From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief advisor on water issues, told the Progressive 15 Ag-Water Conference Wednesday that Denver already has made great strides in water conservation, but now storage is needed to meet ever-growing demand.
“Denver is using the same amount of water today as it did 30 years ago, but serving 350,000 more people,” Stulp said. “Denver Water has said we cannot water the next 5 million people like we did the first five million people in Colorado.”
Stulp alluded to the supply-demand gap of 560,000 acre feet by 2050, most of which will be in the South Platte River Basin. That number comes out of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, commissioned by Hickenlooper two years earlier.
If nothing is done to close that gap, Stulp said, between 500,000 and 700,000 acres of irrigated ag land will be lost, in addition to the 1 million acres already lost over the past century.
“It’s not that we’re gonna run out of water, but we’re gonna get it somewhere else, from agriculture or the Western Slope, and we’re both feeling the pressure,” he said.
The major hurdle in providing storage is financing. Water storage projects, of whatever form they take, are expensive, and the costs are going up all the time, Stulp said. While the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has struggled to build the Windy Gap Firming Project for water storage near Loveland, the cost of building the project rises by about $1 million a month.
“In terms of funding (water storage) we need to invest $20 billion in the next 20 to 30 years, and a lot of that is going to come from rate payers,” he said. “But even at that, there’s still a $3 billion gap, and there’s no obvious source for that funding.”
A traditional source of water funding, Colorado’s severance tax revenues, have declined sharply lately as the oil and gas industry has endured a prolonged slump in the U.S. Combined with a judgment against Colorado that forces the state to refund $125 million because tax deductions were not properly calculated, Stulp said, the severance tax fund could actually run a deficit in the near future.
There may be other sources of revenue, however. Stulp said one idea being batted around is a penny-per-bottle fee on bottled water.
“Apparently, we drink a lot of bottled water in Colorado,” he said, “so we may see that as a source of revenue down the road.”
Stulp said there is reason to be optimistic about the state’s water future. He said the nine river basin roundtables — one in each of the state’s eight river basins and one for metro Denver — are working together like never before to resolve the water shortage.
“We’ve got people working together who never saw each other except in court when they sued each other,” he said. “But now they’re collaborating, and that’s a very good thing.”