Other river basins face same challenges as the Arkansas — The Pueblo Chieftain #COWaterPlan

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Around the state, water planners are trying to save agriculture and the environment while accommodating existing urban growth rates.

At the same time, there is no new water and there may be less to work with in the future.

It’s a puzzle that the Arkansas Basin Roundtable has struggled with for 10 years, since its formation in 2005 with the charge to work out water problems within the basin and with other basins.

This week, the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum heard from four other roundtables and learned their conundrums sound a lot like ours.

Without some sort of alternative plan, the South Platte River basin could dry up half of its irrigated acres in agriculture as the population increases to 6 million from 3.5 million by 2050, said Joe Frank, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

“We definitely have a target on our back, just as you have for several years in the Arkansas basin,” Frank said. “We have existing ag shortages, and most of what we’ve done is to try to find a way so upstream projects don’t affect downstream users.”

John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the basin wants to protect its current water uses — both from changes in weather that could lead to a declining supply and from export to other basins.

The water is the basis for both agriculture and recreation, the main industries of the basin.

“We don’t say ‘not one more drop’ anymore. Well, some still do. But we’ve come a long way. We urge responsible development,” McClow said.

While the Rio Grande basin no longer is a target for water export, it is struggling to deal with declining groundwater levels and predictions that its surface water supply will decrease by 30 percent in the future, said Mike Gibson, chairman of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.

“We need to live within our means and recognize that agriculture is critical to our economy,” Gibson said.

The Colorado River basin also is concerned about climate change, and for years has tried to draw a line against more exports.

Transmountain diversions total 450,000-600,000 acre-feet (146-195 billion gallons) of water every year — decreasing both the initial supply and return flows for Western Slope rivers, said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

“We think conservation should be a high priority,” Pokrandt said, adding that Western Slope municipal users need to cut back, too. “We want to create solutions in-basin to achieve the maximum degree possible.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

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