2012 State of the Rockies Conference: On 4/10 Governor Hickenlooper addressed youth and the future of Colorado’s water

While there’s no “single silver bullet” to solving the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that conservation will help ensure adequate water supply in the future.

“Our discipline around how much water we use is going to be the foundation of everything we do,” he said April 10, as a guest speaker at Colorado College’s annual State of the Rockies Project Conference.

For the past year, a team of Colorado College faculty and students have been examining issues pertaining to the Colorado River Basin, which starts in Wyoming and flows across seven southwestern states into Mexico, where the delta is now imperiled from numerous dams and diversions. Persistent drought, higher temperatures and other factors also have contributed to a decreasing water supply, at a time when demand is increasing from multiple interests.

Hickenlooper congratulated the students on the project and its findings, which five students outlined before the governor took the podium.

“You should be proud of the work those students have done – it’s very impressive,” he told Professor Walt Hecox, faculty director for the State of the Rockies Project, now in its ninth year.

The action steps students recommend in the 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card, which was released at the April 9-10 conference:

  • Modify and amend the “Law of the River” to build in cooperation and flexibility, to remove the competition among users.
  • Recognize the finite limits of the river’s supplies and pursue a “crash course” in conservation and water distribution.
  • Embrace and enshrine basin-wide “systems thinking” in the region’s management of water, land, flora, fauna, agriculture and human settlements.
  • Give “nature” a firm standing in law, administration and use of water in the basin.
  • Adopt a flexible and adaptive management approach on a decades-long basis to deal with past, present and projected future variability of climate and hydrology.

Hickenlooper said he’s been a conservation advocate since he first took public office as Mayor of Denver in 2003.

“I tried to convince people by them using less water and keeping more water on the West Slope that they had a direct benefit — the better it is for people living in Denver and Colorado Springs and Fort Collins and Pueblo,” he said. “It’s not just skiing and white-water rafting. It’s farming and ranching and home values. A home on the Front Range (of Colorado) is worth more than Kansas City or Indianapolis.

He challenged students to bring “youthful exuberance, creativity, optimism and technology” into the picture to help address water supply and competing water rights interests for agriculture, drinking water, the environment and recreational activities.

“A lot of it is our own self-motivation or discipline (to conserve water). How do we make it joyful and give people a kick out of it? I think that’s where youth come in — young people always have a fresher way, a funnier way, a more interesting way of looking at almost everything,” he said.

Hickenlooper favors taking a cue from how other countries are testing new innovations to save water. Israel, for instance, he said, is using drip irrigation for almost all of its crops and is toying with using brackish water on certain crops.

“Conservation is the core of what we’re talking about. We need to make sure we don’t take any more water than is necessary from the West Slope,” he said.

In response to a student asking about preserving and replenishing underground water reserves, Hickenlooper said some cities, including Denver, are doing that.

“In Colorado, there’s great recognition that groundwater is precious. The key is to integrate the different water systems, with water providers talking to each other to do that,” he said.

Molly Mugglestone, project coordinator for Protect the Flows, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Colorado River, followed the Governor’s address. Her advocacy group already is working on most of the CC students’ recommendations for preserving the Colorado River, she said.

The organization represents a coalition of nearly 400 businesses that depend on the river for their livelihood, from rafting companies to ski areas to fly fishing shops to outdoor retailers. About 800,000 jobs rely on the river, Mugglestone said, representing a multi-billion dollar recreation industry.

The group will release an economic impact study in May, which will demonstrate the economic value of recreational activity supported by a healthy Colorado River, she said, and is advocating on federal and local levels for recreational needs to be considered in water management decisions.

The organization’s website is www.protectflows.com.

The entire Colorado College 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card on “The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation” can be viewed at http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies.