New Political Environment of Water
Analysis of New Era of Water Development,
Management and Politics
Recent turning points in water policy and politics
Water and drought now a top priority among voters
Coloradans expect water shortage,say storage needed
Paying for $2 billion in water projects: user fee or sales tax?
California and the compact
Projection left behind
Tensions in Colorado water policy
The Water Divide
New Political Environment of WaterPost-Two Forks/post-drought of 2002
- Recent turning points in water policy and politics [view slide]
Although water politics are usually conducted behind the scenes and slow to change, there were key events that put water on the front page and shifted policy dramatically. For example:
- In 1977, President Carter, reacting to change in environmental politics, project economics and a strained federal budget, cut funding for Western projects, signaling the end of major federal financing of Western reclamation.
- The Environmental Protection Agency veto of the 1.1 million acre foot Two Forks Dam in November 1990 was a major blow to Denver metro area water and civic leaders. Water managers shifted direction to managing limited supplies without additional large-scale storage.
- The 2002 drought leads to the next major shift in water policy. A decade of rapid growth and the record-breaking drought has lead to a spike in water prices, water rationing and created major impacts on the economy. The tipping point was the 2002 special legislative session in early July. The spring and early summer fires and growing water shortage of 2002, especially for agriculture, forced the political and water establishments to take action. The key proposal, a $10 billion financial package, was debated and ultimately defeated. But finally, water supply was a top political topic for action and all the old assumptions and a host of new options were on the table.
- Water and drought now a top priority among voters [view slide]
Ciruli Associates regularly asks voters the top issue on which they want the governor and legislature to focus. Water jumped to a top spot during 2002, when 18% of voters in July 2002 identified drought, along with the economy, education and growth. In October water ranked in third place, replacing growth.
- Coloradans expect water shortage, say storage needed [view slide]
Voters believe the water shortage effects them directly. Nearly
two-thirds (63%) say water in their county will be in short supply in the next five years. Only 2 percent believe the state is very prepared to deal with drought. Seven in 10 voters throughout the state believe it is necessary to store runoff water for later use.
- Paying for $2 billion in water projects: user fee or sales tax? [view slide]
The ultimate test of voter support for new public policy initiatives is their willingness to finance them. Sixty-nine percent of voters said they would support a user fee of $2 per month to help pay for
$2 billion in new storage costs. However, only 52% support a new sales tax.
- California and the compact [view slide]
The U.S. Department of the Interior is requiring California to stop its over-use of Colorado River water; the state will lose 800,000 acre feet of its appropriation. Colorado has rights to up to one million ac/ft of additional Colorado River water. There is a very strong consensus that Colorado should identify and claim its share of that water. However, the difficult task is developing a plan that addresses storing, financing and sharing water within the state. A major reason Colorado did not secure its share of federal financing of Western Slope water projects since the 1970s was a lack of consensus on which project(s) to build. As Bob Ewegen, editorial writer for the Denver Post said, The cruel fact is that Colorado can't use the extra water California is now slurping up because we dont have reservoirs to store it. (2003)
- Fast-growing state [view slide]
Colorados growth rate doubled from the 1980s to the 1990s. It became the fifth-fastest growing state in the union. An additional one million people settled in the state, 600,000 of those in the metro area. Many moved to areas such as Douglas County, the nations fastest-growing county, which is dependent on ground water and has limited renewable supply. The current projections for the next 20 years show more than 1.5 million residents will move to Colorado; the seven county metro area will gain 700,000. The new metro residents will require more than 100,000 acre/feet annually of additional water supply.
- Projection left behind [view slide]
Water supply planning for the metro areas rapid growth has underestimated the need. The metropolitan population growth projection of 2.3 million people in 2020, developed in 1988 by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the Two Forks EIS, was exceeded 20 years ahead of schedule when the 2000 U.S. Census reported 2.4 million metro residents. DRCOGs data suggests a water shortage existed in the metro area even before the historic drought.
- Historic drought [view slide]
The last serious Colorado drought used for planning purposes occurred in the mid-1950s. The only more severe drought on record was the great dust bowl of the early 1930s. Climatologists claim the current drought exceeds written records and can only be compared by way of tree ring data to a multi-year drought in the 1650s. Snow pack in 2002 was 19% of average and reservoir storage 48%. The economic loss is estimated at above $1 billion. If precipitation is low this winter, storage will go below 20%, leading to severe rationing and economic dislocation. The metro area has not really faced a drought in several decades. It has been a shock for voters and major challenge for water planners.
- Tensions in Colorado water policy [view slide]
Three major tensions characterize Colorado water politics. Eighty-five percent of Colorado water is used in agriculture but most of the population and economic activity is on the urbanized Front Range. Eighty percent of Colorado water is located on the Western Slope, but 80% of the population is on the Front Range. Seventy-five percent of Colorados water is exported, but Coloradans are entitled to claim another 1 million to 2 million ac/ft.
- The Water Divide [view slide]
Major tensions in water policy produce intense disagreements over how to address water shortages. Key differences in opinion concern diversion out of basins, the efficacy of new storage structures, the amount of mitigation that is required for an area before water is diverted, how much accessible water exists in Front Range aquifers, the potential for reliance on conservation and reuse strategies, and the use of agricultural water for municipal and industrial needs. Of course many of these disagreements effect Colorados ability to claim its share of Colorado River water, which would have to be stored and diverted to areas of need.
- Coming Together [view slide]
Economic development executives, water policy makers, municipal leaders and others have been talking more seriously recently regarding methods to bridge differences of opinion and interest. Specifically, the states leading economic development groups and local officials have been crafting a set of principles to serve as a template for future discussion of solutions. Some of the key elements include the metro areas commitment to water conservation and use of aquifers, along with compensation to rural areas for the impacts of water diversion. Water-rich areas have pledged to support additional storage if current reservoirs are enlarged first, and water sharing or non-permanent transfers are attempted. However, the devil will be in the implementation. Only when actual projects are proposed will it be clear if the willingness to compromise is real.
- New Political Environment of WaterPost-Two Forks/post-drought of 2002 [view slide]
A review of the major trends shows a new era of water policies and politics began with the summer of 2002 drought. The post-Two Forks era is being replaced with attitudes and initiatives reflective of the post-2002 drought era.