Colorado Water Plan

Colorado River Water Conference: Assigning Blame for Lost Opportunities to Take Meaningful Action

The annual Colorado River water conference held in Grand Junction, CO yesterday brought together outstanding speakers and a fully engaged audience of several hundred “experts” who shared diverse messages about our looming water crisis – as if we do not have one already but we don’t want anyone to panic – some want to blame the droughts which may get worse, or climate change and rising temperatures, and future population increases for declining water supplies. Many are focused on future risk scenarios on how the economies and livelihood of farmers will be destroyed and who or what’s to blame.

The state of Colorado can keep about 1/3 of the river supply while 2/3’rds are required to be delivered downstream based on current agreements between seven Western states. We heard that people who live in the desert are growing unsustainable crops like alfalfa and cotton that get huge federal government subsidizes due to our broken political system. No surprise there as it’s been going on for many decades. The state of Arizona may put an end to all farming and focus on the four million water consumers of the Central Arizona Project. Plans being discussed in Arizona are forcing them to reduce their water dependency on the Colorado River by about 20 times the amount for Nevada due to priority rights.

We heard that the beneficial use doctrine in Colorado permits no wasting of water -- that the “use it or lose it” mentality is hysterical thinking -- others who said in reality much water is being wasted and not put to beneficial use which is illegal but not enforced. We heard that on average each American consumes an equivalent of 300 gallons per day of Colorado River Water (based on food consumption). Given that California has the largest population in the West with significant senior rights on the River and provides a majority of food for the World, imagine how they are feeling and when push comes to shove everyone will need to become more aware of the urgency.

The Colorado Water Plan completed one year ago provides for great ideas spread over several decades and is moving into the implementation phase. The plan is currently an unfunded mandate for the most part and money is needed to take action. Here is the Grand Junction Sentinel article that focused on the taxes issue.

We heard that water efficiency for farmers is better than conservation and others said both are great as long as people get compensation for their loss of rights. Some said Americans want more with more, and efficiency is doing more with less while conservation is doing less with less -- so conservation to some almost sounds unAmerican! Arguments were made for which method is more appeasing to various interest groups.

I thought the talk by a local Hotchkiss farmer, Tom Kay of North Fork Organic Farm, provided the best example of someone taking action that we all need to learn from. He converted his farm to sustainable practices by going organic which on average pays three times higher for crops; created a storage pond to capture two million gallons of storage from his water right on the Gunnison River that can be used all year; built a storage area used by other organic farmers; rotates crops and farm practices to increase yields and maximize profits; and is willing to innovate and test new technology!

Overall, with all the highly qualified speakers and attendees, in my opinion another opportunity was lost for meaningful dialog that could lead to us to taking action. Much too little time for questions and answers was given at the conference and no time made after the final panel discussion, the meeting was very brief (from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm), and seemed to check the box for many groups.

Future meetings held in Grand Junction are needed to focus on ‘connecting the dots’: the issues of the Western Slope including being caught between the power centers on both sides – from Denver to California and including large parts of Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The Western Slope needs much more awareness of these issues than only to hear about another fight on taxes as mentioned in the newspaper.

A renewed spirit of cooperation and creating new partnerships is needed for our children's survival - obviously water is connected to everything including the food we eat and supplies are not unlimited. Nature is truly interconnected and we are so dependent on the natural world; we need to find better ways to cooperatively solve problems through effective education and positive actions groups - we can all make a difference and work harder to achieve better sustainable outcomes.




Colorado River District Annual Meeting on September 16th in Grand Junction, CO

2016 Annual Water Seminar

The Colorado River District’s popular one-day Annual Water Seminar is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm at Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main Street, Grand Junction, CO
Theme: “Colorado River Waves of the Future: Fitting the West to the River’s New Normal”

Cost, which includes lunch buffet, is $30 if pre-registered by Friday, Sept. 9; $40 at the door. For information, contact Meredith Spyker. at 970-945-8522
Registration Form

Speakers will address the Lower Basin living within its water means and dealing with its “structural deficit,” how the Upper Basin is planning to deal with low levels at Lake Powell, sorting through the confusing programs addressing ag fallowing, a discussion of Use It or Lose It myths and a panel addressing what comes next after the Colorado Water Plan, especially with declining financial resources – plus more.

