By Judy Lopez
In Colorado it is a given that “the Gap” is widening between water supply and demand. In May of 2013, Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order that directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop Colorado’s Water Plan. The CWCB has tasked both the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables with the development of State and Basin Water Plans. The plans will reflect a grassroots dialogue and consensus that will be necessary for the development and implementation of a robust and meaningful state-wide water plan. These actions were taken based on results the study known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010 recognized that water supply is limited and as Colorado continues to grow the need is out pacing the supply. This comprehensive study began as a result of the 2002-2003 drought. The study identified Colorado’s current and future water need through the year 2030 and further examined approaches that could be taken to meet those needs. That was 2004, with the support of the General Assembly in 2006; SWSI 2 supplemented the original findings by adding technical work on water conservation, alternatives to agricultural water transfers and meeting the environmental needs of the state. SWSI brought together a collaborative approach to the resolution of these issues by establishing the basin roundtables. The roundtables were to bring together a diverse group of partners whose role was to educate and collaborate on water planning issues.
These efforts were codified by Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. The act also established the 27 member Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC) which serve as intermediaries to facilitate communication between the basin roundtables and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The basin roundtables were charged with the development of consumptive and non-consumptive needs assessments along with proposing projects to meet those needs. SWSI was updated in 2010; the elements of the update included an analysis of water supply demands to 2050, a summary of the non-consumptive needs within each basin, and an examination of the water supply and availability. The examination of water supply identified local/regional shortages, but identified the Colorado basin as a possible source for new supply, because compact entitlements were not fully utilized.
The key findings of SWSI 2010 showed that by 2050, agriculture would still be the primary user of water at 82% (which is down from the current 86%).; 15% would be used by municipal and industrial users, while the remaining 3% would be used by self-supplied industry. The study highlighted continued shortages for agricultural producers in all basins which could mean a decline in irrigated acres. The study outlined significant increases in municipal demand due to a near doubling of the state’s population –growing from 5 million to nearly 10 million by 2050. Colorado’s Front Range was identified as being the most populous with 80% of the population located along its flanks. The western slope, however, would experience the fastest growth rate, establishing a need of between 600,000 and 1 million acre feet of additional water per year by 2050. SWSI also acknowledged that an increased energy demand in the state would also require more water and that between now and 2050, there needed to be a decreased reliance on ground water in order to reach a level of sustainability and reliability for future population demands. As a result of SWSI, Coloradans know more about our future water demands and available supplies, and the subsequent “Gap”.
As a result the CWCB tasked both the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables with the development of the State and Basin Water Plans. These plans have not only enlisted input from Roundtable and IBBCC members, but the process has launched a broad education and outreach campaign seeking input many sectors. The Rio Grande’s general approach has been focused on proactive outreach through meetings delivered in locations across the basin by various roundtable members targeted at three distinct groups: general community, county commissioners and stakeholder groups. This has resulted in increased public attendance at regular roundtable meetings. In addition, six separate BIP subcommittees have met a total of 21 times. The team has also produced bi-weekly newspaper articles, monthly radio shows and created a website (www.riograndewaterplan.com) for archiving materials and public submission of comments. All of this to develop a comprehensive basin water plan that honors existing water laws and rights, while outlining the processes and projects needed to secure the basins water future.
Fast forward to December of 2014 and the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, has submitted a draft basin plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. CWCB staff, under the leadership of the IBCC, is busy merging this information into the Colorado State Water Plan. The draft of the State Water Plan will be given to the Governor on December 15, 2014. “Both plans reflect not only the grassroots dialogue and consensus that has taken place, but they also recognize and preserve the values that all Coloradans share”, says Travis Smith, CWCB board member from the Rio Grande Basin.
The most effective method for stakeholders to become involved is in one of 2 ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa, Colorado.) or; 2) send your comments directly to us online at www.riograndewaterplan.com.