RBC I Hosted by the Rio Blanco County Farm Bureau, Colorado Farm Bureau Vice President Carlyle Currier of Molina (Mesa County) discussed on Jan. 26 the development and implications of the recently finalized State Water Plan.
Currier was introduced to the attendees at the Mountain Valley Bank community room by county Farm Bureau President J.D. Amick.
Currier reviewed Colorado water supply history and current status. He reminded the group that transmountain diversions in the state now move about 500,000 acre-feet (AF) of largely Western Slope water to the Front Range.
He referenced Referendum A, voted on by the public in November 2003, which would have facilitated financing for water projects, but which was defeated in every county in the state.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board study of statewide water supply (SWSI), done more than 15 years ago, was very pessimistic about the supply of water in Colorado versus growing needs.
The study identified a “gap” of some 560,000 AF by 2050 just for municipal and industrial (M&I) demand.
This situation led by then-State Rep. Russell George, now president of Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, to shepherd legislation in 2005 that created eight river basin roundtables in Colorado and the Inter-Basin Compact Committee (IBCC).
Currier is a member of the IBCC, representing the Colorado River Roundtable. Also in 2005, agricultural organizations in the state formed the Colorado Agriculture Water Alliance (CAWA) to help protect agricultural water from being gobbled up by M&I demand. Currier is currently vice chair of the CAWA.
In May 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order that a draft State Water Plan be given to him by Dec. 31, 2015.
Currier reported they delivered the plan to the governor two weeks early. The plan addresses how the state will meet the water demand gap expected to be in play by 2050, when Colorado’s population is projected to double today’s 7 million.
Currier and the Farm Bureau, like other Colorado agricultural organizations, are concerned that the M&I demand will continue to drive the “buy and dry” acquisition of ag water.
“This is not acceptable,” Currier said. Alternatives are more water conservation, identified projects and improvement processes, alternative transfer methods, such as ag water sharing and leasing, and new (water project) supplies.
Currier reported that the plan suggests 50,000 AF toward the 2050 water supply gap can be obtained from alternative transfer methods. Currier, however, is very concerned even that much water transferred from agriculture will severely impact Colorado’s ag production.
The plan also sets “stretch goals” for conservation—savings by M&I users. Unquestioningly, urban and suburban users have already significantly cut down on per-capita use with conservation education and increased water costs.
The plan sets forth a “conceptual framework” of new supply development, which will hopefully attain 400,000 AF of new storage capacity.
The plan relies on each of the eight river basins devising their own Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs). The initial BIPs were completed last April.
The importance of collaboration between parties is emphasized as is a focus on ideas for funding projects.
Currier said the Colorado River Basin, for example, has a goal of reducing agricultural water shortages, minimizing the potential for more transmountain diversions, developing incentives to support ag production, and increasing public education about water use and issues. The BIPs are designed to be living documents in the sense that they are to be amended as time, information and public desires move forward.
Currier talked about the dollars committed by four of the Western Slope roundtables, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District toward a study that will develop a common platform for hydrological modeling of river flows and evaluating possible reductions in consumptive use that might be required to keep Lake Powell at the 3,525-foot level in order to continue meeting the 1922 and 1929 Colorado River compacts.
Currier distributed copies of the Executive Summary of the State Water Plan, produced by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Russ George is the current Colorado River Basin representative on the CWCB. Jay Gallagher of Steamboat Springs is the current White/Yampa/Green River Basin CWCB representative.
The White/Yampa/Green Basin Roundtable BIP can be found online at www.colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan/yampa-white-green-river-basin.
The Yampa-White-Green Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 23,000 acre feet (AF) and 39,000 AF by 2050 with passive conservation included.
Rio Blanco County voting members on the W/Y/G Basin Roundtable include Jeff Devere, Alden VandenBrink, Jon Hill and Vince Wilczek from Rangely and Kelly Sheridan from Meeker.