VAIL — When it comes to running a business, owners usually aren’t too concerned with analyzing their water bill.
After all, unless you are a ski resort, the cost of your water utilities is probably dwarfed by other costs. It’s a commodity that can often be taken for granted.
“I think that’s absolutely true,” said Cabal Yarne, of Arriesgado Clothing Company in Lionshead Village. The store has gone green in a number of ways that include switching to all LED lighting and buffing up recycling efforts, but he hadn’t specifically considered water use. “You don’t always think about the snowmaking and other water uses that go on (in managing a business here).”
But business owners should be concerned, say experts helping form the Colorado Water Plan, because how the state decides to manage its water has major economic consequences.
“Consider the value of water,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “Guests come here to enjoy our pristine natural environment, and water is really the centerpiece of that environment.”
As Colorado decision makers come together in the next six months to meet Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Dec. 10 deadline to have a draft of the Colorado Water Plan, they are looking for feedback and input from the business community. A complete plan is due by December 2015.
Some of the experts working to shape the plan came to Vail on Thursday, hosted by the Vail Chamber and Business Association, and talked to a roomful of people representing entities from the Water District to Vail Village hotels.
“While many entities have gotten involved in this, the business community in general hasn’t gotten involved,” Mizraim Cordero, with the Colorado Competitive Council, told the crowd. “We’d like your feedback, and when we turn in (the measures of the plan), we’d like your support.”
The business of water
As the experts explained, managing water in the West has always been a contentious topic. Before the past decade, there were no fruitful discussions on water policy, much less a consensus on future management, said James Eklund, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
He said that changed about a decade ago when groups began to come together to represent a wide array of interests and all of Colorado’s geographical areas. The goal is to address “the gap” — the amount of water needed by growing communities both in Colorado and the downstream states that depend on Colorado water, and the shortfall in how much water is actually available.
“The good news is that we’ve acknowledged that problem, and it’s a challenge we’re working on now,” said Chris Treese, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “(Our water sources are) not bankrupt. Our balance sheet is positive, but our income statement is bleeding red on an annual basis. We’re starting to look at solutions like reusing water. Other states have been doing this for awhile, but it’s still a new concept in Colorado.”
In addition to the fact that many tourism industries directly depend on a good water supply — think ski resorts, raft and fishing guides and events like the GoPro Mountain Games — the cost of any business could rise if water becomes scarce.
Treese explained that Colorado and the West has been in a 14-year drought (even with record snow years factored in). If Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop below certain levels, then the reservoirs will be unable to produce the same amount of hydropower. Also, the upper basins may have to cut its own water use in order to send the obligated amounts downstream to states such as California.
“The estimates are that one year after the reservoirs stop producing electricity, power rates will quintuple,” Treese said. “Nobody wants to see that happen to any of their factors in their businesses and in their homes. Another factor is if we have to curtail our use here to meet our obligations to the lower basin. Both would be economically disastrous to the state.”
Businesses take action
Many business people who attended the presentation said they are already aware to some extent of the water problems facing the state. However, many said they appreciate the involvement extended to the business community.
“It was really good in that a lot of this can be very technical and overbearing, but it was very well explained. I don’t want to be a water lawyer, but I know that it matters,” said David Miller, of Alpine Bank.
Some businesses are taking action by reducing their emissions and resources use across the board. Miller said that Alpine Bank was rated one of the “50 Greenest Businesses” in the state thanks to its energy reduction program. In 2006, the company aimed to reduce water use at its banks by 10 percent — to date, they’ve exceeded the goal and managed to reduce it by 30 percent.
Larry Cavanaugh, president of Centennial Bank in Vail, said his bank is in the process of streamlining its resource use as well. As part of the local Actively Green 2015 program, the business is planning to focus on sustainability, an effort that includes reducing water use.
“I think most people who live here recognize water as a limited resource, but I’m impressed that we appear to have a collaboration that recognizes a future problem. I’m glad we’re addressing this now instead of being reactionary. It bodes well for our state,” Cavanaugh said.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.