Competing for resources, variable flows are expected from the Colorado River Basin, tentative waterbody states

The Blue River, part of the Colorado River Basin, flows through Silverthorne.
Town of Silverthorne/Courtesy Photo

Colorado water leaders met Thursday to discuss the recently released Colorado Water Plan 2023 draftwhich describes actions to create a more water-resistant state.

The plan focuses on four “interconnected action areas,” including planning for resilience, thriving watersheds, and robust agriculture and community. It outlines 50 “partner actions,” or project ideas that could be supported by Water Plan grants, as well as 50 “agency actions,” to support local projects, conservation, and the wise development of water. ‘water. Overall, however, basin roundtables and stakeholders have identified over 1,800 potential future projects statewide and 321 in the Colorado Basin, including 36 in Summit County. In total, more than $20 billion would be spent on the projects by 2050.

Russ Sands, senior water supply planning program manager for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said projects in the database are designated as short-term, medium-term, or long-term when it is to achieve them. Nor are they all infrastructure projects. Some may work towards water conservation and others may be educational or environmental projects.



“I think the Water Plan does a good job of highlighting this in our Water Plan grants. There is a need for multi-benefit and multi-purpose projects,” Sands said. “So a lot of these projects, whether they’re 15 years away on the horizon, or the kind of things that could start next year, and we’re certainly trying to move forward, but we hope that all these are really going to work harder and harder to provide multiple benefits across the state.

According to the plan, the Colorado Basin – which includes Summit County and the Blue River – faces issues such as competing resources for agriculture, tourism, endangered species protection and the potential to administer the Colorado River Compact. The basin encompasses approximately 6% of the state’s population, and between 2015 and 2050 the population is expected to increase by 48-88%.



Flows are also expected to be variable over the next few decades. Decreasing peak flows in the basin create risks to wetland plants and fish habitats. Instream flows and recreational diversions in the channel may not be satisfied if summer flows decline due to climate change. Each year, water suppliers to the South Platte and Arkansas Basins export approximately 480,000 acre-feet each year from the Colorado Basin for agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses on the East Slope. Throughout the basin, up to 70% of the river’s water flows from the Colorado.

“The Colorado Basin will have to balance competing resources with a limited water supply,” the project says. “Protecting endangered species, sustaining the agricultural economy of the basin, and managing forests to improve resilience and health across the entire watershed are all major challenges.

The water that comes from Colorado averages 13.5 million acre-feet per year. More than 60% of this water is supplied to the 19 states and Mexico that rely on Colorado springs. Less than 40%, or 5.3 million acre-feet, is consumed on average per year in Colorado. In the chart, AF stands for acre-feet.
Colorado Water Conservation Board/Courtesy Image

In Colorado, according to the plan, 91% of water use is for agriculture, 7% for municipalities and 2% for large industries. The plan adds that, statewide, municipalities and industries could experience shortages of between 230,000 and 740,000 acre-feet by 2050, and climate change could alter the timing and amount of water available for cross-mountain diversion projects.

Over the next few weeks, the public will be able to submit comments on the draft plan by visiting EngageCWCB.org. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will also host four online listening sessions on July 27, August 10, September 1 and September 28 from 4-6 p.m.

“(June 30) opens the 90-day public comment period,” said Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This new and improved water feature is designed to meet today’s water challenges and builds on the legacy we have in Colorado of collaborative statewide water planning. . We have been experiencing very severe drought for more than 20 years and, more recently, severe aridification. The plan incorporates advanced tools for drought resilience (and) addresses climate change and population growth through scenario planning.

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