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Business Partnership met to discuss water issues facing state

February 5, 2014 Updated: February 5, 2014 at 7:59 pm
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A worker welds a seam as work continues Thursday, April 5, 2012, on the pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to the Colorado Springs area as part of the Southern Delivery System. About 17 miles of pipe has been installed since May of 2011. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Colorado's looming water crisis got some attention Wednesday.

With the state's population expected to double to 10 million by 2050, Colorado will need another 500,000 acre feet of water, said Alan Hamel, chairman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

"If we just stand by, we will be hit by a slow moving train," he said.

Hamel spoke to about 35 people during one of the Southern Colorado Business Partnership's community engagement meetings. The session was held at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

Attendees also received updates about two key factors in the state's water future.

They heard from Mark Pifher, principal project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities about the Southern Delivery System and the Fountain Creek watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

Part of the water crisis is being caused by rapid growth. But another big element is ongoing drought conditions, Hamel said.

Colorado is in the midst of a drought that has cut drastically into the state's supply of water, especially from mountain snowpack.

"The climate appears to be different today than it was years ago," said John Fredell, SDS program director.

SDS, he said, is "one of the solutions for the 2040-2050 time frame."

The massive pipeline will bring water from the Arkansas River to Colorado Springs.

It's on schedule, Fredell said.

And it's pumped money into the southern Colorado economy.

Nearly $265 million has gone to businesses in southern Colorado and 325 business have been involved in its planning and construction.

SDS "by far is the biggest constructing project going on at this point in time in southern Colorado," Fredell said. "We want to make sure the money stays in Colorado and preferably stays in southern Colorado."

There's plenty yet to be done, Hamel said.

A draft of Colorado's water plan needs to be completed, public feedback needs to be collected and a final plan needs to be submitted to the governor's office by December.

The final product will be presented in December 2015.

That plan will address the gap between growth and water supplies, address ways to lessen the impact on agriculture, protect and enhance rivers, and create incentives for a more efficient regulatory process.

"Now is the time to bring us all together," Hamel said.

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