Basin Study Overview with Reaction Panel and Q&A


Denver, Colorado       April 12, 2013

Basin Study Overview with Reaction Panel and Q&A

Following the first keynote address, the 2013 Water Law Review Symposium welcomed an overview of the comprehensive Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study (“Study”).  The Study, jointly funded by the US Bureau of Reclamation and seven Colorado River Basin states, projected supply and demand imbalances throughout the upper and lower Colorado River Basins over the next fifty-years.  The discussion panel, comprised of several of the water law and policy experts who helped prepare the Study, gave a broad spectrum of perspectives on the Study’s findings and implications.

Carly Jerla of the US Bureau of Reclamation, representing the Federal perspective, began by giving a general synopsis of the Study.  It began by assessing changes in water supply and demand within the basin over the next fifty-years.  The Study’s authors then compiled these projections in order to see how the entire basin system is likely to perform under a wide range of projected future conditions.  Projections ranged from a very conservative scenario to a scenario based on a worst-case projection of the effects of climate change.  The final phase of the Study then identified portfolios of strategies for dealing with projected supply and demand imbalances.  While many of the solutions put forward are likely to reduce the long-term supply and demand imbalance in the basin, Jerla stressed that none of the options will completely eliminate the risks associated with increased demand and dwindling supply.

The next speaker, Kay Brothers of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, gave a lower basin perspective on the Study.  From this perspective, the Study highlighted the fact that lower basin municipalities will be unable to cope with projected supply and demand imbalances by relying solely on strategies designed to reduce demand.  Brothers instead stressed the need to develop new sources of supply in the lower basin, as well as the need to start developing new supplies of water as soon as possible, including developing new desalination capabilities and supplies of imported water.

The third speaker, Ted Kowalski from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, represented the Colorado State perspective.  According to Kowalski, because most of the big trans-mountain diversions to the Front Range are post-compact water rights, the Front Range has to begin looking for ways to avoid curtailment of these rights in the case of a Lee Ferry Deficit.  From this perspective, water banking in the upper basin represents a key solution for avoiding curtailment because of a Lee Ferry Deficit.  Dave Kanzer, representing the explicitly Western Slope perspective of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, likewise emphasized water banking as a key tool for avoiding a Lee Ferry Deficit in the next fifty-years.

Marc Waage from Denver Water presented the Front Range perspective.  Placing heavy emphasis on the uncertainty in the science behind the Basin Study, Waage pointed to lower basin shortage problems as the most pressing problem facing the basin as a whole, as well as the need for all of the basin stakeholders to work together to solve common problems.  Waage made it clear, however, that lower basin shortages should not keep the upper basin from developing its own allocation of Colorado River water.

The final speaker on the panel, Taylor Hawes of the Nature Conservancy, gave an environmental perspective on the Study.  Though she generally praised it, Hawes criticized the Study for not considering the current health of the river ecosystem and its associated species.  This failure, she contended, will inevitably lead to further degradation and, importantly, to further endangered species listings within the basin.  This will in turn generate greater conflict among the basin stakeholders while decreasing flexibility to cope with future imbalances.  These criticisms aside, Hawes echoed the general sentiment among the panelists that the Study represents an important first step in confronting the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin over the next fifty-years.