“Basically 80 percent of the river goes to agriculture…where are you going to go look for it [water]?” — Dale Mauch #COWaterPlan

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of mid-April US Drought Monitor maps (2011 thru 2015).

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Between 2011 and 2013 was the driest three-year stretch of weather in recorded history for parts of southeast Colorado. Conditions have improved slightly since then. But a look at U.S. Drought Monitor maps over recent months shows drought persisting at varying levels.

The scarcity of water is connected to another problem in Colorado. The state’s population is expected to double by 2050, and there won’t be enough water to meet the demand. For farmers like Mauch, there’s hardly enough water to meet current needs with the drought, let alone future ones. This tension is one of several reasons why the state is creating its first-ever water plan with the help of regional water managers. Friday, they hand in their plans for how to be prepared for the future.

City vs. ag tug of war

A big question is where municipalities along the Front Range will find more water.

Over the years, the scarcity has led to municipalities buying up land and water rights near Rocky Ford, Colorado.

“If the Front Range is going to continue to grow, it will only be at the expense of agriculture,” said Mauch. “There’s just not enough water.”

Recently an affiliate of real estate development firm C&M Companies and Resource Land Holdings LLC announced a pending purchase of 14,600 acres of farm land in the area. With talk of more land exchanges between local farmers and C&M, Mauch said he’s worried.
“We seem to kind of have a target on our back right now with a lot of land acquisitions, and a lot of municipals interested in our water, large groups speculating on our water,” said Mauch.

Karl Nyquist with C&M Companies said the plan is to use the 14,600 acres of land for agriculture. The exact partners who will use the land have yet to be determined.

Water plan in progress

As Mauch worries about the plans of his new neighbor, water managers in the Arkansas River Basin have crafted a plan for the future. The group and eight others are submitting their plans today to the state.

“The Arkansas River is the entire economy of the Arkansas Basin,” said Gary Barber, who worked as project manager on the local Basin Implementation Plan…

The South Platte River Basin, which includes the agricultural powerhouse Weld County, provides another illustration of what can be lost. In 1976, the basin had more than 1 million acres of irrigated farmland. In 2010, the amount of irrigated land dropped to 850,000 acres…

“Basically 80 percent of the river goes to agriculture. So if you’re looking for water, and one group has 80 percent of it, where are you going to go look for it?”

From The Colorado Statesman (Ron Bain):

Even though a panel of 300 delegates from the state’s nine water basin roundtables almost unanimously approved the “seven points of light,” as Eklund likes to call them, the three representatives of Western Slope water roundtables who accompanied Eklund to Club 20 were not in full agreement with them.

“Our core belief is that a transmountain water diversion is not in the best interests of western Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt of Glenwood Springs, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable. “But we can’t say not one more drop. The Colorado Constitution says you can’t say that.”

“We’re going to keep the discussion alive,” said Mike Preston of Cortez, chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable. “We’re concerned about the environment — the best feature of western Colorado.”[…]

“It’s actually very didactic — western Colorado has gained some influence,” Preston said.

The final point states that, “Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.”

From The Aspen Times (Nathan Fey):

First, the good news: A conceptual agreement among all seven Colorado river basins is looking good, and it will effectively make any potential construction of major new trans-mountain diversions more rooted in reality. That’s the only sane course of action, because we know the Western Slope and our downstream neighbors do not have another drop of water to spare for Front Range cities. Those cities can and should get more serious about conservation and water recycling. We’re hopeful that this conceptual agreement will hold for the final water plan, to be released in later this year.

Now for the challenges. We all know that Colorado depends on the recreation economy. For the Colorado River basin alone, it’s a $9 billion per year economic engine for our state. That means any water planning should include whatever it takes to keep our rivers at healthy flows. We have the knowledge and data about the amount of water that needs to stay in rivers. Those data aren’t currently integrated into the state plan, and they should be.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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