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“Scotch is for drinking, water is for fighting”

Coloradoís water supply is low and its demand is high, according to a four-person panel of Colorado water experts. On May 3, the panel presented at the Whatís on Tap? Coloradoís Water Future event sponsored by the Palmer Land Trust and Colorado Collegeís State of the Rockies Project. Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, hosted the panel event.Panelist Amie Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, said there is a statewide precipitation imbalance; wherein, 80 percent of the population and irrigation water demands are on the eastern slope, while almost 80 percent of the stateís water is on the western slope.The statistics are grim, she said. Only 4 percent of all water on earth is fresh water. Of that, just 0.0067 percent is in lakes and rivers. The relative scarcity of consumable water, coupled with rapid climate change, creates uncertainty when it comes to the availability of water.ìWeíre losing predictability on how our water is coming to us. Weíre using our best data to predict the future, but data isnít doing much for us because our future isnít going to look like our past,î Beatie said.The Colorado River, which provides 50 percent of the front range urban water supply and 66 percent of the stateís irrigated land acres water supply is one of ìthe most water-stressed rivers in the world,î Beatie said. ìWeíre using (the water) to extinction before it can actually reach the sea.îThe strain is made worse because of the stateís growing population. Coloradoís current population is more than 5.5 million; it is expected to grow to 10 million by 2050. The annual native Arkansas River Basin supplies 600,000-acre-feet of water to the state; by 2050, demand will rise by 560,000-acre-feet annually, according to an informational pamphlet handed out at the event.ìThe question is, do we have enough water to supply to our people here, let alone the people to come? If we donít, how are we going to supply that water?î Beatie asked.Part of growing water demands will be handled by moving water from irrigated agriculture to cities, alongside water conservation, reuse and storage.ìThe future of water in Colorado is incredibly challenging,î said Jeffrey Kahn, an attorney at Lyons Gaddis who has practiced water law in Colorado for more than 35 years.Kahn talked about the Colorado Water plan adopted in late 2015 by Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.It is the only water plan in Colorado to be endorsed. Previously, Colorado had its appropriation doctrine, which stated those with senior water rights had the first say, and those with junior water rights didnít get anything until those with senior rights had their water needs met in full.ìYou may know that saying: ëIn Colorado, scotch is for drinking, water is for fighting,íî Kahn said. ìThe water plan doesnít change that. The appropriation doctrine is still with us, and if we adhere to that, itís still first in time, first in right.îWhile agriculture provides reliable water supplies, attempting to re-allocate water prescribed for agriculture use can be difficult.ìMost of the easy solutions have been built. There is increasing pressure on agriculture to solve the dilemma, but thatís a threat to agriculture,î Kahn said.Regular water consumers can also do their part.ìIrrigate less blue grass, (fewer) lawns. It doesnít belong out here and it uses a tremendous amount of water,î Kahn said. Watering lawns ìmoves half of the municipal water demand in this state,î he added.Panelist Rebecca Jewett, executive director of the Palmer Land Trust, said water is also vital to preserving Coloradoís scenic open spaces and vistas, and maintaining robust working farms.The PLT water preservation goals include increasing the amount of protected irrigated farmland and its water rights through easements, deed restrictions and long-term leases; and assisting farmers with starting thriving farms, ultimately benefitting the local economy, Jewett said.ìWe are exploring the possibility of identifying key farmland Ö vital to the survival of the region, and maybe identifying other farmland where we can re-route and use the water for other things,î Jewett said. ìReally, itís about figuring out how we can balance everything.îThe eveningís final panelist, Innovative Conservation Solutions Principal Scott Campbell, talked about several possible solutions to solving the water crisis.ìWe can look at several things: flow science and flow variability, approaches to basin-wide planning and spatial analysis and design,î Campbell said.Other solutions can be realized through water-oriented development, integrated land use and water planning, and exploratory scenario planning and planning for uncertainty, he said.ìThe city of Colorado Springs is in a planning process,î Campbell said, referring to the cityís 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, which aims to establish a plan based on a healthy and thriving city in the near future.ìWe need to be innovative. How do we use water as many times as possible as close to its origin as possible? Thatís what we should be solving.î

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