Age of Limits in Colorado, and How do We Recognize Them in Developing a State Water Plan?

UNIVERSITY OF DENVER WATER LAW REVIEW ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM 2013: ADDRESSING SUPPLY & DEMAND IMBALANCES IN THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN

Denver, Colorado       April 12, 2013

Age of Limits in Colorado, and How do We Recognize Them in Developing a State Water Plan?

John Stulp, Special Policy Advisor to the Governor on Water and Chairman of the IBCC at State of Colorado, moderated a panel on the limits of Colorado’s water supply and how future water supply projects and legislation manage those limits.  Panelists shared Western Slope and Front Range perspectives on Colorado’s water supply and the need to balance the development of new supply with flows for environmental and recreational purposes.  Furthermore, the panel examined the future viability of agricultural water transfers in meeting growing municipal supply.  The panel consisted of Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River Water Conservation District; Marc Waage of Denver Water; David Taussig of White & Jankowski, LLP; and Peter Nichols of Berg, Hill, Greenleaf & Ruscitti, LLP.

Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River Water Conservation District presented Augmenting Supply in Colorado: How Much Water Is Left to Develop in Colorado.  Kuhn discussed uncertainty in new water projects regarding the future supply and demand of water in Colorado.  Mr. Kuhn identified three source of uncertainty: (i) future hydrology, (ii) future demands, and (iii) existing compacts, such as the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948, imposing uncertain legal constraints.  Mr. Kuhn identified three politically and practically difficult to implement strategies to reduce risks and uncertainties for future water projects: (i) limit new consumptive use to times when the system storage is full, (ii) use water banks, and (iii) implement improvements to current and future storage.

Marc Waage of Denver Water presented a response to Kuhn’s presentation.  Waage started with the principle there is no unused water that the people of Colorado can use without consequences.  Next, Waage outlined existing conservation measures Denver Water currently employs to obtain unused water resources.  Waage noted Denver is reaching the limits of unused water resources that behavioral conservation can obtain.  Finally, Waage completed his presentation with the premise that small projects are very important for the future viability of the water system.  Waage listed four key aspects to promote these small projects: (i) giving water utilities support for conservation measures, (ii) flexibility in water laws to allow for sharing of water resources, (iii) streamlining water project approvals, and (iv) enabling future development of Colorado water.

David Taussig of White & Jankowski, LLP presented Challenges and Opportunities in Protecting Non-Consumptive Uses in an Ecologically Limited River System Like the Colorado River and Its Tributaries in Grand County.  Taussig listed numerous challenges involved in protecting the water resource of Grand County.  He listed the major challenges as improving the water clarity of Grand Lake, reducing sedimentation in Grand Lake and the Colorado River, and ensuring water flows are adequate to keep water temperatures below standard levels.  Taussig listed the following opportunities to protect the water resources of Grand County: increase limits on future diversions from the Colorado and Fraser Rivers; require Grand County’s and the Colorado River District’s approval for all future projects, adhere to the 2008 Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s narrative standard on water quality; and require flushing flows of up to 1200 cfs below Windy Gap.  Taussig was confident that implementing the opportunities he listed would help alleviate the challenges he listed and would protect the Colorado River and its tributaries in Grand County.

Peter Nichols of Berg, Hill, Greenleaf & Ruscitti, LLP presented The Future of Transfer From Agricultural to Municipal Use: Changing Colorado Legislation to Allow for More Flexible Water Leases.  Nichols outlined six pieces of existing and future Colorado Legislation allowing for temporary transfers of water rights from agricultural uses to municipal uses.  Legislation would limit the majority of transfers to a duration of three to ten years, contingent on the requirement that no injuries would occur to existing rights holders, and subject to the State Engineer’s approval. Nichols completed his presentation by asserting these leases are an essential element of state water policy and we need to find out if they will be effective tools to alleviate water shortages.

Eric Kuhn, Marc Waage, David Taussig, and Peter Nichols presented a variety of issues, challenges, and opportunities that limits of Colorado’s water supply could impose on development of a state water plan.  All panelists were optimistic that implementation of the opportunities could ensure a water supply for Colorado’s future generations.