More than 100 people attended the March 6, 2015, Buechner Breakfast First Friday for a session titled “The Colorado Water Plan: How Will We Quench Our Future Thirst?”
The first draft of the Colorado Water Plan was presented to the public on Dec. 10, 2014, by Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The plan builds on 9 years of work undertaken by Colorado’s Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB, and it reflects agreement from water interests across the state on what actions are needed to secure Colorado’s water future. A series of public comment opportunities and roundtables will be followed by a second draft in mid-July; a final plan will be submitted to the Governor on Dec. 10, 2015.
The panelists at the session included:
- Theresa Conley, Water Advocate, Conservation Colorado
- John Stulp, Special Policy Advisor to Governor Hickenlooper on Water
- Nicole Seltzer, Executive Director, Colorado Foundation for Water Education
- Marc D. Waage, Manager of Water Resources Planning, Denver Water
Associate Professor Tanya Heikkila introduced the topic and served as moderator.
Panelists raised a number of important points about the plan and its eventual implementation. First, Nicole Seltzer provided an overview of the planning process and some of the key strategies that have been considered in the plan for addressing Colorado’s future water needs, which may be up to an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water (enough for 2.5 million people) per year by 2050. These include transfers of water from agricultural to municipal and industrial uses, municipal conservation and new infrastructure (including trans-mountain diversions), and options to protect instream flows for environmental and recreation needs.
John Stulp discussed how “alternative transfer mechanisms” between agriculture and municipal and industrial needs can be created to avoid the “buy and dry” outcome where agricultural water rights are purchased permanently, which results in a loss of agricultural productivity and return flows from irrigation. Marc Waage highlighted some of the ways cities can improve water use efficiency, including through better land-use planning, but also noted that with the population projections and warming trends in Colorado, conservation may not be enough. Additional water supplies from the Western Slope, particularly in the Upper Colorado watershed, may need to be allocated and diverted across the Rocky Mountains for Front Range cities.
Finally, Theresa Conley discussed how the plan recognizes that proposed water strategies should not come at the cost of depleting instream flows for species and recreation, especially given that all of the streams in Colorado are already over-appropriated. Through the planning process basins have been required to identify and quantify their environmental needs, which is the starting point for ensuring long-term protection of those uses. However, she also argued that more concerted efforts toward conservation and protecting agricultural water uses will continue to be needed as well.
For more information about the Colorado Water Plan, visit the following websites:
Colorado’s Water Plan: official website for the plan