The Colorado Statesman | State Water Plan Updated, More to Come

State Water Plan Updated, More to Come

Colorado towns and cities could be asked to make big reductions in their water use, under a new goal added to the state’s water plan.

The statewide plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013, is now on its second draft. The first draft came out last December, and received more than 24,000 comments.

The biggest change from the first draft to the second is the addition of a chapter that originally was to show recommendations for legislation. It now focuses more on actions that the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the plan’s author, can take on its own, with legislative recommendations taking a secondary role.

The plan changed in other ways, too.

There’s more reference to climate change as an issue. The role of the state’s Indian tribes in water planning, approval and permitting got more attention.

But it’s the new goal of reducing municipal water demand by 400,000 acre-feet that has legislators and others talking. That’s a lot of water: one acre-foot of water is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre by one foot, or about 325,000 gallons. So 400,000 acre-feet is about 130 billion gallons of water. The average family of four uses about one acre-foot of water per year in the West.

In 2010, the Statewide Water Supply Initiative identified a gap of 1 million acre-feet of water by 2050, largely due to a projected increase in the state’s population. According to the 2010 report, the state’s population is expected to nearly double in that time. The SWSI will be updated next year, and many in the water community believe the gap will grow substantially.

The goal of reducing municipal water use by 400,000 acre-feet wasn’t in the first draft, nor was it included in any of the recommendations from the basin roundtable groups. These groups, made up of representatives of water interests in each of the eight river basins in Colorado, plus Denver, developed implementation plans to deal with Colorado’s looming water shortage. These implementation plans were incorporated into the statewide water plan.

The second draft identifies the municipal reduction as a “stretch goal” and is based on conservation. According to the draft, this goal will require changes in customer behavior, new regulatory mandates and innovations in technology. This will result in “high levels of customer participation,” according to the draft. “The committee believes this is achievable.”

The stretch conservation goal got the attention of legislators, who commented on it at Wednesday night’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee. The committee this week visited three communities to gather input on the statewide water plan (see sidebar).

Another facet of the plan that is getting less than positive reviews is a call for a new trans-mountain diversion.

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