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Business Leaders Wade Into Colorado's Water Challenges

Business leaders are convening today to address challenges facing the Colorado River system. (Pixabay)
Business leaders are convening today to address challenges facing the Colorado River system. (Pixabay)
October 13, 2016

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – Business and community leaders are meeting on Thursday in Glenwood Springs to learn more about challenges facing the Colorado River system and discuss potential solutions.

Western Slope rivers feeding the Colorado supply drinking water to 36 million people, help irrigate 4 million acres of some of the best farmland in the nation, and drive $1.4 trillion in economic activity, said Craig Mackey, co-director of the business group Protect the Flows. But right now, it's a resource that needs attention.

"That river system is struggling. It's in trouble,” Mackey said. "We’re in a 16-year drought. We're using more water out of the system than Mother Nature is replacing at the moment. We're over budget, we're overtaxing that system."

According to Mackey, some 2 million acre-feet of water are being drawn down each year from Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the system's largest reservoirs. But, he said, businesses can play a large role in making sure water resources are replaced and made sustainable for future years.

One year ago, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper presented the state's comprehensive water plan, a roadmap to manage the Colorado's eight major river basins in the face of constrained supplies and growing populations.

Mackey said there's no better time than the present to implement that plan, and that communities and businesses will be called on for input each step of the way. The good news, he said, is that conservation efforts are working. He pointed to the Denver Water Board's successful efforts.

"We're basically using the same amount of water today that we used in 1973,” Mackey said. "We can do a lot with conservation and we're going to have to do a lot with conservation. We can roll up our sleeves and get to work on that tomorrow."

In the past, the state has relied on snow to help store water, but with a changing climate, new tools will be needed to manage rain instead. As temperatures continue to rise, said Mackey, every drop of water that evaporates from a reservoir is one that isn't available for wildlife, a factory or a farm.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO