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Extra Water Savings Likely Addition To State Water Plan

Doc Searls
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An aerial view of the Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Granby. Lake Granby is part of a system that transports water from the Western Slope to communities on the Front Range.

Colorado's water plan will probably include additional conservation measures from cities and industrial users. That's what members of the state's Interbasin Compact Committee agreed to at a meeting May 20.

The specifics are still being worked out, but the added conservation could save 400,000 acre-feet of water. That’s nearly three times the capacity of Horsetooth Reservoir, outside Fort Collins.

Colorado's nine water basins presented their final plans for water management at the meeting in Sterling. Those will be incorporated into the statewide plan.

To date, 24,361 public comments have been made on the state water plan. Kate McIntire works on outreach for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. She analyzed the comments and grouped them into themes.

"We heard a lot about support for environmental and recreational needs. And then we did hear a lot from people about the need to increase conservation targets," said McIntire.

Other major themes include improving efficiency in cities, opposition to taking more water from the Western Slope for Front Range use, and improving agricultural conservation and efficiency.

The water plan does not come up with a solution to the contentious topic of diverting water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Rather, it includes a framework that will be the basis for future discussions on diversions. Basins on the western side of the state are opposed to new diversions, while those on the eastern side say they will be necessary because of a growing Front Range population.

Abby Burk works on river conservation for the Rocky Mountain regional office of the Audubon Society. She said the comments show the priorities of citizens in the state.

"So the public has spoken loud and clear. Coloradans want healthy resilient rivers and more efficient use of our existing water," said Burk.

Representatives for Colorado's river basins presenting at the meeting also discussed the need for improved knowledge about which rivers would benefit from improving stream flows, which can often dwindle in late summer months due to diversions.

A second draft of the water plan will be released in mid-July. After that the public can comment for 60 additional days. A final version of the plan will go to the governor on December 10.

The plan is not legally binding, but will be used for future negotiations and decisions. It's also referred to as a "living document," which means updates can be made even to the final version.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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