The Denver University Sturm College of Law was the location for a forum on water issues recently. Here’s a report from Ernest Luning writing for The Colorado Statesman. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Despite increasing pressures on Colorado’s fragile water supply in the coming decades, competing interests — cities, industries, agriculture, recreation and environmental groups — could all be satisfied if the state takes a smart approach to growth combined with revamping antiquated policies governing how the precious resource gets used.
That’s the conclusion shared by a panel of water experts who discussed the topic at forum on Tuesday at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. The panel featured Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead and Bart Miller, who directs the water program at Western Resource Advocates. It was organized by the Denver-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and moderated by the firm’s Michelle Kales…
“Water should not be a limiting factor for growth. It’s how you use that water,” [John Salazar] said. “As long as that water’s not used consumptively, it can be used over and over and over again to infinity,” he said, pointing to the reuse of “every single molecule” of water on the space station.
Although farms and ranches use most of the state’s water, Salazar said, the equation could change in coming years as the state loses as much as 3 million acres of agricultural land over the next decade. And as urban and industrial users gobble up water rights, that could dry up an additional half million acres of agricultural land by mid-century.
“We have to make every single effort we can possibly can to make sure that we keep water on the land, farming and raising crops,” he said, noting that agriculture makes up the second-largest slice of the state’s economy.
Coloradans have to stop encouraging urban sprawl, Salazar said. “Instead of growing out, we should talk about planning our cities and growing upwards,” he said, noting that condominium dwellers, for instance, use as much as 70 percent less water than their neighbors in single-family homes surrounded by thirsty lawns…
Lochhead made a similar point later.
“If we continue the western ethic of sprawl, if we are developing quarter-acre, third-acre, half-acre lots half way out to Kansas, we will not have a sustainable environment, both environmentally, and particularly from a water-use standpoint,” Lochhead said. He added, “Sprawl will destroy what makes Colorado Colorado.”[...]
Scientists are projecting significant increases in temperature, particularly in the spring months, which could have a devastating effect on snowmelt, Miller said. Add in a future where “decreasing snowpack is the norm” and the West’s water landscape could change dramatically. “We are facing a future where Lake Powell and Lake Mead may not function the way they have,” he said.
“What climate change does is forces us to think longer-term,” Miller said after the discussion. “On top of the fact it’s more people, we have to deal with this long-term drought issue. I think it heightens the need for us to have smaller water footprints, have new developments that don’t use as much water so they won’t be impacted by drought or climate change as much. If your dependency on water is lower, you won’t be as affected by climate change.”
“Water is not only a scarce resource but it is potentially a diminishing resource if you look at the effects of a warming climate,” said Lochhead, noting that Denver Water recently hired a climate scientist to help grapple with the looming challenges…
The panelists agreed that water law needs reforming, with Lochhead — himself a former water lawyer — calling it “way more complicated than it needs to be.”
As the only panelist who isn’t a water lawyer — although his brother, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar more than makes up for it — Salazar said that complex and expensive water law too often stymies practical solutions to water problems.
“If there was less water attorneys in the state, I think we’d get along a little better,” he said. “You can get two people in the room, and you can discuss and figure out a solution, and then one water attorney walks in the room and everything goes to hell in a hand basket.”