Draft agenda:

  • Temperatures Matter: Jeff Lukas, Western Water Assessment
  • How the Lower Basin is Attacking the Structural Deficit: Suzanne Ticknor, Central Arizona Project
  • How the Upper Basin is Attacking Low Water Levels at Lake Powell: Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District
  • Sorting through the Demand Management Weapons: Water Banking/System Conservation – who’s doing what: Dave Kanzer, Colorado River District
  • Lunch Program – “Killing the Colorado” author Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica
  • Use It or Lose It – Separating Truth, Myth and Reality: Justice Greg Hobbs
  • Colorado’s Water Plan – What Now? Panel Discussion with Colorado Water Conservation Board’s James Eklund; Colorado State Representative Don Coram and Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment’s Anne Castle

The Final Colorado Water Plan Is Available Today

The much anticipated final Colorado Water Plan is available today!

The Plan can be found at

If you submitted a comment to the draft report, the Colorado Water Conservation Board posted a spreadsheet with comments and responses. Here is the response to the September 13th comments (#27 out of 207 received during the first half of September) provided by Conserve & Pro$per LLC:

Thank you for your comments. Water conservation is a very important facet of Colorado's water management. Colorado's Water Plan has a conservation stretch goal, which demonstrates that conservation is a top priority. Colorado's Water Plan is based on incentives for local water providers to continue implementing innovative water conservation programming. The CWCB will explore the tax credit program so that local water providers, if they desire, can create landscape transformation programs. The CWCB supports implementation of best practices such as landscape codes and regulations. 


Comments submitted on the Colorado Water Plan

Here are the comments that I've submitted on the Colorado Water Plan:

Thank you Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for creating the state's first strategic plan for water. The Colorado Water Plan makes great strides towards addressing problems and solutions to our obvious water deficits in the arid western United States. However, the plan needs to be much stronger with urgent actions now. For example, the Introduction (page 4) section on "Why Do We Need a Water Plan?" gives the appearance that we have a future resource problem (rather than a current problem) by projecting shortfalls out to the year 2050 of 500,000 acre-feet/year statewide. 

The truth is that the western U.S. and Mexico are in serious trouble now. Coloradans depend on food from California. Due to the 4-year drought, many crops are withering and our food supply is threatened nationwide. We also depend on reliable hydroelectric supply from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Current water demand is greater than supply so as lake levels further decline this will have a greater impact on the Colorado River - I did not see these topics mentioned in the Colorado Water Plan.

When Governor Brown in California declared a statewide emergency this year with a call to action by reducing water use by 25%, I've closely watched the response here in the Western Slope. To my surprise many people complained about the wet May and abundance of mosquitoes and weeds. To my astonishment, the Daily Sentinel quoted the Grand Junction Rockies manager concerned the rains in July discouraged attendance with the headline "Rain, Rain Go Away!" It also appears the local legislators want to fight the plan rather than conserve.

I've taken videos of businesses watering lawns in the rain, watering during the hottest part of the day instead of the evening or early morning, and over watering onto streets.  Can the Colorado Water Plan provide incentives and enforcement actions for proper water use?

This May, I started a website blog at to promote educational awareness and eventually the hope of a productive business to facilitate beautiful xeriscapes, conservation with water audits, and improving water supplies and quality.

The Colorado Water Plan describes an action for Municipal Water Conservation and Efficiency as, "explore a tax credit for outdoor conservation practices..." Can the plan offer tax credits now? If not, by what date can we expect incentives to go into effect? Likewise, more metrics are needed to gauge accountability.

