Colorado may need to put $100 million aside annually to do more with the same amount of water
April 25, 2016
Steamboat Springs — Would you be willing to pay an extra penny or two on every beverage container you purchase for the next 30 years or so, if it could assure Colorado will meet its future water needs?
John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper's special advisor on water policy and director of the state's Interbasin Compact Committee, put that question to an audience of more than 50 people in Steamboat Springs on Monday, and he was surprised at how many hands shot up.
Now that Colorado has its new statewide water plan in place, Stulp said it's time to begin thinking about where the state will get the billions of dollars needed to close the water supply gap the state faces to support another estimated 5 million residents.
"The governor believes every conversation about water should start with conservation," Stulp said. "I've always said, 'You can have as much fun as you can afford.' The state's role might be something to the tune of $3 billion," suggesting the residents of the state need to plan to raise about $100 million annually.
And that's a lot of beverage containers.
On Colorado's Western Slope, it's common to blame Front Range cities for consuming more than their share of the state's water.
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Stulp, who comes from a cattle ranching/wheat growing background in southeastern Colorado, thinks our futures are bound together by the urgent need for more water supply.
"I say it pulls us and ties us together," he said, "and we're all tied to the Colorado River, because if anything happens there, it happens to all of us."
Denver Water, which supplies water to 25 percent of the taps in the state, is doing more than many might realize, Stulp pointed out. The biggest water provider in Colorado is serving many thousands more users than it did 30 years ago but is using the same amount of water, thanks to conservation measures including the re-use of water.
After all, Denver Waster's customers want to enjoy the rivers of the Western Slope, too, Stulp said.
There has been a paradigm shift in the way the Front Range looks at water, Stulp continued. Former Department of Natural Resources Chief Mike King, who is the new director of future water supply for Denver Water, grew up on the Western Slope in Montrose and understands the water outlook from this side of the Continental Divide.
But the agency also knows if the lower basin states ever made a call on the Colorado, demanding their share of water, it would hurt the Front Range more than the Western Slope, Stulp said. In part, because every acre-foot of water that wasn't diverted to the eastern side would be felt doubly, because the water is used more than once.
Asked by Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who also serves on the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board of directors, if Gov. Hickenlooper is putting pressure on governors in the lower basin states such as California, Arizona and Nevada to use their water more wisely, Stulp replied, "Yes." But he quickly added that diplomacy in the form of the relationships Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund has built with his counterparts is essential to Colorado's relations with other Western states.
Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, asked Stulp for his reaction to the fact that 40 percent of food produced in the U.S., much of it with the help of irrigation, is wasted.
"It goes to show you how cheap food is in this country and how cheap water is," he concluded.