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Colorado Water: Working on the Wrong Problem!

Recently I was unable to attend and film an important public meeting about future water supply planning for Colorado. Glen Colton was able to attend, and offered this incisive commentary about Colorado water planning. Glen points out some deficiencies in thinking that can apply to numerous resources in many parts of the world, so Glen agreed to be our guest blogger on this topic.

Glen’s Commentary:

I recently attended a meeting in Loveland, Colorado discussing the South Platte Basin water report (Water for the 21st Century).  There were about 150 – 200 people in attendance, many of them elected officials, water district people, municipal water people, developers, and others with a stake in getting more water for their towns  There were also a smattering of other folks including a few environmentalists and several people from Trout Unlimited that I knew.


The report itself was predictable; the population of Colorado and the Front range is going to double by 2050 (from 5 to 10 million people for Colorado), so we have to provide a lot more water (triple what we’re using today) for all this suburban sprawl or we’ll be in dire straits! (their emphasis).  Their recommendations emphasized avoiding drying up irrigated agricultural land to the extent possible and filling the “water gap” by 1) getting approval of current water storage projects and getting them built (new dams like NISP, Halligan/Seamans, and Windy Gap firming), 2) new water storage (a new dam or storage on the Colorado River would be nice), 3) some water conservation, and 4) some limited conversion of agricultural land to municipal and industrial use.
During Q&A, I suggested that they had reached the wrong conclusions and that the problem we are facing is a people overage, not a water shortage.  I asked them if the people of Colorado were going to be asked if they wanted another 5 million people in the state and stated that adding another 5 million is truly unsustainable and would create a huge number of problems other than water; infrastructure overload, pollution, sprawl, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.  I told them it was insane to be adding another 5 million people to an arid region when we are already over crowded.
I proceeded to ask other questions about the value of agricultural land versus water in rivers for environmental and recreational purposes – questioning their assumption that it is better to dewater rivers than dry up agricultural land.  I once again told them we wouldn’t have to face that choice if we dealt with overpopulation in Colorado.
Needless to say, some people didn’t really appreciate my comments.  The big water buffalos mostly ignored my comments, but I had several people thank me for my comments on population, A few politicians seemed to agree with me, but weren’t sure what to do, and I had good conversations with several other people (including some on the group that produced the report) about population issues.

When I got home I checked my e-mail and read an article about climate change in the Rocky Mountains from the Worldwatch magazine, .  The article states “Drought, resource development, land-use changes, and above all climate change have put the population growth and the region’s ecosystems on a collision course”.

I believe that my efforts in this area are helpful and get at the root of the problem, but sometimes feel like the Lone Ranger.  Other then a few people and organizations, hardly anyone is addressing population growth as a primary cause of our environmental problems, which it surely is.  I strongly believe that, if we had a half dozen people attending every meeting that dealt with growth related issues (water, climate change, transportation, energy, sprawl, species extinction, etc) that we could profoundly change the nature of the discussion and make some real progress towards a stable population and true sustainability.
As it stands now, all our environmental efforts are going to be steamrolled by the concerted efforts and “same old way” momentum of the “growth machine” to do everything in their power (aided and abetted my most politicians of either party) to do everything they can to enable the maximum amount of growth to occur in Colorado.  I can see this happening on water with the #1 conclusion of this group being – get the current projects on the drawing board approved and completed.  And the reason why we are going to be steamrolled is because there is no organized opposition to endless exponential population growth in Colorado. 
So, that’s view of the landscape from my perspective after spending 4 hours hearing how we must find a way to meet water needs driven by the growth imperative of adding another 5 million people to Colorado – without ever asking whether the citizens really want that growth or looking at alternatives to growth.
So, I’ll conclude with one final thought on the water issue for those who think we don’t need to or want to challenge the growth imperative.  Even if we are somehow able to “Save the Poudre” in the 2050 time frame, where will we get the water for the next 5 million people that are projected in Colorado by 2075?  And what will it be like for our kids and grandkids to live in an area with 10 million people along the Front Range? 
Glen Colton
Glen Colton lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.  He is a population activist working toward a sustainable state, country, and world.

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    Dan Kustudic


    Good article, but you are omitting one of the main problems. You say :’……most politicians of either party do everything they can to enable the maximum amount of growth …..endless exponential population growth ‘. Yes, but the REASON for them wanting this is so that those who have become RICH on the backs of other suckers – need more suckers to continue to increase their ‘riches’ regardcless what that does to environmental degradation. Dan K.


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    Greg Wright


    Unfortunately, our economic system is much better at exploiting resources than it is at conserving those resources. Our capitalism requires growth but a sustainable future requires the kind of analysis that you advocate.


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