Water managers told to tread lightly with Colo. River supplies | VailDaily.com

Water managers told to tread lightly with Colo. River supplies

Jerd Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

As the Colorado River struggles to supply growing populations here and elsewhere, water utilities should plan to take only small sips of its shrinking supplies until critical questions about climate change and energy use are answered, a key state water official said today.

“We really don’t know how much water we can develop at a reasonable risk,” said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We know we’re reaching our limit on our water resources, so why don’t we start small, see what we can develop and in 30 years or so re-evaluate where we are.”

Until climate and hydrological science improves, Kuhn said only a small amount of the river’s supplies should be set aside now for the Western Slope, the Front Range and energy development.

His comments came at a regional water conference sponsored by the River District. More than 200 water managers and politicians attended the gathering.

The Colorado River is one of the few left in Colorado that experts believe has some water left. Its supplies, now divided among seven Western states, including Colorado, have become increasingly strained by population growth, global warming and now energy development.

Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the seven states divided what they thought was about 16 million acre feet among themselves. But studies now show the river has much less, perhaps as little as 13 million to 14 million acre feet, meaning each of the states is facing shortages that will do little but get worse in the coming years.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, urged water managers to continue a series of collaborative partnerships lawmakers authorized shortly after the 2002 drought struck. The roundtables were designed to help Colorado’s urban and rural region partner to divide remaining supplies equitably. But the process has generated little consensus on what to do.

“Failure has consequences,” Penry said. “We have to push communities toward compromise. As these bottom up projects come forward, we’re going to need political leadership to push them across the finish line.

“We study an awful lot, but I think we need to orient ourselves toward action. We decided to give these roundtables real power by giving them money. We need to orient ourselves to action.”

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