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Report shows state could be short one million acre feet of water by 2050

by Bill Knowles
With the state’s population growth estimated to hit 10 million people by 2050, Colorado could end up short one million acre feet of water, according to a just released study.  The Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative shows that demand on municipal and industrial water could exceed supply by over 600,000 acre feet by 2050.
     According to the report, the Front Range will continue to be the most populous place in Colorado, and over 80 percent of the state′s population will live in the Arkansas, Metro, and South Platte Basins.  The Front Range is expected to grow by approximately 70 percent over the next 35 years.  Population for the state is predicted to nearly double by 2050 with the fastest growth taking place on the Western Slope based on a percentage basis.
    The Arkansas and South Platte Basins will have a slower growth rate but combined will add almost 3.3 million people to the population by 2050 with over 6 million people living in the South Platte Basin.  Such an increase in population will drive a significant demand for water to meet future municipal and industrial (M&I) needs.  The state also has a significant need for self-supplied industrial (SSI) water which includes snowmaking, breweries, other large industries and the energy sector.  All of these could push the need for an additional 600,000 to 1 million acre feet of additional M&I and SSI water annually.
    Agriculture will continue to use the lion’s share of the water supply in 2050.  However the study indicated a 7 percent decline in agricultural use from 89 percent now to 82 percent in 2050.  M&I is projected to use 15 percent of surface water diversions and SSI about 3 percent.
    With a projected population growth in the state from about 5.1 million, where it is today, to between 8.6 million to 10 million people by 2050, Huerfano County will continue to feel outside pressure to move water from the county.
    The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission and the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District are currently looking at ways to regulate the movement of water rights outside the county.  They are considering the economic impact on property values if land gets dried up.  Another tactic currently being used is protesting the sale or change of water rights in district water court, an expensive maneuver.
    The study also notes that the state could also face a significant decline in irrigated acres by 2050 due to urbanization and water transfers.  By 2050 between 500,000 and 700,000 irrigated acres could be dried up statewide, with large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture having adverse economic and environmental impacts not only to the state but to the counties where those acres are located.

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