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Municipal and Industrial Water Use

In 2004, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) completed the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) Phase 1 Study. One of the key findings of the study was that while SWSI evaluated water needs and solutions through 2030, very few municipal and industrial (M&I) water providers have identified supplies beyond 2030.

Beyond 2030, growing demands may require more aggressive solutions. Since the SWSI Phase 1 Study was completed, Colorado's legislature established the Water for the 21st Century Act. This act established the Interbasin Compact Process that provides a permanent forum for broad-based water discussions in the state. It created two new structures: 1) the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), and 2) the Basin Roundtables. There are nine Basin Roundtables each located in one Colorado's eight major river basins and the Denver metro area.

The CWCB determined that the forecast horizon for the water demand projections needed to be extended to the year 2050 to better represent the long-term water needs that the state will face. The West Slope Basin Roundtables suggested the 2050 timeframe for the demand projections so

that potential growth rates on the West Slope could be better characterized. Infrastructure investments and commitment of water supplies also require a longer view into the future. In addition, several of the SWSI Identified Projects and Processes (IPPs) with Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) requirements have used a planning horizon of 2050. Finally, the 2050 timeframe matches the ongoing energy

development study conducted by the Colorado and Yampa-White Basin Roundtables. (CWCB, M&I Water Projections.)

The Municipal and Industrial Rio Grande Basin Water Plan workgroup knows that unless action is taken, water shortages for San Luis Valley cities and towns will be inevitable. So the team set about laying out frame work for the Rio Grande Basin’s Municipal and Industrial uses. By working together the committee has uncovered some interesting facts:

  • The Division of Water resources doesn’t characterize any wells as “industrial” but as commercial.

  • There is a healthy photo-voltaic solar electric business established in the San Luis Valley, future growth of this sector seems assured. As an added bonus this generating capacity uses relatively little water.

  • Reasonable projections of future oil and gas drilling indicate that the industry’s future water use will probably not be extensive.

  • Opportunities for significant water requirements for hydro power plants appear limited at this time.

  • Total Municipal and Industrial water use in the Rio Grande Basin is likely to remain at not more than 1-3 percent of the agricultural water use. A situation that is much different, when you look at other cities and towns in river basins across the state.

The several municipalities in the Rio Grande Basin that obtain their water from confined aquifer wells, provide significant water to the surface system and to the unconfined aquifer in the form of treated waste water. Presently these towns receive no credit or benefit from their contribution. Moving forward these municipalities will need to secure their well water resources, by obtaining water augmentation plans or by joining a sub-district. The implementation of new water Rules and Regulations will lay out a specific blueprint of how these communities can move forward. Further complicating the water outlook for San Luis Valley municipalities is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) lowering of the maximum arsenic limits tolerances to 2 parts per billion. This action would greatly increase water treatment costs.

Water is nearly as “invisible” as the air we breathe. Unfortunately this creates a complacency that has led to failing infrastructure and severe water shortages in unexpected places like Atlanta, Georgia that added several million people in the past twenty years without increasing its water supply. (The Big Thirst, Charles Fishmen). The key for municipalities is to improve their outreach and education efforts about conservation and population. When simple conservation techniques are implemented the water savings is quite remarkable. Lowering water demands as a result of water efficiency can assist providers in avoiding, downsizing, or postponing the construction and operation of water supply facilities and wastewater facilities as well as eliminating, reducing, or postponing water purchases. In addition to these water supply benefits, there are other societal, political, and environmental benefits.

At present there appears to be no communities, within the upper Rio Grande Basin, in trouble regarding the development of adequate water supplies and /or obtaining augmentation water, but planning and conservation will allow us to move smoothly towards 2050.

Anti-discrimination Policy: The Rio Grande Watershed Conservation Education Program prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or a part of an individual's income is derived from any public assistance program.

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