Agribusiness  December 10, 2014

State unveils historic Colorado Water Plan

The state Water Conservation Board unveiled Wednesday a draft of a plan outlining how Colorado can confront a future projected water shortage while continuing to supporting agriculture.

The 419-page plans comes on the heels of an order issued in May 2013 by Gov. John Hickenlooper for the Water Conservation Board to develop a plan supporting agriculture in rural Colorado and align state policy to the state’s water values. The plan follows projections by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative that Colorado faces a 500,000 acre-foot water shortage due to demand from a growing population.

An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, or enough to supply 2.5 households annually.

In the South Platte River Basin, the most populous region in the state, the draft water plan recommends reductions in water use to 146 gallons per capita per day by 2050 from 188 gallons per capita daily in 2010. The water use goal could be achieved through “water rate designs, education, water schedules and rebate programs as well as water waste rules,” the plan states.

The call for water use reduction comes despite population growth in the basin projected to reach 6 million by 2050, up from 3.5 million. The region also contains the state’s greatest concentration of irrigated agricultural lands and the most economic diversity.

The South Platte River begins in the mountains southwest of Denver and flows north through the metro area and the northeastern plains. Water from the Colorado River Basin and other regions supplement the water supply of the South Platte River Basin’s population.

The draft plan drew mixed reviews Wednesday, with supporters touting its importance and conservation groups saying it fell short.

“It is imperative that the statewide collaboration, cooperation, compromise and problem solving discussions represented by the draft water plan continue if Colorado is to find ways to best manage our available water resources for the benefit of the generations that follow,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The Berthoud-based water district operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which supplies water for about 860,000 people and more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land in Northern Colorado.

The plan does not call for specific projects, such as the water district’s Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposed water storage project in Northern Colorado. Nor does it change Colorado’s status of water rights system or the state’s prior appropriation doctrine.

The fishing conservation group Trout Unlimited said the plan should have identified projects to protect and restore stream-flows, funding to complete stream assessments and for projects, and a commitment to stop transporting additional water between basins, which harms the environment and agriculture in Western Colorado.

“We appreciate that the water plan acknowledges the fundamental importance of sustaining healthy rivers for agriculture, communities and our $9 billion recreation economy,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, in a statement. “But the plan doesn’t go far enough in spelling out the action steps of how to achieve that goal: Let’s fill in the details.”

The Water Conservation Board will work with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration to complete the final plan before Dec. 10, 2015.

 

The state Water Conservation Board unveiled Wednesday a draft of a plan outlining how Colorado can confront a future projected water shortage while continuing to supporting agriculture.

The 419-page plans comes on the heels of an order issued in May 2013 by Gov. John Hickenlooper for the Water Conservation Board to develop a plan supporting agriculture in rural Colorado and align state policy to the state’s water values. The plan follows projections by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative that Colorado faces a 500,000 acre-foot water shortage due to demand from a growing population.

An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, or enough to…

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