@ColoradoWater annual seminar recap

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

If Colorado’s state water plan is to keep the headwaters state in control of its lifeblood, the plan will require a new spring of cash to replace one that is running dry, officials said Friday.

Where the money will come from — and ideas run from mill levies to sales taxes to tap fees to usage fees — isn’t clear, state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The state’s severance tax was anticipated to be a major source of revenue for the water plan, which was drafted to encourage water conservation as well as pay for water storage.

Severance taxes, however, have shrunk as oil and gas revenues have fallen in the face of dropping prices and as coal production has slipped.

The plan has twin goals of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water while also storing an equal amount by 2030, when the state would otherwise come 560,000 acre-feet short of the expected demands of residents and businesses…

Coram said he floated the idea of charging 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water on delivery to homes and businesses, to get people talking.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know doing nothing is not going to get things done,” Coram said.

Early projections called for the state severance tax to account for $3 billion, but that reservoir of cash is unlikely to refill soon, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the water plan and is charged with carrying it out.

It could take two to four years to determine how best to fund the plan, Coram said.

“We’re moving forward as aggressively as possible to implement this plan,” Eklund said.

Among the water plan priorities for the coming year are establishing a repayment guarantee fund with $50 million as needed to underwrite water projects; $10 million for the water supply reserve fund; $10 million for programming for the water plan and $5 million for the watershed restoration program.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Ryan Summerlin):

The common denominator among speakers at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday was that stakeholders have an uphill battle to protect the river. The effects of climate change coupled with demand outpacing supply are continuing to leave water rights holders in a pickle — draining every drop of water before the Colorado reaches its mouth.

The Colorado River Basin is in its 16th year of drought, which ultimately hampers water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation and the basin’s ecology.

Jeff Lukas, an research integration specialist with Western Water Assessment, outlined the growing impacts of climate change on the Upper Colorado River Basin, comparing the basin’s temperatures, precipitation and runoff during other periods of record heat. Some of the key climate change risks for Colorado are reduced annual runoff, earlier runoff, degraded water quality, greater water demand and more frequent droughts, according to Lukas.

Many people are seeing a decrease in runoff for a given amount of precipitation, which Lukas links to warmer temperatures.

About 75 percent of precipitation goes back into the atmosphere, and the bulk of streamflow happens during a narrow window of time, about 80 percent occurring between April and July, he said. Rising temperatures indicate that this trend of decreased streamflow will continue.

Record warm years earlier in the 20th century were also very dry, but now the basin is seeing record heat in wet years as well, said Lukas. And the Colorado River Basin is more sensitive to warming than other basins.

Warming also leads to earlier snowmelt and runoff, less snow accumulation and declines in runoff, said Lukas.

Lukas expects rising temperatures to result in increased water consumption and stress on the water supply and rights holders.

Other speakers representing the Colorado River District, farmers and lower basin entities that manage river water distribution presented various efforts to combat anticipated shortfalls.

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