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Water: Planning the future of Colorado’s precious commodity

Staff Writer

Illustration by James Dietrich An illustration of the San Juan River System. The Southwest Basin Roundtable, the source of the illustration and the overseeing organization of the river system, is currently in the process of helping to develop the Colorado Water Plan. One of the major issues on the table: securing water for Colorado’s future.

Illustration by James Dietrich
An illustration of the San Juan River System. The Southwest Basin Roundtable, the source of the illustration and the overseeing organization of the river system, is currently in the process of helping to develop the Colorado Water Plan. One of the major issues on the table: securing water for Colorado’s future.

Rod Proffitt, president of the San Juan Water Conservancy District Board and member of the Southwest Basin Roundtable committee, gave a presentation on the developing Colorado Water Plan to town council on May 6.

Roundtable organizations for each river drainage region in Colorado were created by the state in order to manage the equitable division of Colorado’s water.

According to literature on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, the entity “provides a forum for water discussions pertaining to nine distinct sub-basins, including the San Juan River [and] the Piedra.”

The established roundtables are now key players in the development of the Colorado Water Plan, which was mandated by Gov. John Hickenlooper through an executive order to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) issued May 14, 2013.

According to Proffitt, the CWCB is actively seeking input on the development of the plan from municipalities and affected groups. This is the first time Colorado has actively attempted to create a state-wide water plan.

“It’s already come down to a Western Slope versus Front Range debate over water,” Proffitt told town council. “The Front Range would like at least a million acre-feet of water from the Western Slope to kind of secure their water needs into the future. They’re doing conservation, they’re doing everything that they can, but they’re also coming up short.”

Currently, “eighty percent of the water is on the Western Slope, but eighty percent of the population is on the Front Range,” Proffitt informed council. “Hence the problem.”

The water sources that are available, especially the Colorado River, are being overcommitted. There is a very real gap between the water that is needed from the Colorado River and the water that is actually available from the river.

The CWCB issued a memorandum Feb. 4 outlining the state’s contingency plan to address the “critically low Colorado River reservoir levels in the next several years.”

The CWCB’s memorandum states: “The Colorado River supplies water to most of Colorado’s 5 million people. Basin wide, it supplies 40 million people and irrigates over 6 million acres of agriculture in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming), the Lower Basin, (Arizona, California, Nevada), and Mexico. According to the United States Conference of Mayors, the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion Gross Metropolitan Product per year.

“The Colorado River system relies on two large regulating reservoirs: Lake Powell in the Upper Basin and Lake Mead in the Lower Basin. Lake Powell is the main storage unit of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP), the ‘bank account’ that allows Colorado and the Upper Basin to meet our Colorado River Compact Obligations.”

The San Juan River and Colorado River are the two major tributaries to Lake Powell, (see illustration), with the other rivers in the Southwest Region ultimately feeding into the San Juan.

According to the information Proffitt presented to town council, the state of Colorado could double in population within the next 25-30 years. Proffitt stated that the state’s water needs to be secured for the future.

Proffitt also explained to council that the “Chama Diversion” takes almost 25 percent of the San Juan’s water away from the San Juan drainage.

“We’re losing a lot of water out of what might be usable for us and that’s going to Albuquerque,” he stated.

“We need to bolster what they call the IPPs, which is Indemnified Processes and Projects, for the Southwest Region to bolster our water needs for the foreseeable future,” Proffitt concluded.“… water’s an important aspect of our way of life.”

Proffitt’s presentation to the town came as part of the outreach efforts by the Southwest Basin Roundtable to gather input on the development of the state’s water plan.

The Southwest Basin Roundtable convened in Cortez yesterday, May 14, to discuss the details of the Colorado Water Plan, among other pertinent water issues facing the region.

Each state roundtable is charged with developing a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) to address water challenges facing their region. The BIPs will inform the state-wide water plan.

The proposed timeline of the Colorado Water Plan is to finalize each region’s BIP by July, and then to present those plans to the governor in December.

The final Colorado Water Plan is expected to be presented to the state in December of 2015.

In a fact sheet put out by the Southwest Basin Roundtable in April, the need for outside entities to weigh in during the development of the region’s BIP was highlighted.

“While contact with stakeholders that hold water related values and interests has been fairly well developed,” the fact sheet states, “more needs to be done to reach out to non-water related groups in their own settings to bring the Water Plan discussion to a broader audience.”

Hence Proffitt’s presentation to town council last week. Proffitt mentioned that he would also be making similar presentations to the county and to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District.

The region’s roundtable is also planning to hold public meetings through 2015 to gather input during the formation of the BIP.

Southwest Basin Roundtable states, “By taking action now, we can ensure a secure water future for our state. We need your help and here is what you can do: Invite us to present to your local organization … Attend one of the Basin Roundtable or Public meetings, Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.”

Interested parties can learn more about the Colorado Water Plan and regional BIP by visiting coloradowaterplan.com and cwcb.state.co.us/pages/cwcbhome.aspx.

The Southwest Basin Roundtable convenes bi-monthly, alternating locations between Durango and Cortez. Further information about the organization, its meeting times and contact information can be obtained by visiting: cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables/pages/southwestbasinroundtable.aspx.

shanti.johnson@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on May 15, 2014.