Oct 282010
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

It’s only on special occasions that we think about water. Here in Fort Collins you’re almost more likely to drink beer than water. Lately, in places such as Honduras and Indonesia, the problem has been too much water in the wrong place.

It isn’t until you realize that we live in an elevated altitude where rainfall is not exactly a regular occurrence that you think about where we get our water … maybe that big reservoir isn’t just for going skinny dipping in after all.

Water scarcity has been a problem in Colorado since we first settled this state, and most of our river basins have been fully allocated since the 19th century. The one exception in our state has been the Colorado River system on the West Slope of the Rockies. But did you know that Lake Mead, the giant reservoir on the Colorado River along the border of Arizona and Nevada, has reached its lowest levels since it was first filled?

Increasing demand driven by growth is a key factor, but the lack of snow and rainfall over the past decade has revealed the fact that water demands in California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico exceed the allocation that was determined under the Colorado River Compact. If Lake Mead drops another eight feet, which is likely by next year, major water restrictions will be put in place for Arizona and Nevada.

Yet Colorado still wants to develop its full entitlement granted under the Colorado River Compact, which we signed in 1922. One Fort Collins entrepreneur is in the permitting process for a pipeline from the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado, that would bring 250,000 acre feet of that water to meet the needs for growth on the Front Range.

With climate change occurring, we will probably want that water, but fish need water too, and we are seeing the limits to how much we can withdraw.

A unique feature of our state is that water flows out, but there isn’t anywhere from which water flows in. Did you know that Fort Collins gets about half of it’s water supply from the Colorado River?

The Colorado Big Thompson project brings water from the west side of the Continental Divide through a 14-mile pipeline under Rocky Mountain National Park and delivers it to Horsetooth Reservoir. This Colorado River water has made our water supply for cities and agriculture on the Eastern Slope much more dependable, but what are the repercussions of these diversions from the river? Can we always be assured that this water is ours to divert across the mountains?

These are some of the topics Jon Waterman discusses in his book “Running Dry: A Journey from Source to Sea Down the Colorado River.” In his book, he documents a year spent rafting down the Colorado River to get a first hand look at the health of this system.

He will be coming to CSU to talk about his adventure, experience and concerns for Colorado’s water woes at 7 p.m. in the LSC on Nov. 2. Coming to CSU and becoming immersed in all that is Colorado usually involved learning how to balance your academic schedule with massive snowfall in the winter that offers us the opportunity to enjoy the state’s famous skiing.

And during the summer months, running the river in a kayak or raft is the name of the game. With all the connections we have to water in this state from food production to recreation and tourism this certainly is a book to catch our attention here in Fort Collins and an author worth coming to see.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student in environmental health. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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