Meeting Colorado’s Future Water Needs

During day two of the Second Quarterly Board Meeting of 2023, former River District General Manager Eric Kuhn joined the meeting with Jennifer Gimbel, Senior Water Policy Scholar at the Colorado Water Center, to discuss their recent report entitled, Adapting Colorado’s Water Systems for a 21st Century Economy and Water Supply with the Common Sense Institute – an economics-based thinktank and non-profit dedicated to providing a healthy environment in Colorado.

Kuhn began by calling out the now-familiar dilemma across Colorado and the U.S. West – that Colorado is going to have to do a lot more with a lot less water. While the Colorado River is the poster child for climate change impacts and the need for adaptation, all Colorado rivers are being impacted. Amongst their key recommendations, Kuhn and Gimbel focused on the regionalization of projects and water management, finding incentives for regional collaboration, and reducing competition for water within the state.

Within this call to action, Kuhn emphasized that “the Colorado River is not a new supply of water for the Front Range,” as observed in their published report. He went on, however, to note that Colorado agriculture is tied across the divide. “If we’re going to have healthy West Slope agriculture, we need to have healthy East Slope agriculture. Agriculture is going to continue to be at risk because of a lack of Front Range ‘vision,’” he said.

But how are needs going to be met on the still-growing Front Range and how do we move forward? Gimbel stated their report calls out the important work of the Basin Roundtables, support for full funding of the state’s Water Plan, and finding joint water projects within basins (or even with interstate neighbors) that could help with water supplies.

“They’re talking about spending billions of dollars in the Lower Basin,” Gimbel said. “When is the Front Range going to start making a similar investment? We need solutions that don’t allow developers to just keep jumping to other communities that aren’t looking at that long-term sustainability.”

Statewide standards for turf management (while recognizing regional differences in precipitation and topography), reuse, and regionalization should be pursued as Front Range solution sources with the least impact on the West Slope, their report outlined.

A summary of Kuhn and Gimbel’s report can be found in the Second Quarterly Meeting Packet here on the River District website. To read the full report, visit the Common Sense Institute’s research page here.