More than you think?


How much water is left in the Colorado River to develop? Few questions are as complex — or as important to Colorado and its Western Slope. Matt Jenkins' recent article, "How Low Will It Go" contains a pair of mischaracterizations that need to be corrected (HCN, 3/02/09).

First, the implication that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been "essentially" compelled to admit that Colorado only has 150,000 acre-feet left to develop under the Colorado River compacts is simply not correct. Credible analysis suggests there is a range of potential volumes available for development, with 150,000 acre-feet on the low end of that range. Moreover, a single-number estimate is misleading, given the year-to-year variability of flows and other factors that will contribute to the hydrologic regime of the future. Given concerns about global climate change, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is conducting the water availability study Jenkins wrote about to provide more rigorous estimates of water availability and help identify the risks associated with further water development.

Second, Jenkins' suggestion that the Current and Future Demand Schedule was concealed is also incorrect. The depletion schedules are and have always been public record. There has been no attempt to conceal it. It's been discussed at several public meetings and is available for anyone to review.

D. Randolph Seaholm
Chief, Water Supply Protection
Colorado Water Conservation Board
Denver, Colorado

Matt Jenkins responds:
Yes, 150,000 acre-feet is on the low end of a range of water quantities potentially available to develop. I should have made this clearer in the story. Regardless, in a part of the world as arid as Colorado, it is the dry bound of the range, not the wet one, that provides the most reliable indicator of long-term water availability.

And if it was a stretch to characterize the state's Current Depletion and Future Demand Schedule as an "internal document," it wasn't much of a stretch. You'd be hard pressed to find a copy (or any mention of the document) on the Colorado Water Conservation Board's web site. In fact, as of March 30 — 21 months after the document was created — the only copy available online is, apparently, on HCN's Web site.

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