Wise water use vital to our future

Denver Post Guest Commentary
By Harris Sherman

var requestedWidth = 0;

if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById('articleViewerGroup').style.width = requestedWidth + "px"; document.getElementById('articleViewerGroup').style.margin = "0px 0px 10px 10px"; } What do we want Colorado to look like in 50 years? How does our use of water, an increasingly limited resource, tie into our vision of Colorado? And, what will Colorado look like if we don't have a clear statewide vision and strategy for sharing water?

These are questions I've been asking Coloradans as I travel around the state. They are questions I have put to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, and the nine River Basin Roundtables, two statewide groups of water leaders created by the legislature to address issues between basins and provide a permanent forum for broad- based water discussions.

The answers have been thoughtful and insightful.

Colorado is transitioning from an era where we have water yet to be developed to one where there's an expanding demand for a finite resource. As a result, some see farms drying up as water is transferred from agricultural to municipal use. Others see our major population centers — the mainstay of our state's economy — struggling to get the water they need for their future. Still others see insufficient water for the environment or recreation, or they worry about new demands from energy development, especially oil shale.

Farmers and ranchers from the West Slope and the Eastern Plains, Front Range water providers, and environmentalists are all uneasy about Colorado's future if we let water-supply development continue as it has.

That is why the IBCC is creating a vision for Colorado's water future. The process is just starting, but some common elements have emerged.

Colorado's water should be developed and managed in a way that supports the strong and diverse Front Range economy that is key to a sustainable state economy. We should ensure viable and sustainable rural economies whether they are based on farming, recreation or energy. The vision should recognize the strong connection between land use and water planning. It should consider the pressures facing the headwaters' communities as they try to meet their own water supply needs while sustaining the state's environmental and recreational values.

As we create this vision, we will also develop strategies for achieving it. We will look at how we can increase water conservation and how we can get all water users in Colorado to adopt Denver Water's slogan of "Use only what you need."

We understand that we have a finite amount of water in Colorado. New water resources are limited and how we deal with those limitations will determine what Colorado will look like as our population grows by another 2.5 million by 2030 and perhaps 5 million by 2050. The competition for water will dramatically intensify.

I encourage all Coloradans to provide your input to the members of the IBCC and the nine Basin Roundtables. To stay updated on our progress, go to www.ibcc.state.co.us.

Harris Sherman is executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.