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Reserving resources: Colorado will need 205 billion more gallons of water by 2030. The state's Water Conservation Board is taking a proactive role in meeting this challenge.

Faced with escalating population growth and drought, Colorado has reason to be concerned with its water supply. Now more than ever, thoughtful management of Colorado's water resources is essential to ensure a healthy economy while protecting the state's environmental resources.

Colorado's population is expected to grow by more than 65% over the next 25 years. While the majority of the state's population lives along the Front Range (the area between Pueblo and Fort Collins), 86% of the state's water comes from other parts of the state.


The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) commissioned and paid for an 18-month, $2.7 million study in June 2003 to assess water supply and usage demands in Colorado's eight river basins as part of a landmark Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI). SWSI is the first comprehensive examination of Colorado's current and future water supplies and demands. Other states and municipalities across the nation also are evaluating their water assets to identify and avert water-supply challenges.


Critical to the initiative's success was 80 stakeholder meetings, which were held from August 2003 to February 2005 in locations within all eight river basins. In addition to local interest groups and water experts, these meetings included municipal users, agricultural users, local governments, water conservation and conservancy districts, recreational and environmental interests, and the business community. "This initiative opened a dialogue that would not otherwise have been possible," says Jeff Crane, president of the Colorado Watershed Assembly.

The meetings opened the forum to smaller communities, which feared their economic, social, and cultural interests would be undermined by the needs of urban areas. There also was concern that the process would drive development of new water storage projects at the expense of the environment or recreation.

Because water has long been a divisive issue in the western United States, it was important for the statewide water supply initiative to establish a clear set of objectives. With input from the CWCB, the meetings defined water management objectives and identified solutions for meeting future water needs.


Before addressing specific water issues, the study asked roundtable members one question: What is important to people in Colorado when they consider how water should be used and managed? From this emerged a set of nine major water management objectives:

* Meet municipal and industrial demands

* Meet agricultural demands

* Optimize existing and future water supplies

* Enhance recreational opportunities

* Provide environmental enhancements

* Promote cost effectiveness

* Protect cultural values

* Provide operational flexibility

* Comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and water rights.

Recognizing that each individual would value these objectives in different ways, individual preferences for each roundtable member in each basin were noted.


The study revealed that current and future water projects and management processes implemented by municipal and industrial providers will meet about 80% of Colorado's water needs through 2030.

In 2005, a second phase of the initiative was launched, focusing on building collaborative strategies to address the identified supply gaps. Technical roundtables with individual mission statements were formed to seek multi-objective solutions and conduct technical work around four key areas:

* Water efficiency (agricultural, municipal, and industrial).

* Finding alternatives to agricultural transfers from permanent dry-up of agricultural lands, such as long-term rotating following programs, interruptible supply agreements, and water banks.

* Quantifying and prioritizing recreation and environmental needs.

* The 20% gap between municipal and industrial water needs and availability, agricultural shortages, and environmental and recreational needs, including developing alternatives.

While one of the initiative's goals was not to interfere with local planning, Dave Little, manager of water resource planning for Denver Water, says, "Even though the statewide initiative is focused on the 20% gap in identified water supply, we cannot lose sight of the critical importance of implementing the programs cities have identified to address the other 80% of needed supply, or we'll have real problems."

The technical roundtables continue to exchange information to prevent overlap among topics. The information generated in the roundtables will be a valuable resource for the CWCB as it develops water policies. By providing various solutions, the final product will help policymakers and stakeholders further understand the role water efficiency, agricultural transfers, and new water development can play in meeting future needs.

RELATED ARTICLE: The issue at a glance

Who: The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), a governor-appointed water policy organization comprised of representatives from each of the state's eight major river basins, plus one member representing the city and county of Denver. Created in 1937, the board is a division of the state's Department of Natural Resources.

What: The Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI), which aims to evaluate and solve current and future water supply and demand issues.

The problem: With Colorado's population expected to increase more than 65% in the next 25 years, the state faces serious water shortages.

Solution: An 18-month study involving 80 stakeholder meetings from all eight of Colorado's river basins. The meetings identified problems and generated objectives. Technical roundtable meetings continue to devise solutions to water supply issues.

RELATED ARTICLE: Fostering solutions

Stakeholder meetings look to the future.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board's 18-month study of water needs and supplies concluded that agricultural, municipal and industrial demand as well as interest in the use of water for recreational and environmental purposes is creating a high potential for conflict. In a way, this is good news for the state's water consumers: The competition for water provides an impetus for a multi-objective, multi-benefit approach to water management.

The study's other key findings:

* Water supplies are not necessarily located in areas of high demand.

* Increased reliance on nonrenewable, nontributary groundwater for permanent water supply raises serious reliability and sustainability concerns.

* If water-supply projects and processes are not successfully implemented, Colorado will experience a significant reduction in irrigated agricultural lands as water providers seek additional permanent transfers of agricultural water rights.

* While in-basin solutions can help resolve the 20% gap between municipal and industrial supply and demand, there will be tradeoffs and impacts on other uses, especially agriculture and the environment.

* "Conservation will play an important role in meeting anticipated water demands; however, conservation alone will not replace the need for additional water sources," says Harold Evans, president of the city of Greeley water board.

* Financial capabilities limit the ability of smaller, rural water providers and agricultural water users to address their existing and future water needs.

RELATED ARTICLE: Chicago water works

The Windy City gets ready to serve its burgeoning population.

With the population of the six-county Chicago metropolitan area expected to increase by 1 million over the next 20 years, devising a comprehensive water management plan presents a tough challenge.

That's why the Illinois Water Supply Initiative is taking a regional approach to water demand and supply.

Launched in June, the state-funded Water Supply Initiative is expanding on water-planning programs that have been launched by western Kane and northern Lake counties, where drought and dry wells already are straining water supplies. Kane County, the Chicago area's recognized leader in water planning, is conducting a four-year study with the Illinois State Geologic and Water surveys to refine its strategy for maintaining water resources. The county, which experienced a 15% population growth in four years, invested $2 million in water conservation efforts, reducing water use in some areas from 100 gallons a day to 65 gallons a day.

Research and planning within individual counties like Kane County will help the Illinois Water Supply Initiative make specific plans for each area.

The initiative has a five-year funding plan and will receive $1.05 million in fiscal year 2006. The money will be administered by the Department of Natural Resources, which has a proposed fiscal year 2007 budget of $203.6 million, $16.5 million more than in 2006.

--Ashley Trent

--Kuharich is the director of the CWCB; Brown is the acting deputy director of the CWCB; Morea is vice president at CDM, Denver; Rowan is a senior environmental engineer at CDM, Denver; DiNatale is a senior water resources engineer at CDM, Denver.
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Title Annotation:Water distribution
Author:Kuharich, Rod; Brown, Rick; Morea, Susan; Rowan, Nicole; DiNatale, Kelly
Publication:Public Works
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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