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Water ways: supply conference holds hope for state's future.

The primal moment of the water conference, its highlight, had to be when former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, once known as "Governor Gloom," held up balled fists on each side of his head, and with a grimace on his face between them, declared:

"There's always going to be somebody holding up a sign that says the world is going to end tomorrow .... And the world hasn't ended."

Yet Lamm was there, before 150 engineers and government officials, at nicely plush Mount Vernon Country Club, overlooking the Platte River Valley and the Denver Basin, a set of aquifers, issuing another stern warning about America's and Colorado's future if certain dire trends are left un-addressed. The latest trend and Lamm's topic: global warning.

Lamm's lunchtime keynote speech was designated "A Heretical View of Colorado Water Policy--Rethinking Colorado Water Policy in a Time of Global Warming." And, of course, the first heresy involved therein is Colorado's absolute lack of any water policy to cover the state.

The meeting itself was a gathering of the Colorado Section of the American Water Resources Association, its annual symposium, held for old water buffaloes and potential new ones. And yet the session had a youthful flare: young men and young women considering the symposium's 2005 topic--Colorado Water Supply, Status and Sustainability.

In other words, how the young people in attendance hoped to make sure they would have the water they would need to raise their children in Colorado during the next couple of decades.

Rick Brown, a young Colorado Water Conservation Board scientist, spoke of what comes closest to a statewide water plan but he denounced calling it a plan from the start. In fact, to make clear that the water board's $3 million Statewide Water Supply Initiative (it's referred to as SWSI, pronounced: swazi) was in no way an attempt to dictate water policy to local water authorities throughout the state, Brown denounced false impressions he said were spread during the campaign for the failed water-storage Referendum A in 2003.


"Unfortunately, connections were made between Referendum A and SWSI," said Brown. "Some language (was) actually put into Referendum A that said any project that would come out of SWSI would be funded by Referendum A .... (But) there was never any connection from the Colorado Water Conservation Board's perspective."

But then Brown went on to deliver an eloquent and studied presentation of the state's projected water-supply logistics, an assessment that suggested municipal and industrial water providers' current plans would provide 80 percent of the state's water needs by the year 2030--if those plans are successfully implemented, which, Brown said, is "a big if."

But Coloradans would still come up at least 20 percent short of their needs in the state's current best-case scenario, Brown said. He was the perfect set-up for the former governor's doomsday speech.

"Goodbye London, goodbye Bangladesh," Lamm said, citing a British study that said the breakup of the western Antarctic ice sheets, which could be caused by global warming, could raise the oceans high enough to flood those places.

But Lamm's urgency wasn't wasted on the crowd of engineers.

Brown had said the legislature ordered the Water Supply Initiative in order to measure the state's prospects for meeting future water needs in light of the statewide drought that drew down most municipal water supplies.

The drought also raised pressure on cities to contract for water supplies that otherwise would be used for agricultural purposes.

Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament referred to that process when, during his presentation, he almost cried out in pain: "When you take and dry up that agricultural ground, you're starting to take apart a beautiful system that our forebearers put together."

Ament was talking about the system of water canals and ditches that farmers use for irrigation water, water that is taken from and returned to rivers after use for agricultural purposes.

"People need to understand how this system works," Ament said. "West Slope, East Slope, San Luis Valley. Don't tell me by fixing a toilet in Denver, and using and reusing all the water, you're doing any favors to the way we maximize the use of Colorado water. You just dried up all of agriculture.

"Agriculture is not making a lot of money," the commissioner continued. "That's why it's so easy to go out and get that ag water.

"The average age of our farmers is over 60 years old. They are losing equity in their operations. Talk to anybody. The price of grain, feed grain, today, is the same as it was in 1945. Energy costs, take gasoline for one, or diesel fuel, if you don't think these guys are having a tough time. Or natural gas, you pick whatever measure you want.

"The point is, these guys aren't making any money, and here comes my friend Peter Binney (director of utilities, City of Aurora, a fellow conference panelist with Ament who spoke of Aurora's innovative deals with farmers to purchase water for city use) and he says, 'Hey, have I got a deal for you!'"

Ament actually praised Binney for working out arrangements with farmers who sold water rights to Aurora, to use only portions of the farmer's water for municipal purposes while allowing other portions to remain on the farm to keep the farmer's land productive.

Ament called for more such partnerships between water users and water suppliers to make up for the 20 percent gap Brown anticipates as the state's unfilled need in the next quarter century. That's really what the entire day-long symposium was about.

After the state's immediate budget problems, which may be solved to a degree by voters in November, water remains the state's next most pressing growth issue.

The young people--and the old people--at the AWRA symposium already knew that. Part of the reason for their being at the conference was to learn more about how to speak to the water issues the state faces: to the hundreds of Colorado neighbors, fellow church members, fellow workers and others, people who each participant may have reach during the next four or five years when solutions to Colorado's water woes need to be negotiated.

For the young people, as Lamm knows, the stakes are high.

Their future was the central point of his address.

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Title Annotation:Attitude at Altitude; American Water Resources Association annual symposium
Author:Schwab, Robert
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Previous Article:Colorado: state of fiscal conflict.
Next Article:Coming soon.

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