"Every discussion about water should start with conservation", says CO Gov. John Hickenlooper. The CO Water Conservation Board has been directed to draft a state water plan to address the state's water challenges. The draft plan is due Dec. 2014 and the final plan Dec. 2015.
The goal of the state water plan is to meet supply gaps in municipal, industrial, agricultural and non-consumptive uses (recreation and environment). "Everyone in Colorado is responsible for the state's water supply needs". Make your desires known by googling, Colorado Water Plan, and submitting the "General Input Form". Make sure to also attend a public forum when it is scheduled in your area.
The following letter was written by Jo Evans and Ken Neubecker of the Audubon Colorado Council.
Colorado faces a future with more people and less water. A state water plan is a good idea- but we must plan carefully to get the future we want. We need to include rivers as rivers, not merely as engineered conduits bringing water to our faucets and farms.
Rivers do much more than keep fish wet. They are the life and heart of entire ecosystems. Ninety percent of Colorado’s wildlife depends on riparian habitat to survive. Riparian areas and rivers make up less than 5% of our total land area, but they are the most complex and important habitat we have. They are incredibly valuable economically as well as environmentally. According to the US Census Coloradoans spent $10 Billion on wildlife recreation in 2011 alone. Healthy riparian areas and rivers statewide made that possible.
Most Colorado rivers have no prescribed minimum flows, and a healthy riparian zone needs more than that. When we take water out of a stream things change. Riparian areas and the gravel aquifers they depend on dry out. Recent studies have shown that diverting more than 20% of a streams native flow can cause damage, and most streams in Colorado have far more water than that removed. Most water used will eventually returns to the original stream, often many miles downstream. Water taken out of its original basin for use in another basin is simply gone. These Trans-basin diversions impact the entire stream and riparian ecosystem, not just the flow of the stream.
When we add new water to a stream on this side of the divide, typically, the stream becomes wider, deeper, and faster. The stream may no longer fit the environment under which it was formed, impacting everything that depended on that stream habitat. This not only impacts wildlife but can make the natural drainage less able to handle floods such as we had last year.
We do pretty well at determining how much water we will need for our faucets and fields. We identify how much we need and when, and then look for ways to provide that water. The Colorado Water Plan lists specific municipal, industrial and agricultural needs for each of the major river basins and the possible projects that will fill those needs. But we need balance.
Specific environmental needs are still mostly unknown. Environmental uses are usually described as “attributes” to be “enhanced” by new storage and diversion projects. These “enhancements” may, or may not be enough to maintain healthy stream and riparian environments. If we are to really meet our environmental water needs, we must identify and quantify those needs.
When we know how much water we actually need to repair and maintain our rivers, we can truly plan how to meet these needs. Until we do, the state water plan is only half a plan and doesn’t provide for all the values expressed in the Governor’s Executive Order calling for the Plan. Not by a long shot.