More Flexibility in State's Water Laws Needed, Panel Says

According to an April 24th Greeley Tribune article, reforming laws to provide more flexibility in how water is used and shared in Colorado will be critical in meeting demands as the state’s population rapidly grows. Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Western Resources Advocates Director Bart Miller and Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead said the complexity of Colorado water law and the immense court costs associated with it have deterred some users from sharing the resource and taking other measures that would improve efficiencies. That needs to change, they told an audience at the University of Denver’s Sturm School of Law in April. Other aspects of the state’s water law—like its “use it or lose it” language, which discourages conservation, Miller said—must be altered if Colorado is going to maximize its beneficial use of the resource and meet its rapidly growing demands. According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study in 2010, the state could need as much as 630,000 acre feet of water annually to meet the demands it will have by 2050.

Along with more flexibility in water laws, the trio of experts said urban areas need to grow within their existing boundaries, instead of sprawling outward, which takes up more arable land and forces municipal water providers to expand water infrastructure. Salazar said group housing can save anywhere from 40-70 percent in water consumption compared to individual homes. “We should be encouraging density,” said Lochhead, explaining that Denver’s current population density is about 4,000 people per square mile—much less than other major U.S. cities, particularly New York City, which has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile.

Across the board, the trio of experts said, Colorado residents, who consume 121 gallons of water per day, need to more closely resemble residents in countries such as Australia, who only consume 36 gallons of water per day. Cities using less water will be critical in keeping water on the state’s farms and ranches, Salazar said, and also in protecting Colorado’s wildlife and recreation industries, which generate 80,000 jobs in the state and $6.4 billion in spending annually, Miller added. Of the state’s eight major river basins, the Colorado River is most at risk, they said. According to stats shared by Miller, the Colorado River’s water demands began exceeding its supply in the mid 1990s.