Report: Population growth, energy demand putting pressure on Colorado's water resources

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJanuary 24, 2011

Population growth on Colorado’s Front Range and Western Slope, coupled with rising demand for energy production, will have the state in dire need of more water by the year 2050, according to a new report by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative.

Colorado will need up to 1 million more acre-feet of water than it currently uses if, as projected by the report, the state’s population balloons to 10 million by 2050. The fastest areas of growth will be on Colorado’s Western Slope, where the prospect of increased traditional energy production – as well as a speculative oil shale boom – looms large in any water discussion.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports the state’s demands for municipal and industrial water “could exceed supply by as much as 630,000 acre-feet by mid-century,” according to the report released Friday.

The Roaring Fork River in Carbondale.
Troy Hooper

Oil shale production, seen as a potentially huge source of domestic oil, involves heating shale rock and sand and extracting organic kerogen, which can be converted into conventional oil. It is a speculative process still very much in the research and development stage and uses large amounts of water. The exact amount varies depending on the technology.

The federal government has called for a great deal more study of the oil shale industry to determine its potential impacts on the state’s water supply before the process ever enters into full commercial production.

Numerous studies and reports have indicated the Colorado River is one of the most endangered basins in the nation because of the growing pressures from down-river residential growth and surging energy production ranging from natural gas drilling to uranium mining.

Agricultural and recreational water users are increasingly concerned about the impacts of residential and industrial water consumption, particularly on the Western Slope.

According to the Sentinel, the new report calls “for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to determine ‘the right mix of strategies,’ such as conservation reuse, agricultural transfers and development of new water supplies to fill the gap between supplies and municipal and industrial needs.”

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