The availability of water faces an uncertain future in Colorado, but people along the Front Range – where most of the state’s residents live – should not be looking to the Western Slope – where most of the water is – to meet increasing demands, U.S. House Rep. Scott Tipton said.
“We cannot expect the Western Slope ... to carry the water (demands) for the Front Range,” he said. “And to supply every growing urban mass on the Front Range is something we need to make sure we’re protected from.”
Tipton, R-Colo., was speaking Friday at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 37th annual Water Seminar at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango.
In light of scientific studies that show less available water in future years in the West, and expectations that Colorado’s population increase will not slow down, water managers across the state have been trying to plan for coming shortfalls in available water.
Tipton offered two suggestions: use better conservation methods to reduce water use and build more dams.
“Lake Powell is always referred to as a bank, and I get it,” Tipton said. “But I also want a bank we can draw out of.”
In Colorado, about 80% of people live on the Front Range, while 80% of the precipitation falls on the Western Slope. Every year, about 500,000 acre-feet of water is diverted from the Western Slope to the Front Range.
For reference, residents in the entire Southwest Colorado basin, which includes the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel rivers, use about 500,000 acre-feet a year.
And with Colorado’s population expected to grow from 5.6 million people in 2017 to 8.7 million by 2050, politicians who spoke Friday said it is important for Western Slope communities to protect their water rights.
John Currier, chief engineer for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Colorado could face up to a 500,000 acre-foot shortfall.
“We’re not treading new ground here,” Currier said of the fact drought is common in the arid West. “The only thing new is the angst with climate change.”
Colorado State House Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican from Montrose said, Front Range communities need to start conserving water, in part, by being smarter about things like landscaping.
“We have to engage our urban cousins,” Catlin said. “That person on the 17th floor apartment – their experience with water is at the tap. They don’t understand.”
Catlin said the burden – and cost – should not fall on Western Slope communities to deal with the water demands of population booms on the Front Range.
State Sen. Don Coram, also a Republican from Montrose, said it is time the state start implementing the Colorado Water Plan that was developed in 2015 to deal with these issues.
The problem, Coram said, is there has been a lack of funding to get projects rolling. An estimate shows it would take roughly $40 billion to fully implement the water plan. The state has budgeted about $10 million this year.
A ballot item this November, Proposition DD, could add about $15 million a year.
“The only way we’re going to survive with water in Colorado is by building a bucket to hold it in,” Coram said. “And that takes money.”
Tipton said don’t expect any relief in the way of funding from Congress.
“Water is critical and something we have been focused on, in terms of issues impacting the western U.S.,” he said. “But one of the real challenges we see in Washington is, unfortunately, we’ve been in a static mode of continuing resolutions, and the problem is, nothing changes.”