Gov. John Hickenlooper (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file photo)
COLORADO SPRINGS — Gov. John Hickenlooper dived into an intensifying debate over the imperiled Colorado River on Tuesday with a call for radically increased water conservation and an assertion that some new dams will be needed.
“We have lessons around the world that we can do more with less,” Hickenlooper said at a Colorado College conference, referring to Australian cities where residents cut average per capita consumption to 36 gallons a day and to Israel’s highly efficient use of water in agriculture.
Denver’s done better than most U.S. cities, with residents reducing use by 20 percent since 2002 to 160 gallons a day, but “we can make dramatic additional efforts,” Hickenlooper said.
“Our self-discipline in the amount of water we use is going to be the foundation of everything we will do,” he said.
Yet further drawdown of the over-subscribed Colorado River is continuing as state officials support two major projects that would divert more river water across the Continental Divide to sustain Front Range urban communities.
The Colorado River provides water for 30 million people in seven states and Mexico. However, the latest federal data show that current withdrawals exceed the annual supply. Climate change, drought and population growth in the West are worsening the situation as users try to share the river and still support farming, hydropower, tourism and ecosystems.
Beyond conservation, “we’re going to need some more dams, ways to manage water,” Hickenlooper said.
Two rival pipeline projects would divert an additional 100,000 acre-feet or more of water from the upper Colorado River basin in Wyoming to the Front Range.
A state-backed task force is exploring the idea. State planners calculate that Colorado could be entitled to as much as 900,000 acre-feet of unallocated river water under the 1922 interstate compact that governs use of the river.
Hickenlooper declined in an interview
Boaters blend in with the spectacular scenery below the thunderous whitewater of Cataract Canyon as the Colorado River flows through Canyonlands National Park toward Lake Powell in southeastern Utah. (Scott Willoughby, The Denver Post)
to rule out a Wyoming diversion, saying that “we have to let that process run its course.”Hickenlooper and a team of state planners participated in the “State of the Rockies” forum at Colorado College that was launched by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Students issued a report that included recommendations to recognize limits, change laws to favor cooperation and refine “adaptive management” to deal with climate change.
Two recent graduates paddled kayaks the length of the river until they found it too depleted and had to slog on foot through mud.