This editorial is from the February issue of M&A’s Arizona Water Policy Update.
While the Lower Basin states are huddling to come up with short-term strategies that could postpone a shortage declaration for a year or two, our Upper Basin neighbor, Colorado, has been focused on planning for the longer term. Last month, the long-awaited Statewide Water Supply Initiative was released by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). To meet the needs of up to 10 million additional people and new demands expected from the booming oil shale industry, the state projects it will need another 600,000 to 1 million AF of water by 2050. Each basin-by-basin assessment also considers environmental and recreational water needs. Like Arizona, Colorado’s “business as usual” scenario has been to dry up farmland and plan more pipelines and reservoirs. This study recognizes the negative impacts of fallowed farmland, new diversions, and large water storage project and instead advocates a mix of solutions — conservation, transfers, local water projects, and new water supply development. The state is also spending money — $3M in grants over the last 2 years alone — to develop water supply alternatives other than simply fallowing farmland. As an example, one proposal is to create a bank of pre-1933 water rights that could be used to prevent a call on the river by Lower Basin states.
The Statewide Water Study is the result of 2005 state legislation that created the Colorado InterBasin Compact Committee (IBCC), a division of the CWCB. Composed of 27 members representing each basin in the state, the IBCC conducted “basin roundtables” to obtain grassroots input on water needs and methods to meet those needs in each basin. The IBCC report is designed to be a statewide planning tool for water providers and lawmakers, who are now expected to work together on implementing strategies to meet Colorado’s long-term water supply challenges. Underscoring the goal of cooperation between water users and lawmakers, Governor Ritter attended the IBCC meeting when the report was released in December.
Comparing Colorado’s and Arizona’s water planning approaches reveals similarities and differences. Arizona, too, recognizes the need for long-term water supply planning, and the goals of the Arizona Water Resources Development Commission, created last year by the legislature, are very similar to those of the IBCC. However, while Colorado created a commission that was funded to spend 5 years gathering information and preparing a detailed report, the Arizona legislature allotted 1 year to the task and assigned it to an agency that has been forced to lay off more than 50 percent of its staff in the past 2 years because of funding cuts. The Colorado report represents an example worthy of Arizona’s consideration.