NOREEN: Dry spell to further shrink city's supply

April 10, 2012
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Are you ready to rock?

Because it’s midnight at the oasis. The place is hotter than hot.

Oh — sorry if you thought a new bar just opened on Tejon Street. We’re talking about water today; Colorado Springs water that will become so much more expensive in a few years that you should be thinking about replacing that thirsty blue grass lawn with rock.

About 80 percent of the city’s water comes from the Upper Colorado River Basin, pumped under the Continental Divide. Without that supply, the city would have stopped growing sometime in the 1960s.

As many other water users have pumped their share of the Colorado and we’ve learned more about the river’s annual flow, it is becoming apparent that Colorado Springs’ share of the river is a bit tenuous. That’s the central theme of this week’s conference at Colorado College, “The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper joined in Tuesday, restating something that has become increasingly apparent since the 1970s: “Bigger and better dams are not going to be the solutions.”

A long-term dry spell has afflicted the Colorado Plateau, so less water has been flowing in the river. To make matters worse, bureaucrats vastly overestimated the average flow 90 years ago, when the seven states in the basin negotiated the Colorado River Compact, which divvied up the river.

The compact presumed 17.5 million acre feet (an acre foot is 325,000 gallons) flowed in the river annually. The reality: 11.7 million acre feet. Thus, the states have been bickering, in part, over about 6 million acre feet that do not exist.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently nixed the idea of building a pipeline from southwest Wyoming to southeast Colorado. It would have pumped up to 200,000 acre feet of water to Colorado from the Green River, but whether the water actually would be available every year is questionable.

This year the Colorado Basin’s snowpack is less than half of average. Colorado Springs stores water in reservoirs for years like this, but if there is a dry spell of a few years, the city’s supplies would shrink.

Water law gives the owners of the oldest water rights first call on the river, and the city is standing in line behind some of them. Colorado Springs is increasing its supply with the Southern Delivery System, but the price of water here will double in a few years.

“Conservation is the key,” Hickenlooper said. “How do we make sure we use it wisely so we don’t have to take it from the West Slope?”

And how do we maintain yards without going broke?

One way is to start rockin’ today.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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