From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):
The latest draft of the plan sets strict guidelines for approving new diversions over the Rocky Mountains.
Underneath the surface of Colorado’s new water plan is an unspoken acknowledgment: the days of moving large amounts of water up and over the Rockies are probably done.
On July 7, the second draft of the statewide plan was released, the latest step in a decade-long process that will direct how Colorado’s water should be managed for years to come. The new draft sets a statewide water conservation target of 400,000 acre-feet and incorporates input from Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables, groups of citizens and experts tasked with thinking about their region’s water needs. But the biggest addition is a revised set of guidelines for making decisions about new supply projects that could spell the end of any new big water transfers over the Continental Divide.
The guidelines acknowledge what for years seemed unthinkable to many Coloradans: there may not be any water left to develop, without cutting into the water rights already in use.
That admission represents a huge shift in what the state publicly acknowledges about Colorado’s water supply, says Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District and one of the people who helped draft the guidelines. “Just a few years ago no one was questioning whether there was more Colorado River water to develop,” he says…
That new mindset, encapsulated in the guidelines, challenges a long-held assumption that the state can and should develop its full allotment of water from the Colorado River under the 1922 Compact. The law requires that the Upper Basin states send 7.5 million acre-feet annually to the Lower Basin plus an additional 750,000 acre-feet for Mexico before splitting the remainder among themselves. According to the most recent study by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the availability of supplies in the Colorado River Basin, Colorado has anywhere from one million to zero acre feet left to develop — depending on which climate model plays out.
On the West Slope, home to 84 percent of Colorado’s water supply, that possibility is driving calls for “not one more drop” of water diverted to the Front Range. Even Denver Water, the largest municipal water utility in the state with 1.3 million customers, acknowledges that protecting existing supplies is paramount. Their comments on the second draft state: “Denver Water receives about 50 percent of its total supply from the Colorado River. Therefore avoiding a ‘Colorado River Compact Call’ is critical to our ability to meet our obligations to our customers.”
But the lingering uncertainty over just how dry or wet Colorado’s future will be means Denver Water is covering both bases. Another section in its comment letter maintains that “the ability to develop new projects should be protected.”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.