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Colorado risks running low on water

Shane Macomber/Daily file photoLocal Shakkai Moon, 8, cools down from the hot weather Friday wile running through the fountain in Vail Village. Many in Colorado say the state will have to act strategically to maintain adequate water supplies.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Faced with a limited water supply and fast growing cities and mountain town resorts, Coloradans will soon have to rearrange their priorities when it comes to water ” or else there won’t be enough to go around.

A diverse group of citizens, water managers, environmentalists, conservation advocates and government officials from several river basins across the state have begun regular roundtable meetings to discuss how they can ensure that Colorado won’t run out of water.

This collective, called the Interbasin Compact Committee, is envisioning a gradual shuffle of water use over the next 50 years to meet the drastic changes in demand.



This will be a shuffle from Colorado’s farms and ranches to Colorado’s fast-growing cities and industries. Conservation, more than ever, will have to be a lifestyle. Mining has been replaced with more modern activities like kayaking and fly fishing.

Colorado’s attitude toward water is outdated ” and new attitudes need to be adopted.



“Colorado faces significant and immediate water supply challenges that need to be addressed ” the current approach to water supply will not lead to a desirable future for Colorado,” says a draft “Vision Statement” agreed on by members of the committee.

The Interbasin Compact Committee is made up of represenatives from nine smaller river basin roundtable groups in different communities. You have farmers and ranchers needing to irrigate their fields; city managers hunting for drinking water; citizens from the mountains, wanting to protect their fishing holes and kayak parks. It’s a diverse group with sometimes deeply conflicting interets.

There are two big musts for Colorado’s water future that the committe will have to address, says Eric Hecox with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.



The first big one is a giant, collective push for water conservation, which is the easiest and cheapest way to increase the water supply, he said.

The committee has for the most part agreed that water is now a “developed” resource in the state, meaning that there’s not much new water to find, all the water has been put to use, and we’ll have to work with what we have, says David Fulton, director of the Eagle River Watershed Council

“The (Interbasin Compact Committee) vision is like looking into a Kaleidoscope. We are not adding to or taking away from what water we have; but we do need to slowly and gently change our water use picture to reflect today’s and future needs,” Fulton said.

And a big part of that “Kaleidoscope” is conservation.

“We have to stretch the supplies ” the first step is definitely conservation, efficiency and reusing water, just to see how far we can stretch those resources,” Hecox said. “That is going to be the first step, and a very important step, but it won’t be enough to get us there.”

The problem with conservation is that it can in fact cost a lot of money.

“When you start talking about conservation, you’re talking about a particular provider’s water system and how it’s operated. This takes equipment and investment and long term planning,” Hecox said. “Conservation is by far the cheapest and easiest way to get some new supplies, but it also has consequences and tradeoffs.”

The other big, fundamental change will be landing on a strategy of how to transfer water uses in Colorado. Right now, 80 percent to 90 percent of water in the state is used by agriculture. That will likely have to change over time, as industry becomes more important, and more people move into Colorado cities and need water to live.

“We’re talking about a shift from farms to cities,” Hecox said.

Of course, figuring out how to actually conserve water, shift priorities and increase the supply of water in Colorado is the tricky part. The committee will eventually create and agree upon a 50-year “Visioning” document outlining a master plan for water use in the state.

It will be a collection of goals and strategies that everyone can agree on and decide to work toward. Whatever this group comes up with won’t be legally binding. The vision and goals in themselves won’t effect water rights or appropriations.

What it does hold though is influence, Hecox said. A collaborative statement like this, crafted with the input of dozens of minds with conflicting interests, could have a big influence on how elected officials, from small town water boards to state legislators, make water decisions.

“It has a lot of pull with government agencies and decision makers ” they’ll see that this has broad support, and it can be used as a framework for decisions,” Hecox said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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