From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Colorado adopted a landmark $20 billion water plan Thursday to try to accommodate rapid population growth by conserving more, reusing more, storing more and sharing more between farmers and cities — and diverting less from west to east across the mountains.
“Now is the time to rethink how we can be more efficient,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a ceremony embracing the roughly 480-page document…
State officials emphasized a practical consensus that emerged after a decade of river basin negotiations. In a drought-and-flood-prone West where clean water increasingly is coveted, they contend Colorado residents are best served by rallying around a common plan.
Hickenlooper urged immediate work with everybody chipping in to implement the plan: residents shortening showers, lawmakers cooperating to ensure funds and fine-tune laws, utilities thinking regionally about effects of diversions, and farmers forging alternatives to selling their water rights to cities.
And the governor swiftly placed the plan into the context of an intensifying Western water struggle.
“The Western governors have agreed that we’re all going to work on water together,” Hickenlooper said, referring to pressure California’s water crunch puts on an over-subscribed Colorado River. “None of us knows with any certainty how that drought is going to continue and spread.”
If Colorado ramped-up water conservation, with the incorporation of water into land-use planning and reservoir construction done right, the controversial diversion of more water across mountains won’t be necessary, Hickenlooper said — even with the 5.3 million population projected to nearly double by 2050.
Front Range cities rely on 24 tunnels and ditches to divert an average of 262 billion gallons of water a year west-to-east across the Continental Divide. This practice depletes streams and rivers, hurting ecosystems.
Diverting more to satisfy growing Front Range urban needs ought to be “the last possible use,” Hickenlooper said, adding state leaders’ goal is “where the water is, it stays.”
Environment groups and utility officials agreed a unified state stand may help prevent the federal government and other Colorado River Basin states from driving water decisions.
“Colorado has the ability to greatly influence what happens along other stretches of the Colorado River,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.
Putting forth an unprecedented, detailed state plan “gives Colorado leverage in those interstate conversations,” he said…
Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, pointing to a 20 percent drop in water consumption over the past 10 years despite population growth, said water-saving goals can be reached “without sacrificing quality of life.”
Lochhead anticipated benefits of changing land use in cities. “As we get denser … that’s going to reduce our overall water use.”
The plan depends on voluntary compliance since the Colorado Water Conservation Board lacks regulatory power. Colorado’s state engineer and the state Department of Public Health and Environment are the main state regulators around water.
Hickenlooper said the plan, if implemented, will “create a motivating context” for using water more efficiently out of self-interest.
“I’m not a huge fan of regulation,” he said. “This is designed so that we won’t need as much of the formal regulation we have now.”
From Colorado Public Radio:
Hickenlooper’s administration encouraged water managers — and users — from around Colorado to formulate the plan over a two-year period. James Eklund, head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, led the effort. He told Colorado Matters on Wednesday the state favors more “carrot” and less “stick” in its approach to achieving the storage, conservation, distribution and management.
For example: The plan sets a specific conservation goal for cities but not for agriculture.
“The reason we don’t set a conservation goal for agriculture is because the [agricultural] user has got to produce a crop,” he said. “And if you’re asking them to conserve water, that means they are fundamentally diverting less water and growing less crop. That is a private property right in Colorado.”
“The challenges that we face as a state on water are so large that we have to really be hitting on all cylanders.” Eklund said. That includes pushing for new legislation and executive rulemaking, starting with his request for more flexibility in how the Colorado Water Conservation Board can spend the money it gets in appropriations from lawmakers each year.
“This is a moment for Coloradans to be proud,” Eklund, said Thursday at the plan’s unveiling. “For 150 years water has been a source of conflict in our state.”
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
“Now is the time when you rethink how you can be more efficient in the water you use,” Hickenlooper said during a ceremony at History Colorado, which was chosen as a location to highlight the historical significance of the water plan.
“I do think the cultural shift is underway, and I think those conversations, and everyone looking at how they can use water more efficiently, is critical,” the governor said…
Even with the collaboration, fights emerged, with a group of Western Slope officials recently expressing concerns that the plan would lead to transmountain diversion, in which water from western Colorado is used for municipalities along the Front Range. But the governor said the plan would actually minimize a need to divert water from rural Colorado, which is critical to agricultural needs.
“There ought to be ways to make sure we have sufficient water to satisfy the growth along the Front Range without diverting the water across the mountains,” Hickenlooper said. “If we are successful in going through this water plan, it will not be necessary.”
April Montgomery, a member of the Water Conservation Board representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers in Southwest Colorado, who attended the ceremony, said a process has now been established in the hopes of avoiding transmountain diversion. Steps must first be taken before diversions are agreed upon, including considering protecting future growth, development and the environment…
In some ways, the work of the plan begins now. Officials must pursue projects that meet the municipal water gap, provide safe drinking water, prioritize conservation and promote reuse strategies. Ideas include reducing lawn watering and evaluating storage options.
But with a $20 billion price tag, crossing the finish line will be difficult. State lawmakers this year have been encouraged to get the ball rolling with funding and outlining projects. The Hickenlooper administration has been careful not to prescribe too much in the plan, instead creating a vision for policymakers to act on.
Sinjin Eberle, with Durango-based American Rivers, also attended the ceremony, expressing optimism the water plan will help agricultural interests in Southwest Colorado.
“Keeping more water in the rivers keeps more security and more predictability for agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable,” he said.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Years of efforts by countless Coloradans reached fruition this morning with the completion of Colorado’s first water plan.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved the plan.
The plan looks at potential gaps between supply and demand in future decades and addresses conservation, reuse, storage and other means of filling those gaps. A key, and controversial, component of the plan provides a framework for discussing possible further diversions of more Western Slope water to the Front Range.
Those involved in the plan say it is the product of the largest act of civic engagement in the state. Roundtable groups from individual river basins held numerous meetings on the plan, which also elicited more than 30,000 comments submitted by the public.
From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
Gov. John Hickenlooper promised a “speedy review of this plan” Thursday morning after receiving Colorado’s first ever comprehensive state-wide water plan.
In remarks during a press conference at Historic Colorado, Hickenlooper emphasized the spirit of cooperation among Colorado’s disparate water interests in formulating the plan. He said that no longer will Colorado’s water needs be met at the expense of agriculture…
After the formal presentation, Diane Hoppe, chairwoman of the CWCB board of directors, told the Journal-Advocate that the plan is “a good way to look at our future.”
“This is a way forward,” Hoppe said. “This is how we deal with a growing population, and stretching our limited water resources.”
Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said he’s happy with the emphasis the plan places on off-channel water storage.
“The only way to capture all of the water that we’re losing is to dam the river, and that’s just not going to happen,” Frank said. “But water storage doesn’t have to be above ground, either. Underground storage, recharge and augmentation are also important.”
Don Ament, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner who has represented Colorado in water negotiations with Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Department of the Interior in developing a recovery plan for the South Platte River, said he likes the plan because it dovetails with his group’s work.
“This is a big piece of the puzzle for what my group is doing,” Ament said after the news conference. “There is a lot of excitement (in the water community) about this, and I think it provides some good momentum to carry forward with developing our water resources. This is a real good thing.”