The Colorado River Basin
The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents the interests of the mainstem of the Colorado River System. The mainstem and its tributaries already support eight major transmountain diversions. Two of them are undergoing permitting that would result in additional diversions – and are likely to go through if two paradigm-shifting negotiations prove successful.
Meanwhile, the Statewide Water Supply Investigation indicates a looming gap in municipal and industrial water supply for a growing population, chiefly on the Front Range, but also locally. As the Colorado River remains free of compact administration to satisfy flow requirements in other states, it continues to be a target for water development that would take water out of the basin.
With this reality in mind, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has spent significant time and money to learn about its own consumptive and nonconsumptive needs -- to make sure that our economic potential, recreation economy and environmental concerns are properly balanced in the statewide equation.
On the consumptive side, a study was commissioned on the potential demand from the energy industry and developed a placeholder requirement of approximately 120,000 acre feet for a fully developed oil shale industry. This is now being used in model portfolios being developed by the CWCB for the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Roundtables.
Basin water leaders now know from SWSI and other work by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that they have their own agricultural water supply and M&I gaps. The Nonconsumptive Study has identified stream stretches that are environmentally challenged while also evaluating desirable flows for recreational purposes. Recreation in the Colorado high country and downstream on the Colorado is an important economic factor for the West Slope and the state.
The draft Interbasin Compact Committee Draft Report to the Governor dated December 2010 stated the obvious: The only way the state will solve its water supply gap without cannibalizing irrigated agriculture on both sides of the Continental Divide is through a four-pronged approach that includes achieving success in conservation, reuse, well-structured agricultural water transfers, Identified Projects and Processes (projects on the drawing board) and new water development. The Colorado Basin Roundtable supports reuse and conservation first, retaining local control, including 1041 powers and an effort to reach consensus on acceptable projects and processes.
The Colorado Basin Roundtable developed a vision statement that advocates this tool box be fully rounded out and that every tool be pursued equally as vigorously, that a transmountain diversion is not the first — or only — tool to pop out of the box because in Colorado residents possess the core competency to study, engineer and build them. Colorado doesn’t have such a track record with statewide water conservation, although there are many individual successes, especially on the Front Range. Land use decision-making that could save water use is another tool that deserves more study and emphasis. If there is truly a dire water supply gap, then there is a dire need to look honestly at all options.
The planning currently underway looks at a 2050 horizon, when the state demographer is predicting a statewide population of 10 million people. But life continues after 2050. The decisions made based on 2050 will dictate what happens afterward. If the policies developed in the next five years (as per Gov. Hickenlooper’s request) result in an overemphasis on new water development in lieu of dealing adroitly and decisively with conservation, reuse, agricultural transfers and land use, Coloradoans are only putting off until 2050 what should be happening within their lifetimes. That is because the Colorado River system water development in play is clearly the last increment available prior to triggering compact administration.
On that subject, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is watching and waiting for the results of the Colorado Water Availability Study, and for that matter, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado Basin Study, the state’s compact administration study and the multi-party study of a West Slope Water Bank.
Basin leaders hope they create an understanding of:
• the range of water left to develop,
• the variables that could be caused by climate change and long-term drought,
• what methods that could be employed to forestall the day of compact administration and
• what compact administration might look like.
Leaders believe that if they can develop this body of knowledge, they can develop a better understanding of the risks associated with future water development.
Which brings up the subject of water development “futures” that have been undertaken by the IBCC. The focus to date has been on a mid-demand, mid-supply scenario of planning. Leaders hope to see an examination of a low-supply, high-demand scenario to round out what is shaping up to be an honest intellectual examination of the state’s challenges.
In the first paragraph, basin leaders cited two Identified Processes and Projects that are being permitted in the Colorado mainstem basin. They are Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project that would increase that project’s yield by 18,000 acre feet a year and the Windy Cap Firming Project, which would increase its yield by 30,000 AF a year.
Denver Water and 39 West Slope entities in the Colorado River mainstem negotiated the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement to open the door for the Moffat Project, which still must be permitted. In return for taking more water from the peak of the hydrograph, Denver offered significant funding for environmental projects, environmental water during low-flow times and consumptive water for the West Slope.
Northern Water (through its Municipal Subdistrict) is attempting to reach a similarly styled agreement with the West Slope to facilitate its project. Nothing is final, but it is worth noting that there could be a new paradigm being developed that goes a long way toward balancing consumptive and nonconsumptive needs.