Understanding the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan

This is the first of monthly articles from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan.

Since the 2002-2003 drought, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has undertaken a comprehensive study of Colorado’s water. 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. 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. Subsequently, the basins were charged with the development of a consumptive and non-consumptive needs assessment 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, an examination of the water supply and availability in the Colorado River Basin, implementation plans that were tied to identified water projects, water conservation, agricultural transfers and the development of new water supplies.

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. The study also identified the Front Range 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. An increasing energy demand in the state would also require more water.

Supply was also examined and localized shortages were identified. The Colorado basin was identified as a possible source for new supply since compact entitlements were not fully utilized. The study further noted 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, we know more about our future water demands and available supplies. It is a given that “the Gap” is widening between supply and demand. In May of 2013, Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order that directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan. The CWCB has tasked both the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables with the development of 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. The timeline for final Basin Implementation Plans and, ultimately, Colorado’s Water Plan is established through distinct benchmarks that will need to be met.

Year

Date

Target

 

 

 

2013

May

Executive Order to CWCB

 

July

Draft Colorado Water Plan Framework

 

November

Evaluate Direction and Legislative Needs

 

 

 

2014

July

Basin Implementation Plans Due to CWCB

 

December

Presentation of Plan to Governor

 

 

 

2015

December

Final Colorado Water Plan Presented to Colorado

The purpose of the Basin Implementation Plans is to address the gaps identified in SWSI 2010. The plans will be prepared under the direction of the basin roundtables and will build on local input and planning efforts. The Basin Implementation Plans will provide a mechanism for basin roundtable members and other stakeholders to work together to overcome potential project implementation constraints, effectively implement water projects that achieve designated regional water management objectives, and address the basins’ water supply gaps. In addition, the plan processes will identify prospects and limitations within the basins for meeting water supply gaps, all the while considering the basins variable hydrology—dry, average, and wet conditions. The Plan will identify sources of water used in most basins including native water (surface and tributary groundwater), trans-basin water, water used by exchange, reuse, non-tributary groundwater, and reservoir storage. This will result in a basin water operations summary, which will help basin roundtables and will add a better understanding of which projects and methods may be successful in meeting both the consumptive and non-consumptive gaps. This effort will form a foundation for future SWSI Updates.

Each Basin Roundtable is charged with developing its own plan. These Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) will then be incorporated into Colorado's Water Plan. The basin roundtables are at varying stages of developing their basin specific plans. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has committed the following resources to this effort—CWCB staff and the SWSI planning contractor will assist the basin roundtables in developing their plans. The basins will be allowed to tap their Water Supply Reserve Account at both the basin and state levels. This will help to ensure that the plans are in-depth and address the specific hydrologic complexities of each basin. The CWCB has established a timeline for the Basin Roundtables during this Basin Implementation Plan effort.

Coordination Meeting with Basin Representatives and BRT Contractors—December 2013

MEETING 1: Kickoff Basin Goals and Measurable Outcomes

Coordination Meeting with Basin Representatives and BRT Contractors—February2014

MEETING 2: Evaluate Consumptive and Nonconsumptive Needs and Analysis of Constraints and Opportunities

Coordination Meeting with Basin Representatives and BRT Contractors—April 2014

MEETING 3: Projects and Methods and Implementation Strategies for Projects and Methods

Coordination Meeting with Basin Representatives and BRT Contractors—June 2014

MEETING 4: How Plan Meets Measurable Outcomes

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable is busy gathering data for the development of the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. The Roundtable has contracted with DiNatale Water Consultants for the research and preparation of the basins plan and has set-up an operational oversight “steering” committee. The steering committee has put together a set of sub- committees to gather data and public input within their specific areas of expertise and interest. The sub-committees are as follows: Education and Outreach, Agriculture, Water Administration, Municipal and Industrial and Non-consumptive. The most important part of the plan is that it is a grassroots effort. This means that the development of the plan requires input and involvement from stakeholders. 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.webs.com.

The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Speeze, Tom can be contacted at tom@dinatale water.com

 

 

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