My neighborhood in the Redlands community of Grand Junction is on Ute municipal water supply with xeriscape requirements. However, there is no enforcement and most people still want to plant grass! At my home with our drip irrigation and native plants, we use about 3,000 gallons per month in the summer while people who've planted grass may use 30,000 gallons per month or more. If people are given the choice between lawns and food, I think most rational people would agree to plant less turf. The problem is that most people have an irrational fear of 'use it or lose it.' The Colorado Water Plan could provide a much better rational for the urgency of needing to work together to solve our common problems.

Previously, I've lived in Las Vegas and Albuquerque (working as a hydrologist) - both cities are models for water conservation programs. Can the Colorado Water Plan review and adopt some of the important lessons learned from other desert communities such as lawn buyback programs?

I will be happy to provide more ideas and insights!


Bill Dam




News from the 2015 Colorado River District Water Seminar

At the annual Colorado River District water seminar held on September 10th, we heard numerous speakers discuss the essential need to conserve. The western U.S. is close to a crisis as the demand for water is greater than the supply! As Lake Powell and Mead reservoirs decline, we are approaching the minimum levels needed to generate hydroelectric power. Water availability affects rural and urban areas, agriculture, and the environment. These issues are interconnected and we must work together to resolve our conflicts.

Here is the Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel article on the conference.


Will Mesa County comply or fight the Colorado Water Plan?

The Colorado Water Plan proposes a reduction of 400,000 acre-feet of water by the year 2050. In the more familiar terms of gallons, 1 acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons; therefore, 400,000 acre-feet equals 130 billion gallons!

How can Coloradans save this much water in the future as one of the fastest growing states (recall they legalized pot sales) and climate change makes for more extreme weather conditions including severe droughts? 

To save this much water Colorado would need to reduce the population, based on my calculations, by over 3 million people! So the fight will be over water for people vs. Mesa County agriculture - we have prolific orchards for grapes, peaches, and many other fruits. 

This blog is promoting active conservation as does the Colorado Water Plan. Mesa County does encourage voluntary dry landscaping in land use planning. However, in my opinion we need to have much more conversation statewide on how we are going to meet the needs of the state and downstream users.


Open comment period on Colorado Water Plan until September 17th

The Colorado Water Plan is open for public comment for about six (6) more weeks. Here a brief description provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

People love Colorado: our population ballooned from 1 million in 1930, to over 5 million today, and is projected to grow even faster in the future. So how do we ensure that we are able to preserve what we know and love about our state alongside population growth? When it comes to our water, Colorado’s Water Plan has answers. This plan offers a strategic vision:  a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment, and a robust recreation industry. How can we achieve this vision for Colorado water? This plan provides the strategies, policies, and actions by which Colorado can address its projected future needs in a manner consistent with this vision. This plan will be accomplished through collaboration with basin roundtables, local governments, water providers, and other stakeholders. It represents a set of collaboratively developed policies and actions that all Coloradans and their elected officials can support and to which they can adhere.

Not only is Colorado River water in great demand in the western U.S., there are statewide conflicts between the East Slope (including the Denver area) and the West Slope (including Grand Junction). Currently, over a half a million acre-feet of water is diverted each year from the West Slope to go to the East Slope according to news reports. Future diversions will need to increase as the population is booming in the Denver area which will continue to put more pressure on West Slope to conserve. 

In my opinion, rather than West Slope supporters demanding that no more water be provided to East Slope users, which will be a losing battle due to voter populations, the entire state needs to adopt strict conservation measures taken by many other cities. For example, the tremendous waste of water in the West Slope is astounding to me after having lived in Las Vegas.  Here is an updated video taken at the same location as shown on the July 17th blog where the mortuary business watered grass during a rain storm! I've also noticed they routinely water at 9:30 am and 5:00 pm. By contrast, the City of Grand Junction Parks and Recreation sets irrigation to occur between 10 pm and 6 am to limit loss by evapotranspiration and growth of disease. Rain moisture sensors are used to obtain the proper amount of irrigation water. So far, the business has not responded to my email offering them free advice on proper irrigation techniques.