RBC I Are you concerned about how Colorado will balance the water needs for agriculture, urban demands and our environment in coming decades?
A second draft of Colorado’s first comprehensive statewide water plan has been released, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board is seeking public input. Comments on this draft must be submitted by Sept. 17 to be considered in the development of the final plan, which is due to be submitted to Gov. Hickenlooper on Dec. 10.
This draft follows years of debate between Front Range and West Slope water providers, environmental advocates, river recreationists, farmers and ranchers over how to meet a projected gap between available water supplies and demands, particularly in growing Front Range cities.
There are three main sources to turn to: transferring water from agriculture, pulling more water from Western Slope streams across the Continental Divide, and significantly ramping up water re-use and conservation.
Particular project proposals are found in the “basin implementation plans” developed by roundtables of water providers and stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins.
The new draft contains significantly more nuts and bolts on measures such as promoting conservation, improving the efficiency of the project permitting process and developing new funding mechanisms. The concept of environmental resiliency is also incorporated more fully into this draft of the plan.
In addition, the new draft includes a revised framework for discussing the perpetually hot topic of the potential for a new project to divert more water from the West Slope to the Front Range.
The framework sets out “realities and issues proponents for a new trans-mountain diversion should expect to address,” including the fact that water would likely not be available to divert in some years, due to existing uses and downstream obligations.
In the realm of urban conservation, the second draft of the plan contains beefed up sections on increasing the re-use of municipal water and integrating land-use and water planning since large-lot subdivisions consume more water than denser development with less turf.
In relation to agricultural water, the second draft discusses measures to increase efficiency and conservation while noting that the two are not equivalent.
Increasing efficiency involves getting better at delivering water directly to where plants need it and nowhere else, which can actually make crops grow more vigorously and thus consume more water.
Conservation, on the other hand, involves reducing the consumption of water, which can be accomplished through various methods.
While efficiency can have water quality benefits and improve streamflows between the point of diversion and the point where unconsumed water trickles back to the stream, only reduced consumption can make additional water available for other uses.
The draft plan also dedicates considerable ink to “alternative transfer mechanisms” that allow farmers to provide a portion of their water to cities on a temporary basis instead of permanently selling the water rights and drying up their land.
Using such mechanisms could be less damaging to rural communities than “buy and dry” practices, but they are more complicated to implement.
Permitting process proposals include ensuring that all agencies with a say on a project are involved early on. Funding proposals include establishing a guaranteed repayment fund to facilitate multi-party projects and green bonds for environmental and recreational projects.
You can decide for yourself whether you think the right tools have been identified and the strategies proposed are adequate by going to www.ColoradoWaterPlan.com.
To learn more, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ WaterCenter.CMU or on Twitter at twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.
Hannah Holm is coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. Marsha Daughenbaugh is executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance. (970-879-4370).