A new report from the University of Colorado at Boulder's Natural Resources Law Center addresses some tough questions concerning the impact of growth on Colorado's water supply.
The 191-page report, "Water and Growth in Colorado," is based on approximately 70 interviews with a "Who's Who" of Colorado water leaders as well as a review of recent water studies in the state.
The study describes existing water problems and potential solutions and asks: Is there enough water in the state to satisfy all the competing demands? Can water policy be used to manage growth? What changes in water law, policy, and management may be needed to serve the additional 1.7 million residents expected in the next two decades?
Recent census figures rank Colorado as the nation's third fastest growing state by percent, trailing only Nevada and Arizona. Eight of the nation's 18 fastest growing counties are in Colorado, led by national leader Douglas County. In many parts of the state, the result of this growth is increased competition for limited water supplies among the municipal, agricultural and environmental sectors, and between the East and West Slope.
Among Front Range municipal water providers, the nature and intensity of this competition varies greatly from city to city due to different water rights portfolios and water systems.
"Relatively old cities, such as Denver, with well-developed water systems, abundant and old water rights, and limited room for new population growth are best positioned," said Doug Kenney, project manager for the study and co-author of the final report. "However, many newer communities, such as those on the southern edge of the Denver-Metro area, must scramble to overcome their lack of developed water resources and water rights, and their explosive rates of growth."
According to Kenney, the majority of Coloradans should not worry about running out of water, at least in the near term.
"The real issue is not one of impending shortages, but rather the increasing economic, environmental and social costs that must be paid to keep the water flowing to growing regions."
The report is available from the Natural Resources Law Center by calling (303) 492-1286. A concise "summary report" can be viewed online at http://www.Colorado.EDU/Law/NRLC/waterandgrowth.html.
WATER AND GROWTH IN COLORADO
CU-Boulder Natural Resources Law Center
Projected Growth for Colorado
* Approximately 1.7 million new residents by 2020, with most locating along the Front Range. Growth rates in western Colorado will be higher in percentage terms.
* Coloradans use about 208 gallons per day for "domestic use," compared to a national average of 179 gallons.
* Largely due to irrigation, total per capita offstream water use in Colorado is 3,690 gallons/day, nearly three times the national average of 1,280 gallons/day. Only four other states have higher levels of use: Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming. ("Offstream use" includes water used for domestic purposes, commercial and industrial applications, thermoelectric power generation, irrigation, livestock, and mining. Figures are from 1995.)
* More than 90 percent of water consumed through human activities in Colorado occurs in agriculture. Agricultural water use in Colorado is not expected to increase and is likely to decrease slightly in coming decades as a result of increased irrigation efficiencies and additional agricultural-to-urban water transfers.
* Roughly half of municipal water deliveries in the summer are for landscape irrigation.
* Estimates show that over the next two decades, municipal water demand in Colorado could grow by more than 250,000 acre-feet/year (roughly the amount of water used by a million municipal residents). Over the next 100 years, this demand for new municipal water could exceed 1.2 million acre-feet.
For more information, see the detailed Q&A provided online at
http://www.colorado.edu/Law/NRLC/WaterandGrowthFAQ.PDF, or contact the Project Manager, Doug Kenney at (303-492-1296), or lead author, Peter Nichols at (970-963-6273).