Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Panel proposes nine-point plan for Colorado’s water future

While Coloradans have made great strides in conserving water, municipal and industrial demand for water in the next 20 years may increase by up to three times the amount of water currently delivered by Denver Water, the state’s largest municipal water agency, according to a water panel assembled by the University of Denver.

The 24-member DU Water Futures Panel, which recently completed its work, says cooperation and collaboration on all sides will prove to be the most important components of any solution. The future will depend on more conservation, partnerships between cities and agriculture, and planning for how to deal with extended droughts brought about by climate change. The panel was composed of Colorado civic, business and agricultural leaders.

Members say what distinguishes the panel and its work is the spirit of cooperation among all shareholders, from urban corridors to farmers, Front Range to Western Slope, tourism interests to industrial consumers.

“Colorado continues to be an attractive place for families to live and the demand for water will continue to grow,” said panel co-chair and DU Chancellor Emeritus Daniel Ritchie. “We see a future that protects our water resources, promotes our economy, preserves our natural environment and ensures that Colorado’s rural heritage remains a legacy for generations to come.”

Denver Mayor and panelist John Hickenlooper said the collaborative nature of the finished product creates a new benchmark for water-issues studies. Water has been a precious resource worth fighting over for a century, Hickenlooper said. Now, finally, it’s proving to be a resource worth working together for.

“Whether we like it or not, we are all connected at the hip, especially on this issue,” Hickenlooper said. “This will be looked back on 25 or 50 years from now as one of the pivotal points.”

After considering the looming pressures of urban growth, climate change and complex water compacts, the panel is emerging from six months of study optimistic about the state’s ability to meet water demands. The report includes nine key proposals aimed at protecting the state’s water resources:
•    Embracing fairness, trust, respect and openness in water supply planning
•    Encouraging water conservation
•    Encouraging partnerships between urban and agricultural water users
•    Eradicating non-native phreatophytes (high water consuming plants, such as tamarisk and Russian Olive)
•    Streamlining the Water Court
•    Encouraging statewide perspective on water storage and infrastructure projects
•    Facilitating cooperation between river basins
•    Planning for potential climate change and drought
•    Maintaining healthy rivers and instream flows

The panel was co-chaired by Ralph Peterson, chairman and CEO of Colorado-based CH2M HILL, a global leader in engineering, consulting, construction and operations.

“While there is no quick-fix to solve water issues in the state, our recommendations must be taken as a package of ideas to help Colorado achieve a sustainable water future that prioritizes water conservation, maximizes efficient use of existing water systems and encourages collaborative planning for new water supplies, said Don Evans, CH2M HILL president. “Our report represents a framework of ideas that helps protect Colorado’s prized environment and rural history, as well as supports our economy.”

The panel’s report is available online and will also be mailed to a broad list of Colorado citizens in an effort to inform the public about the nine proposals. Those receiving the report include agricultural groups, water professionals, state legislators, county commissioners, academics at Colorado colleges and universities, city councils and chambers of commerce. The panel hopes the report will prompt interested parties in the state to begin working together on solutions to the state’s water issues. 

The DU Water Futures Panel is affiliated with the Strategic Issues Program recently launched by the University. Each year, the chancellor will choose an issue of strategic importance to the state, and Program Director Jim Griesemer, professor and Daniels College of Business Dean Emeritus, will assemble a non-partisan panel of Colorado citizens to study the issue.

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