Water, water, everywhere. Well, not if you live in colorful Colorado. The state is losing its most precious resource at an alarming rate. Fortunately, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s first-ever water plan will help.
Released yesterday, the plan looks at a number of factors including population growth and potential weather events to determine how Colorado’s water supply can meet demands in coming years. Colorado’s population has grown by 4 million people since 1930, with hundreds more arriving everyday, the plan predicts that Colorado will be falling far short of its water needs by 2050.
Water use is measured in acre-feet, the plan explains. With an acre being a third of the size of a football field, the measurement notes how much water it takes to cover one acre to a depth of one foot.
Right now, Colorado averages 13.7 million acre-feet of water per year and only uses about 5.3 million (40 percent) of that. And much of the state recycles that water multiple times through return-flow runoffs from rivers. 89 percent of that 5.3 million acre-feet is used by agriculture, while cities and industry use only 11 percent of it.
The state relies on four major river basins (the Colorado, Arkansas, Rio Grande and South Platte) for its water supply, as well as rainfall. According to the plan’s accompanying video, natural water supplies have not kept up with Colorado’s growth, so these basins are being slowly depleted.
Meanwhile, most of Colorado’s rainwater falls on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, while 80 percent of the population lives on the east side. Retaining and moving this water can be difficult, especially because most of it is required by legal agreements to flow downstream to other states, the video states.
Another major legal issue? The Colorado Water Conservation Board can not set a restriction on water use for agriculture. “The reason we don’t set a conservation goal for agriculture is because the [agricultural] user has got to produce a crop,” James Eklund told Colorado Public Radio. Even as the head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Eklund is unable force farmers to use less water. “If you’re asking them to conserve water, that means they are fundamentally diverting less water and growing less crop. That is a private property right in Colorado.”
But, through other conservation efforts, the plan hopes to get the projected 2050 water gap down from 560,000 acre-feet to a cool zero acre-feet by 2030. 400,000 of those acre-feet could be saved by cutting back on municipal and industrial water use. Without help from water providers, business owners and Colorado’s own thirsty citizens, this goal will be a challenge, but the Colorado Water Conservation Board believes it’s attainable.