Regulators keep state from holding onto water, Tipton says

Unnecessary federal regulations are choking off development of needed water projects, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said Tuesday.

“The growing West needs new water projects,” Tipton said at a subcommittee hearing addressing water and hydropower supplies.

A headwaters state, Colorado sends some 10 million acre feet of water downstream to other states every year, Tipton said at the hearing of the subcommittee on water and power.

Increasing water storage in the West is critical because of the surplus-drought cycle, Tipton said, calling for streamlining the federal regulatory permitting process.

The state of Colorado estimates that it will need to capture an additional 1 million acre feet of water annually by 2050 to accommodate a growing population, Tipton said.

Anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 acres of farmland could be dried up by that same year, in transfers to cities, Tipton noted.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has completed only one large, multiple-use impoundment — the Animas-La Plata project near Durango —  in a decade.

Additional storage could be used for a variety of purposes, from meeting the demands of growth as well as the goals of protecting the environment and endangered species, Tipton said.

Regulations and lawsuit threats have prevented private investment in reservoir development,

Robert Shibatani, CEO and principal hydrologist of the California-based Shibatani Group, testified at the hearing.

“I know private sector investors who are chomping at the bit” to invest in water projects, Shibatani said. If projects can win approval, Shibatani said, “They’ll sign checks fast.”

The hearing was called to draw attention to what the subcommittee described as “a conflicting and outdated regulatory framework that creates process-related hurdles inhibiting water storage projects from moving forward and making them unviable for private investment.”

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