Panel proposes plan for water needs

A new report recommends a multipronged approach for action in meeting Colorado’s growing water-supply needs, including additional Colorado River development.

Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee on Friday released a progress report in response to a request by Gov. Bill Ritter last January to seek agreement and provide him an update before the end of his term.

The committee, with representation from river basins across the state, says the agreement taking shape after five years of discussions envisions conservation, transfers from agricultural uses, completion of existing planned projects, and new Colorado River water-supply development for Western Slope and Eastern Plains uses.

The committee acknowledges the controversy that will surround any new proposals to divert more Colorado River water to other basins, and it cites a need to explore “what is necessary to ensure that such projects support both East Slope and West Slope needs and protection of the environment.”

The committee says it is advocating an approach that shares the burdens and benefits of its proposed solutions, and there is a “sense of urgency regarding Colorado’s water-supply future.”

The state’s population is projected to nearly double by 2050. By that point it will need 200,000 to 600,000 more acre-feet of water beyond what’s now planned by water providers to meet municipal and industrial water demands and replace nonrenewable groundwater, the report says.

It says maintaining the status quo probably will lead to impacts such as water transfers resulting in significant loss of agricultural lands, and more dried-up streams that threaten ecosystems and recreation-based economies.

“Inaction is a decision itself, a decision with significant consequences,” the committee said. “The general consensus was the status quo scenario is not a desirable future for Colorado. This is one of the major reasons the group has been able to find common ground.”

The committee plans to present its ideas to individual basin roundtables and others for feedback.

Ritter praised the committee’s work in a statement Friday, saying its “collaborative, common-ground method asking all interests to share in the responsibility to map out a way forward is crucial if Colorado is going to maintain its economic and environmental quality of life.”

The group has invited Governor-elect John Hickenlooper to attend its February meeting to offer his thoughts on how the water-planning process should proceed during his administration.


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