New Report Moves Discussion of Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Forward
by Marie-Blanche Roudaut, WRRC Graduate Outreach Assistant
In June, the US Bureau of Reclamation released a report that laid out potential approaches to closing the water supply-demand gap identified in its landmark Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (Basin Study 2012). The product of 18 months of meetings and study by stakeholder working groups, the Moving Forward, Phase One report, contains the results of research and discussion on next steps. The report’s extensive list of recommendations highlights the many varied options that exist.
The 2012 Basin Study was the most comprehensive to date and was conducted in partnership with the seven Colorado River Basin States and in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders. The report looked at supply and demand projections from 2012 through 2060. An unprecedented attempt at bringing together a wide variety of participants from the Basin, this study was the largest scenario-planning project ever to be conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Basin Study incorporated scenarios from both experts and stakeholders, creating a collaborative model that made it easier to find common ground to address shared challenges.
The Basin Study indicates that, in the coming decades, significant shortfalls between projected water supplies and demands will seriously affect the agricultural, municipal, energy, and environmental sectors, unless a wide range of solutions are applied to mitigate these shortfalls.
Prompted by the findings of the Colorado River Basin Study, Reclamation initiated, in May 2013, the Moving Forward effort in collaboration with federal, state, and tribal entities, conservation organizations, and other Basin stakeholders. The Moving Forward effort was designed to build on and pursue next steps identified in the Basin Study. The ultimate goal was to identify a variety of water savings and management approaches to address projected water supply and demand gaps. These approaches needed to have broad-based support, provide a wide-range of benefits to water users, and enhance the health of the Basin’s watersheds.
The Moving Forward effort continues the collaborative and inclusive approach of the initial study. It is organized into three multi-stakeholder workgroups. The three workgroups include 1)Municipal and Industrial (M&I) Water Conservation and Reuse; 2) Agricultural Water Conservation, Productivity, and Transfers; and 3) Environmental and Recreational Flows. A multi-stakeholder Coordination Team, consisting of representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Basin States, guides and reviews the work prepared by the workgroups.
Phase 1 of Moving Forward was funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Basin States and the resulting report documents the outcomes of Phase 1. Chapters were contributed by each multi-stakeholder workgroup. During the 18 month period needed to complete Phase 1, the workgroups met regularly to prepare their chapters, which were subsequently reviewed by the Coordination Team. The overall goal of Phase 1 was for each workgroup to identify opportunities and potential actions their sectors could take to solve the challenges highlighted in the original Basin Study. This process was based on data collection, case studies, and evaluation of successes and challenges of existing programs. Potential actions selected by the workgroups include expanding M&I water conservation and reuse, facilitating future agricultural water saving and productivity enhancements, and providing environmental and recreational benefits within the Basin.
Opportunities exist to increase water conservation and reuse, and in many cases, methods are already being implemented. Opportunities will vary depending on many factors, including the extent to which measures have already been implemented, the cost of specific conservations measures, the cost of existing and new water supplies, the degree of public acceptance, and the laws and regulations. The three workgroups recognized that although many opportunities exist to enhance water use efficiency, greater efficiency may become more difficult and costly to implement in the future. In addition, the Colorado River Basin represents a very diverse region; solutions are often site-specific and depend on local conditions. Despitethis diversity, the workgroups identified several commonalities among the sets of potential future actions and they highlighted these for each sector.
All three workgroups stressed the importance of seeking out continuous and sustainable sources of funding. Funding is needed not only to accomplish the programs’ goals, but also to meet the substantial needs for infrastructure improvements, such as improved conveyance and distribution infrastructure, reduced operation and maintenance costs, replacement of aging and inefficient infrastructure, and expansion of reuse.
Another commonality identified by the three workgroups was the importance of cross-program coordination and information exchange among the three sectors. Coordination was considered essential because of the complexities associated with balancing competing needs of water deliveries for M&I, agricultural purposes, hydropower generation, and environmental protection. Coordinated planning and implementation enables multipurpose solutions and can lead to more management flexibility to develop win-win strategies across sectors.
A third common thread among the three workgroups was the importance of scientific research, data management, monitoring, and quantifying benefits and trade-offs. They underlined the need for program reporting in order to evaluate cost effectiveness. They also identified facilitating information sharing as an important step.
The final recommendation by the workgroups was to expand outreach programs and partnerships. They noted that projects benefit from improved stakeholder involvement and commitment, and broad support facilitates action.
Phase 2 of the Moving Forward effort begins in 2015 with the identification and implementation of proposed pilot projects using the same collaborative and inclusive approach.
The full Phase 1 report is available at http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/MovingForward/Phase1Report.html