Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention day 1 recap: “We have to be smarter” — @hickforco #CWC2015

Governor Hickenlooper and James Eklund at the roll out of the Colorado Water Plan December 11, 2014 via The Durango Herald
Governor Hickenlooper and James Eklund at the roll out of the Colorado Water Plan December 11, 2014 via The Durango Herald

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Use less.

That two-word description is one way to boil down the Colorado Water Plan, all 2,000 pages and 15,000 comments on it, the Colorado Water Congress learned Thursday.

“We have to be smarter. We’re not going to have enough to do everything we want,” Gov. John Hickenlooper admitted in response to a question about how to provide water for 2-3 million more people in the state in the next 20 years with expected drop in water supply. “We are in a state that’s growing, and that growth has to figure out a way to use a lot less water.”

At the same time, the governor was brimming with optimism when it comes to solutions to the urban water gap.

Several times during his “State of the State’s Water” address to about 500 people at the CWC annual conference, Hickenlooper recognized water innovators by having them stand and take a bow. They included former lawmakers Russ George and Diane Hoppe; the Fort Morgan Irrigation Co., which developed water sharing agreements with Public Service Co.; Molson Coors, for its work since 1990 to improve the Clear Creek watershed; and innovators Chris Klein and Franz Garsombke, founders of Rachio, who developed a way to control sprinklers by smartphone. Those examples are just part of an approach that will be needed to deal with the water crises of the future, he said.

“In the next 20 years, we will add 2-3 million more people, and we’ve got to face that headon,” Hickenlooper said. “We know the climate is changing, regardless of the reason, so we always have to keep in mind the possibility of drought.”

He also stressed the importance of preserving agriculture.

“We’ve got to support locally grown food,” Hickenlooper said. “The water plan puts us on an actionable path.”

The governor deflected tougher questions about the state budget — water officials are concerned about siphoning mineral severance funds to balance it — to Henry Sobanet, the state’s budget director.

Sobanet called the constitutional formulas that control revenue and spending “insane” and said the state is facing a “nutrient sandwich” (to put in terms water people understand) as costs for education and health care continue to hog a bigger share of the budget pie.

A shortfall of $148 million in other areas would result this year without adjustment, and health and education shares are expected to grow, he said.

While the Colorado economy has been surging above the national rate since the 2008 recession, mineral severance taxes are expected to fall because of low oil and gas prices. At the same time, the funds used for water projects and local impacts may be swept into the general fund.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, congratulated the group for helping develop the water plan.

“Many said the problem was too big to solve, but you saw its importance as too big to fail,” he said.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The population growth in Colorado and other Western states cannot continue unless water supply challenges are met, Gov. John Hickenlooper and state planners said Thursday in opening the Colorado Water Congress annual conference.

“That growth has to figure out a way to use a lot less water or the growth will stop,” Hickenlooper told hundreds of water professionals in response to a question by a water board member. “It’s pretty much, I mean, black and white. We find a way to use a lot less water per person or we don’t have more people coming here. There is no magic.”

After beginning his State of the State address last week by highlighting water limits, Hickenlooper used the gathering of the 400-member congress to amplify his push for a robust and unprecedented Colorado Water Plan.

The state faces a 163 billion gallon projected water shortfall by 2050 that, as today’s population of 5.3 million grows to 10 million and industry expands, threatens to leave 2.5 million people parched. A draft plan unveiled in December lacks specifics such as conservation targets and criteria for new state-supported supply projects.

But the 344-page draft lists potential projects costing $18 billion to $20 billion to be done by 2050.

Hickenlooper said state planners are taking a long-range perspective that leads to a look at larger projects — but he said that financing major projects likely must rely on private investment because of state fiscal difficulties and diminished federal capacity to build new dams and reservoirs.

Constructing new water storage systems “helps a little bit,” Hickenlooper said. “But in the bigger picture, it is not the whole answer.”

Dealing with problems such as south Denver suburbs’ heavy dependence on dwindling groundwater will be addressed in the final state plan, due Dec. 10, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who has led creation of the plan. Eklund said the state may seek help from a Stanford University water expert pioneering measurement and monitoring of underground water — in shallow aquifers along rivers such as the South Platte and Arkansas as well as portions of the deep aquifers south suburbs have tapped.

Emerging water-sharing infrastructure projects may help shift south suburbs off dwindling groundwater, in return for assurances they do not try to divert more water from the deteriorating Colorado river basin.

“The more we can put the south metro house in order, the better the entire state is,” Eklund said. “It is kind of the knot you untie that alleviates pressure.”

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