#COWaterPlan: Dealing with the “gap”

Clear Creek Reservoir
Clear Creek Reservoir

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

This is the first in a continuing series about how Colorado’s Water Plan will be put into action.

New sources of water are unlikely, so the Arkansas River basin’s focus should be on which crops or landscapes are irrigated, because irrigation is the largest use of water.

Pueblo Water plans to increase storage in key locations above, in and below Lake Pueblo.
Although we won’t find the water supply we want, wise use and efficient water management can stretch the supply we have.

That’s the outlook from Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water.

Ward has been involved with filling municipal water needs during the severe drought of 2002 and the more prolonged drought of 2011-13.

He oversees a complex water leasing program that allows Pueblo to make the fullest use possible of its water portfolio.

Ward was part of Pueblo Water’s team that purchased more than one-quarter of the Bessemer Ditch water rights to secure future supply, and as a result is now a member of the canal company’s board of directors.

Colorado’s Water Plan was unveiled last year as an evolving way to meet water needs for the state for decades to come.

The process to develop the document was exhaustive, with hundreds of meetings, thousands of comments and 10 years of effort. It will take even more work to implement the plan and to focus activities that are in line with the plan’s objectives.

To gain a better understanding of how policymakers view the plan, The Pueblo Chieftain and Arkansas Basin Roundtable is asking key individuals three basic questions: How the gap will be filled, what projects are anticipated and what actions can be taken to prevent the gap from getting bigger.

Here are Ward’s answers:

How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River basin within Colorado’s Water Plan and the Basin Implementation Plan?

“Since the water of the Arkansas River basin is already completely appropriated, the ‘gap’ is really the difference between the water supply we have and the water supply we’d like to have.
I am not optimistic about the prospects of increasing supply. There is no currently unused supply to develop locally within the Arkansas River basin, so an increased supply would have to be imported from elsewhere.

“I think that the expense along with the political and environmental hurdles make importation of new water supply into the Arkansas River basin very complicated and climate change may lead to even less supply on both the Eastern and Western slopes.

“As an alternative, I believe the focus in the Arkansas River basin should be on adapting to having less water than we would like. Storage is key to making the most efficient use of the available water supply.

Storage allows for some control of the timing and location of the limited water supply so that it can be used when and where it is most needed.

Storage also provides the flexibility to move water in ways that can enhance recreational opportunities and minimize environmental impacts.

“Irrigation, whether for crops and livestock grazing or lawns and urban landscapes, is the primary consumptive use of water in the Arkansas Basin (and most of the western United States). I believe that there just isn’t the water capacity to increase the amount of irrigated land, so there needs to be some difficult discussions about what gets irrigated. If urban irrigation increases, then agricultural irrigation will have to decrease or vice versa. It is important to note that urban irrigation has been on a downward trend so there is probably room for some urban growth without an overall increase in the amount of urban irrigation.

“Determining where water should be used for irrigation is a complex problem.

Because water rights are a private property right that can be transferred to new uses, there can be tensions about what role government should play in shaping the free-market movement of water rights and what involvement local communities should have in the transfer of water rights. Finding the right balance between the rights of individuals to use their property as they wish and achieving the desired outcomes of the broader public will be difficult.

“Other water uses such as domestic (including indoor urban), environmental, recreational and industrial are extremely important, but they are so small relative to irrigation use that changes in these water uses will only have minor impacts on the ‘gap’ at a basinwide scale.”

What projects do you plan to fill the gap?

“Pueblo Water is looking to add storage capacity at three key locations for its operations.

“Clear Creek Reservoir can be enlarged to provide additional storage in the Upper Arkansas River basin, which may facilitate better management and optimization of Pueblo’s water imported from the Western Slope.

“Pueblo Reservoir is ideally located in that it is low enough in the basin that a significant amount of water flows into it from upstream.

Many of the largest water users can take delivery of water from the reservoir either by pipeline or by release down the Arkansas River. Enlargement of Lake Pueblo could provide flexibility and water management efficiencies to Pueblo Water and many other urban, rural and agricultural water users.

“Storage located a short distance downstream of the city of Pueblo would allow for more efficient reuse of Pueblo Water’s fully consumable water supplies while at the same time optimizing the timing of flow on the Arkansas River through Pueblo for recreational and environmental benefits.

“Pueblo Water has committed to partner with Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fountain, Pueblo West and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in developing this type of storage in order to recapture water that the parties could have captured at Lake Pueblo if not for the Pueblo Flow Management Program (recovery of yield storage).”

How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?

“Keep expectations for water supply in line with actual water supply, plus encourage wise use and efficient water management, including expansion of storage.”

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