Among the critical issues identified by the panelists: storage and the permitting process for building or expanding reservoirs. Former Commissioner of Agriculture Don Ament told the audience the state cannot spent another 10 years waiting on federal permits.
James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said it’s also about innovation, whether with storage, conservation, agriculture or the environment. “We have to utilize the innovative community at our disposal,” including the business community, he said.
Eric Kuhn, director of the Colorado River District, said everyone needs to recognize that every drop of the Colorado River has been used since 1998, and there isn’t any more water coming into the system. In fact, he said, there will probably be less water available from the river in the future, and what does flow between its banks is fully appropriated. It’s a cautionary note to those on the Eastern Slope who want another transmountain diversion of water from the Colorado through the Continental Divide, as has been suggested in the plan…
Robert Sakata of Brighton’s Sakata Farms noted that innovation in agricultural technology is helpful but also expensive. He showed off a GPS receiver, part of a system that helps with his farm’s water use. The receiver alone cost $8,000, and he has to sell half a million onions to cover that cost, he said.
The test of the state’s water plan will be whether it can be financed, said Ament, adding that he’s nervous about how the state will find the money and meet the regulatory requirements…
[Kelly] Brough also laid out the chamber’s wish list for the water plan. The business community must lead on this, she said. The days are gone “when we can look to somebody else to solve the challenges we face.” And this is one of those issues where Coloradans don’t want someone else to step in and solve it for them, she said.
Among the solutions: changing how Coloradans use water. As a business community, “we must lead,” by showing a commitment to conservation and efficiency, Brough said. Colorado needs to do more to support the population growth that is coming. The state also needs to move forward beyond conservation and work toward maximum economic use of water, she said. That includes more “green” infrastructure, use of recycled “grey water,” underground storage, reservoir expansion, improved permit processes and even rain barrels, she said. Brough also called on Gov. John Hickenlooper to take the lead improving the permitting process, arguing that problems with the process have caused years and even decades of delay building or expanding water storage in Colorado.
“We don’t have limited choices,” Brough said. “We have many choices.” She added that there’s a real cost to doing nothing. “I don’t know what it is,” she said, “but we can’t afford it.” State water policy must find cost-effective solutions to ensure economic success for Colorado she said. “The water plan is our first step.”