As the state prepares a statewide water plan, a local non profit wants to make sure our rivers and streams in the Valley are protected. Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy is pinpointing environmental values, so, as the state searches for more water to fill growing needs, local waterways stay full. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
In his State of the State address earlier this month Governor Hickenlooper touched on water.
"Now, if words were water, the state would never run dry," he said.
He went on to talk about the Colorado Water Plan - an effort begun last year to solve the state’s dwindling water supply.
"This year we will also complete the Colorado Water Plan, which will emphasize conservation, address incremental storage and address drought mitigation."
With the state’s population projected to nearly double over the next 35 years, the current water supply can’t keep up. Drought and climate change pose additional challenges. To keep up with growing demand, Colorado will need to find an extra 500,000 to acre feet of water. That much more will be needed annually, starting in 2050. One acre foot of water is enough for a year for two to three families.
The state water plan is meant to find solutions, and soon. A draft plan is due by end of the year.
"I think our role is kind of two-fold," says Heather Tattersall.
She's the Watershed Action Coordinator at the Roaring Fork Conservancy. The non profit is part of an advisory group looking into non-consumptive uses of local rivers, like fishing and rafting. Their research could become part of the statewide water plan.
"It’s looking at pieces so that, if or when water’s reallocated we don’t injure areas that are healthy right now and we don’t deteriorate areas that are already struggling," Tattersall says.
So, if the state decides to pull more water from the Colorado River Basin to meet future demands, Tattersall says certain areas of the Roaring Fork Watershed, which feeds the Colorado, should be protected, like the lower Crystal River.
"There’s an in-stream flow right on the Crystal of 100 CFS (cubic feet per second). In low water years, that was down to two CFS. That can sort of be a red flag as a place to pay attention to. I think making sure that the places that are important to us, that we know about, that we’re able to use the knowledge we have and information and research we’ve gained, that we’re able to share that so that we’re getting adequate water and flows to protect the needs we have."
The Conservancy’s efforts will be included in a larger plan that looks at the Colorado River Basin. It’s one of nine basins looking at what their needs are and formulating plans that will become part of the statewide water plan. Jim Pokrandt is with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which aims to protect the Colorado from overuse.
"We know the Colorado River Basin, and all of Western Colorado, is the target for helping the Front Range fill its gaps," he says.
Indeed, the biggest need for additional water will happen in the South Platte Basin, the most populous region of the state and an area that needs plenty of water for agriculture. Pokrandt says most of the state’s water is on the West Slope.
"It’s the belief of many on the Front Range that the Colorado River system is going to be part of their salvation. We’re not so sure over here on the West Slope. So, our version of the Colorado Water Plan will be keenly looking at that issue."
The Colorado River basin is already stretched, says Pokrandt, diverting water to Front Range cities, as well as sending water to downstream states and Mexico.
Besides water groups weighing in, the State wants feedback from the public. A list of places to leave comments is here: