December 31, 2014--Planning for population growth and water scarcity in the West (Colorado Springs Independent)

'We are booming," says Jorge Figueroa, water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. In population, that is. But there's a problem: "You can't have growth if you don't have water." According to a 2014 Colorado Department of Local Affairs report, Colorado is expected to see an additional 2.5 million people by 2040. And throughout much of the West, even a subtle mention of "drought" sparks talk of impending doom. But we've survived drought before. "The West has been experiencing drought on and off for as long as we have information about rainfall," says Sally Thompson, University of California at Berkeley professor and hydrologist. Through a detailed study of the oldest living trees in California, scientists have analyzed drought records that date back almost 5,000 years. Supplementing this study are thousands of additional precipitation data sets collected with modern meteorology equipment. "Every data source we have suggests that droughts are a natural part of the climate of the Western USA," Thompson says. And some water advocates argue that the gap between the water available and that which growth will demand can be closed with increased preparation efforts, including conservation. "Drought is also going to compel us to make those changes even if we are not willing to," Figueroa says. The timing for implementing change couldn't be more perfect, with Colorado developing its first statewide water plan, a first draft of which became available Dec. 10 at coloradowaterplan.com. According to the website, it hopes to illuminate "a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture."

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