Report: Colorado facing severe water shortages by 2050

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.

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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About the Author

David O. Williams

David O. Williams is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy,
environmental and political issues for the Colorado Independent since
2008, delivering impact journalism on a wide range of topics. A former
editor for the Vail Daily and Vail Trail, Williams’ work also has
appeared in numerous publications since 1988, including the New York
Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He appears periodically as a
guest on Rocky Mountain PBS and David Sirota’s show on 760 AM in
Denver. Williams is the founder, part owner and editor of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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