Here’s a guest column about the Colorado Water Plan written by pollster Floyd Ciruli that’s running in The Denver Post:
Colorado’s statewide water planning is overdue. California and Texas, the nation’s two largest states and users of Colorado headwaters, have moved well ahead of the state in planning and investment.
Both downstream states are facing major shortages. Texas voters, using a rainy-day fund, approved a $2 billion bond with 20 percent reserved for conservation, 10 percent for rural areas and the remaining funds for investments in reservoirs, recycling aquifer recharge and other supply infrastructure. California, which experienced gridlock for more than a decade among its perennial competitors — farmers, environmentalists and municipalities — and a horrendous divide between north and south water users, managed to craft a $7 billion conservation and infrastructure bond initiative that passed last November by 65 percent with help from serious drought and a very popular Gov. Jerry Brown.
Colorado, after more than a decade of discussions — river basin by river basin — has finally produced a draft plan, making 2015 potentially the year for making progress on water. But the state faces forces similar to California’s contentious factions. A continuing division exists among east and west slopes, environmentalists who argue for conservation measures to the exclusion of most other options, and basin parochialists who want to protect only their water and support strategies that send it out of state rather than storing and reusing it.
One of the most useful aspects of Colorado’s planning effort has been conducting two scientific studies of the state’s water needs and supply. The first took place in 2004, during Gov. Bill Owens’ administration, and the second was completed in 2010, near the end of the Bill Ritter’s term. Both studies confirmed a water supply gap up to 600,000 acre-feet by 2050, and that figure assumes a host of projects and programs will be in place within the next few decades — including conservation, storage and reuse.
Fortunately, Colorado voters have prioritized water supply and conservation and strongly support addressing the supply gap. A statewide voter survey conducted for the Colorado Water Congress in the summer of 2013, as the water planning process was accelerating in preparation of the draft report, indicated that voters were strongly supportive of the assumptions and approach of the planning effort.
The poll of voters statewide showed Coloradans strongly support the planning process to address the supply gap; want to avoid the loss of irrigated agriculture in the state; believe meeting the supply gap will require the full range of approaches (including conservation, reuse, water storage and new supply); greatly prefer the cooperative approach that the state’s planning process has adopted and recognize that compromise will be necessary; and they encourage the collaboration among urban and rural and small and large communities.
Colorado voters were generally not supportive of extreme views. When asked if conservation alone would be sufficient to make up the water supply shortage, they strongly disagreed and said it would have to be accompanied by storage. And nearly 90 percent of voters want Colorado to claim its legal share of water rather than allow it to flow out of state, rejecting the view that any one basin has sole control of its supply and can choose to send it to Nebraska, California or Texas before allowing full use by Coloradans.
The identified water gap will require decisive action by the governor and Colorado’s other political leaders. After a decade of study and talk, time is running out. Taking measures to ensure Colorado maintains its strong economy and quality of life can no longer wait, and our downstream competitors have already made their moves.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.