Colorado River in good shape " this year |

Colorado River in good shape " this year

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” The Colorado River Basin is in good shape this year. Spring runoff will fill all the upper basin reservoirs in the next few months, water experts said at the annual state of the river meeting.

Trying to address West Slope concerns about increased diversions to the Front Range, Denver Water’s Melissa Elliott described the utility’s aggressive conservation efforts, aimed at cutting total water use in the service area by 22 percent by 2016.

Right now, Denver Water customers use 211 gallons per person, per day. If Denver Water meets its goal, that number would drop to 165 gallons per person, per day, she said.

Denver Water board member George Beardsley said there are discussions about a wide-ranging effort to to fund protection for the Colorado River watershed by charging customers a fee that would help with forest health projects. The talks are at an early stage, and Beardsley said Denver Water would only consider the fees if other major water providers on the Front Range join in the effort.

Colorado River Water Conservation District manager Eric Kuhn took a global look at water issues by explaining how climate change could shift the water supply picture and set the stage for increasing conflicts about the resource.

By some predictions, warming temperatures could increase precipitation in areas that already are wet, and exacerbate dry conditions in other parts of the world, he said.

A long-term drought in Australia is part of the reason for a current world-wide wheat shortage, explaining that Australian farmers, major suppliers of wheat, haven’t been able to deliver a harvest in recent years.

The West Coast city of Perth wants to cap daily use at 40 gallons per person, and is close to the target, Kuhn said.

Elliot acknowledged the challenge and said that, once Denver Water eliminates waste ” the easy savings ” it will take mandatory measures like replacing appliances to save more water.

Some audience members asked about overall state growth, and limits to Denver Water’s service area. Other citizens wanted to know how Colorado river water will be split between the upstream mountain states and headwaters, and southwestern desert, where the Colorado’s waters inevitably flow.

All good questions, the panelists replied.

“We can’t grow out, but we can grow up,” Elliot said.

Kuhn said discussions about how much water the Colorado River system can actually deliver have intensified recently as potential demand from energy production becomes more of a reality.

The answer is unclear, but the growing demand for West Slope water means the resource has to be used more efficiently.

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