Colorado River Outlook: Ag industry must do more to conserve, officials say

 State of the River
State of the River (KKCO)
Published: May. 15, 2017 at 10:11 PM MDT
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Dozens of business leaders gathered at The Avalon Theater on Monday to discuss the Colorado River and the challenges it faces.

There were many speakers at the 'State of the River' event, taking a critical look at the resource flowing through the valley. They explained the challenges the water supply faces.

The Colorado River supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states: Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and California.

Experts are concerned because they believe the river is operating at a long-term deficit, meaning more water is used than the amount we gain from rain or snow.

“Water is really important in Colorado because we are an arid state,” said Aaron Clay, a Delta water law attorney. "It takes water to make any economy run, whether it’s agriculture, manufacturing or municipal.”

"So between people and industry asking more of the river system -- and this is all states states on the river -- and warming temperatures, that has put a burden on supply,” said Jim Pokrandt, the community affairs director of the Colorado River District.

Gigi Richard, faculty director of the CMU's Water Center, said the only source of water is precipitation. With a third of the Colorado River Basin getting fewer than 10 inches of rain each year on average, the Colorado River relies on melted snow pack.

"In a sense we're snow farmers,” Pokrandt said. "While some people may paying attention to commodity prices, our commodity is snow pack."

Richard said more than 80 percent of Mesa County's water is used for agricultural irrigation.

Though it’s valuable for family homes to conserve water as much as possible, Clay said that doesn’t put a dent in it.

"It’s going to have be agriculture and the bigger users figuring out ways to conserve and use less water," Clay said.

Legislation passed last summer allows residents to capture water in rain barrels, but there is a cap of 110 gallons per capture. That water can only be used on residential lawns and non-profit gardens.

"The advantage of rain barrels is that people are using non-potable water. They don't have to turn the tap in their house on and use the treated water. That's a good thing, environmentally,” said Pokrandt.

'Once it goes on to lawns or gardens, it goes right back into the system. It goes into the ground water, and it will be pumped into someone else’s well as used."

Though the snowpack was above average earlier in the year, there was no additional snowfall after that, so the water supply for this year is on track to be average.