#COWaterPlan: “We’ve had a significant time to talk, now is the time for action” — Jim Lochhead

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Two years in the works, Colorado’s first-ever formal water plan is slated to be handed to Gov. John Hickenlooper next week, following the regular meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board director’s meeting.

The plan offers both a broad vision for how the state will meet a projected gap in water supplies and an action list of things that need to be done in order to close that gap, according to James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)…

“We’ve forecasted that there’s a gap of up to 560,000 acre-feet of water [supplies versus demand] between now and 2050, and that really put everyone in the state on high alert,” Eklund said in an interview Friday with the Denver Business Journal.

James Eklund via Colorado Peak Politics
James Eklund via Colorado Peak Politics

“If we keep growing, and we will, then we have to address this, or we won’t have enough water for everyone,” Eklund said.

Eklund said the goal of the new Colorado Water Plan is to “zero-out that gap by 2030” by hitting it from both the demand side and the supply side.

Demand can be dropped by increasing conservation efforts, and supplies can be increased by adding to the state’s ability to store water when it’s available, Eklund said.

Eklund said the plan calls for cities and towns across the state to increase conservation efforts, collectively reducing demand for 400,000 acre feet a year.

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

On the supply side, Eklund said representatives from each of the state’s river basins have delineated their own plans for storage projects. If 80 percent of those are approved and built, the state’s across-the-board ability to store water would be boosted by about 400,00 acre feet per year.

As for cost, Eklund said “back of the napkin” estimates indicate there’s about $20 billion worth of investment needed in Colorado’s water infrastructure.

However, he said, about $17 billion of that is already accounted for in existing budgets for operations, maintenance and capital expenditure developed by the local and regional water utilities — leaving a gap of $3 billion that has to be met by other avenues such a state funding.

Watchers, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, say they want the plan to contain specific, actionable, measurable steps needed to reach the goals.

“Gone are the days that we can look to someone else to solve this, and this is one of those issues that we don’t want someone to step in and tell Colorado, ‘this is how it will be solved,’” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, during a water-focused forum in October sponsored by the chamber…

“It brought everyone together to talk about water and how we’ll collectively move forward on this slow-moving train of water supply and demand and population growth that’s coming,” said Abby Burk, the western rivers outreach specialist for the Rocky Mountain chapter of the National Audubon Society.

But after all the talk, across so much of the state, the key measure of the water plan’s success will be what happens next, say many who’ve been involved in the process.

“The key will be in the implementation — the state as well as water users, including Denver Water, need to step up and develop real proposals,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, the state’s biggest water provider that has more than 1 million customers in Denver and surrounding suburbs.

“There are things that can be done immediately through the state government or in the legislature — but the key will be to begin to start doing things: pilots, experiments, initiatives. We’ve had a significant time to talk, now is the time for action,” Lochhead told the Business Journal.

Bart Miller, the director of the environmental advocacy groups’ Healthy Rivers Program, called the plan “a step in the right direction because it has statewide goals, has funding, but also the question will be in the implementation and funding areas.”

Eklund said the plan will call for several things, in addition to the water conservation and storage goals:

  • Streamlining the permitting process, so that problems and concerns are addressed early in the process, and hopefully preventing projects from being left in limbo for years.
  • Expanding the use of comprehensive land use plans that talk about water supplies.
  • Currently, 12 percent of Coloradans live in an area that’s covered by such a plan. The state’s water plan sets a goal of having 75 percent of the state’s population covered by a comprehensive land use plan that includes water.
  • Creating alternatives to “buy and dry,” a historical trend in which Colorado’s towns and cities buy water used for farming and ranching and transferring it to urban uses on lawns and in homes. The state currently has about 3,000 acre feet of water in an alternative program, the goal is to have 50,000 acre feet of agriculture water in such a program.

“We need alternatives that are market competitive, so that municipalities are willing to do them because they are faster, cheaper, and easier to do than the traditional way,” he said.

MtSoprisSinjin Eberle

Protecting the health of the state’s environment, including its rivers, streams and the watershed — the forests above the streams.

Currently, Colorado has management plans that cover 1.5 percent of the state’s streams and rivers; the plan calls to boost that to 80 percent. Of the state’s 87 watersheds, 42 have master plans in place. The new water plan calls for raising that to 80 percent of the water sheds.

As for diverting more water from the Western Slope to the more populous Front Range, a contentious idea that’s caused decades of battles over the state’s water, the plan includes a seven-point list of principals to guide future discussions about diversions, Eklund said.

“Instead of duking it out in water court, let the seven principals guide the discussion,” Eklund said.

“If two parties are going to get into a negotiation about moving water, then they need to tick through the seven points. And if you do that, and address the Western Slope concerns and give the Front Range the certainty that they won’t be stonewalled to death — then the project has a chance of being considered,” he said.

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain