Colorado’s Water Plan was ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013, and completed last year by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
It built on 10 years of efforts by nine basin roundtables and the Interbasin Compact Committee, a 26-member panel representing diverse political and geographic areas across the state.
One hiccup in the plan came in 2014, when some members of the state Legislature demanded a more active role, perhaps ignoring that the engine driving the train was conceived and constructed by lawmakers in 2005. In the end, most lawmakers have concrete ideas on how to move the plan ahead in years to come in a cooperative way.
In the final plan, the emphasis is on both state and local responses to water needs, it calls for new revenue — $3 billion by 2050 — which will certainly require cooperation from the Legislature. Sprinkled throughout the plan are recommended regulatory changes as well, all of concern to lawmakers.
The Pueblo Chieftain, working with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, reached out to state lawmakers from the Pueblo area to get their ideas on how the water plan will be implemented. Responding were Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo; Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa; Rep. Clarice Navarro, RPueblo; and Rep. Daneya Esgar, DPueblo.
How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?
“It depends on the basin, because each one is different.
“As I talk to my colleagues, everyone has a unique perspective in the state Legislature. I think there’s a lot to be celebrated. The state has put forward a good plan, but it’s a challenge because each basin is different.”
“With a projected population of 10 million people in 2050, Colorado’s Water Plan attempts to study and prepare for the future. Since agriculture uses 86 percent of the state’s water, the pressure for transfer will increase. A 560,000 acre-foot shortage is predicted by 2030 for municipal and industrial uses. Conservation, storage, transfers, and other issues are an ongoing discussion.
Recreation in this state is estimated at $7 billion-8 billion per year on nonconsumptive use of our water. . . .
“There are issues in which need continuing monitoring such as, in 2013 alone, more than 13,500 acre-feet of water was lost in Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs due to faulty infrastructure. Broken water mains, leakage, malfunctioning meters and waste caused nearly 4 billion gallons of water to be lost before it ever reached these cities’ 2.1 million residents. . . .
Therefore, it is my strong belief that upgrading the metro areas’ antique water delivery systems is the better way to ensure urban residents have an adequate water supply.”
“The water plan talks about three main objectives which will all help meet the gap between our current water supply and our projected need. Efficiency is one of those components and we, indeed, need to get better at efficiency.
Conservation is another component which would help. Everyone needs to be aware of how to better use their water.
“For example, when people are watering their yards or businesses we shouldn’t see water running down pavement.
The third component is storage. We can become more efficient, and we can conserve, but if we have no place to keep that water for future needs, we have done it all in vain. Although new storage is an option, so is expanding existing storage and we should not forget about underground storage. All three are key to meet our future water needs.”
“I’m not sure that we will ever ‘fill’ the gap in the Arkansas River Basin. The water in the basin is already spoken for and appropriated, and the population of Colorado just continues to climb. I’m not convinced that we will ever be able to fill the supply of water that we need to sustain this growing population, so we must find ways to keep the water we do have, and to keep the gap from spreading even more.
“We need to be creative and diligent when it comes to the Arkansas River Basin. We need to be able to find innovative ways to conserve, store and repurpose the water we do have in our basin.
“One of the ways I’ve heard to accomplish this goal is to really look at responsible storage and flow for the entire area.
Agriculture depends on the water for farms and livestock, consumers depend on the water for their gardens and lawns, and our economy and Colorado lifestyles depend on the water for recreation throughout the entire Arkansas River Basin.”
What projects do you plan to fill the gap?
“Every approach will depend on the basin, and I don’t have any specific projects in mind. It will take a robust conversation.
In general, I would say we need to look at fixing the gap when it’s smaller, because that’s easier than watching it grow.
“I was talking to someone about the evaporative losses in Lake Pueblo. I’m a big fan of the reservoir and it’s no secret I use it to go fishing and boating with my boys and wife.
Lake Pueblo is a unique community gem that’s a destination for the entire state of Colorado.
“People take for granted the valuable resource we have and we need to be prepared so we don’t lose it to other uses. I think increasing storage could be a huge economic benefit.”
“It may easier to expand existing storage capabilities than creating new storage, and this is being looked at under the plan. I would like to see how the mitigation of Fountain Creek by Colorado Springs is going to prevent the devastation to the Arkansas River.
“Transferring water out of the basin is certainly not in the area’s best interest. A continuation of funding in water conservation districts is imperative under the circumstances.
“There are a number of opportunities for efficiency and conservation projects that can, and should be used by residents as well as businesses. Those would not only help with the water shortages, but it would also save money.
Many people are already realizing the benefits of xeriscaping and droughtresistant lawns, and as others see the results, the trend will be to do the same.
“When it comes to projects regarding storage, there are a number of small projects that have been talked about for years. Our basin roundtable is already talking about which options may be best to try and move forward on, and as to how to incentivize efficiencies and conservation. They are the experts and I will listen to them on how to best prioritize our water gap.
“As a state representative, I plan to work closely with the experts on water in Colorado, farmers, ranchers, and the conservation community to find the right projects to help stop the gap from getting bigger for the Arkansas River Basin. We have to have honest conversations and collaboration to keep the water in our basin.”
How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?
“Agriculture has a big target on its back, and I don’t think people appreciate the benefit it has to downstream users. We need a regional approach that involves the entire basin.
“Snowpack is always the predominate issue. “1. Municipalities need to make sure that their replacement decrees are in place to adequately serve their purposes. Inhouse water will always be available, but domestic use may not “2. Technology and advanced water practices for consumptive use should be studied and implemented.
“3. The conduit should be promoted for better quality water needs and conservation.
“4. The number one water right should be protected and that is the interstate compact.
“5. The prior appropriation rule of law for Colorado users should be adhered to.
“6. Updating canal by-laws is a very useful tool in protecting water transfers.”
“The water plan outlined those problems and those three main ideas are important for both agriculture and municipalities. Water storage needs to be that leveling factor to help us keep the water that we are entitled to use. When the river runs high, we need to keep that water so that we can use it when the river is limited.
It makes absolutely no sense to send extra water to Kansas when we have needs here.
“While agriculture has led the charge in becoming more efficient, they will need to find ways to produce more with less.
Incidentally, agriculture has done that very well over the last century.
Municipalities have also done a good job at creating incentives and finding ways to be more efficient. However, both will need to do even more in the future to meet the growing demands.”
”We need to depend on science to help us better use water that is allocated to Colorado’s important agricultural needs. As water shortages across America continue, there will be new and innovative ways to water crops and livestock. Colorado needs to be sure that we really look and see if these new methods could work here.
“When it comes to municipalities, we need to do a better job of educating consumers when it comes to conservation.
Folks didn’t completely understand why the rain barrel bill was so important to me. The simple tool of a 55-gallon barrel that collects rain that would have ran directly to the gutter, helps people understand how much water they may actually be consuming. Also, we need to be innovative when it comes to landscaping. I know that Coloradoans love their lawns, I do, too, but we have to have real conversations about more water-conscious ways to landscape our beautiful neighborhoods.”