“Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin” is a joint report led by Western Resource Advocates with the help of Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Environmental Coalition. It focuses on the urban counties of El Paso and Pueblo, where most of the population of the Arkansas River Basin live, primarily in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Approximately 20 percent of Colorado’s population lives in the Arkansas River Basin.
Under a medium population growth scenario, El Paso and Pueblo counties are projected to add 569,000 residents between 2010 and 2050, making a total population of 1.36 million people. If population size drives water demand, the urban counties of the Arkansas River Basin will need an additional 88,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 in comparison to 2010 demands. (The report relies on the same data used by Colorado’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative to project future water demand.)
The report suggests that a portfolio of four specific solutions can ensure those future water needs are filled. Those solutions include the development of “acceptable planned projects,” increased water conservation, increased water reuse projects, and the integration of new agricultural/municipal water sharing agreements.
The portfolio of acceptable planned projects, conservation, reuse, and agriculture-urban sharing described would, according to the report, produce 54,000 acre-feet (17.6 billion gallons) of water in excess of the 2050 demands. While each of these four strategies has its individual trade-offs, the portfolio does not require new, large-scale, transbasin diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range.
So far, the only state-identified structural project selected as an “acceptable planned project” in the Arkansas Basin is the Eagle River Joint Use Project. This project can provide 10,000 acre-feet of new water supply annually.
“With the Eagle River project, we were somewhat skeptical of it,” Trout Unlimited’s Director of Colorado Water Project Drew Peternell said in a press conference on Tuesday. “In this case it was acceptable because of its unique perspective and that the project was crafted under an agreement on the Western Slope. It makes use of existing facilities rather than the construction of new facilities. Together with the Southern Delivery System and the Eagle River project they are expected to provide 47,000 acre-feet of water annually.”
As for the water conservation, the report outlines other published studies by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that indicate per capita water use can be significantly reduced over the next 40 years through conservation techniques, practices and technology. With a “high” conservation strategy in place, a reduction in per capita demand could reduce consumption by 34 percent – an annual reduction in water demand of 93,000 acre-feet by 2050.
“Conservation is all about managing demand,” Western Resource Advocates’ Water Policy Analyst Jorge Figueroa said. Figueroa is also the lead author of the study. “We believe a high conservation strategy is doable. It is equivalent to a 34 percent reduction and is a huge amount of water that can be keep in the system and resold at a cheaper price than new major infrastructure projects will cost.”
Already the urban counties have started programs for the reuse of water, which they intend to increase in the future. Currently, approximately 27,000 acre-feet of water per year comes from reuse programs. There are two planned reuse projects in the basin, which would provide a combined medium range yield of 27,500 acre-feet of water. The study identified that, in addition to the reuse projects already mentioned, reuse can provide an additional yield of 19,000 acre-feet per year. All combined by 2050, a total increase of reused water could reach 46,500 acre-feet.
Lastly, cooperative agreements between irrigators and municipal suppliers based on rotational land fallowing and temporary water leasing are a central feature of future water supply levels. With the creation of the Super Ditch, the Arkansas Basin is on its way to developing a broad agriculture-urban sharing program. The ag-urban sharing concept is premised on agreements that would lease water to municipalities at a price attractive to irrigators on schedules that are reliable for municipal suppliers.
The study suggests that such a program in the basin can provide 9,100 acre-feet of water annually by 2050.
“What I believe we have achieved here is we found solutions on how to meet the water demand of those urban areas in the Arkansas Basin while at the same time protecting the world class recreation and farming industries in the basin,” Figueroa said. “This report is very timely with respect to the [Green River] pipeline.”
“Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin” is the second report in an ongoing series that attempts to find strategies to meet Colorado’s future water needs. The first report, “Filling the Gap: Commonsense Solutions for Meeting Front Range Water Needs” concludes that a similar portfolio of solutions will produce 200,000 acre-feet of water in excess of the entire Front Range’s 2050 demands. To read both reports, visit westernresourceadvocates.org/gap/.
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