Those who have not taken steps toward water conservation could more easily reduce their use than those who have already made significant strides in becoming efficient,” Chesney said.
“We believe a better approach would be if every water user — from municipalities to agriculture, industrial users and more — knows their current use and establishes goals, such as investing in new water-saving technologies and striving for more water-use efficiencies.”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.