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What will water conservation rules mean for S.W. Colorado?



Local governments in La Plata County aren’t opposed to a proposed state bill that stresses water conservation planning at the local level. Some are ready for it. Others would have work to do.

Colorado House Bill 1095 says if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water-supply element, it must also include conservation policies. While there might be disagreement on how to conserve, some planners are already incorporating water into their land-use decisions.

“We’ll still stand around and pray for rain, but we want to be ready for the drought,” said Durango Assistant Utilities Director Jarrod Biggs.

Colorado’s population is predicted to reach 8.7 million people by 2050 – a more-than 50% increase from 2015. La Plata County is also projected to see substantial growth.

In the Southwest basin, water demand is projected to increase between 17,000 and 27,000 acre feet by 2050, according to the Basin Implementation Plan. That’s with some conservation by users.

Approximately 1 acrefoot can support the needs of two families of four to five people a year, says the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University.

According to scientific models, the Southwest is also more vulnerable to drought as the climate warms, said Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College.

“One, we know our population is growing. Two, we know our climate is warming,” Richard said. “Those two things are going to put stresses on the quantity of water available.”

Durango and Bayfield have already included some water conservation measures into their community planning. Ignacio lacks any specific water conservation measures.

The town does not have a comprehensive plan, an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development required by state statute.

“We don’t have any specific conservation measures in place other than it is illegal to let your water run off your property and into the street,” Interim Town Manager Mark Garcia wrote in an email.

In Durango, the comprehensive plan references a 2015 sustainable action plan and a 2011 water efficiency management plan. The last time the city implemented water restrictions was in 2002, the year of the Missionary Ridge Fire.

“If that bill passed, I feel confident that we’ve integrated enough ... that we would meet those requirements,” Biggs said. “We could always do more and do better.” In Bayfield, the town’s 2005 comprehensive plan does not include some of the town’s updated policies. For example, the 2018 Water Master Plan includes water supply requirements, and those would be incorporated when the comprehensive plan is updated. The town started looking at its emergency water measures during the drought in 2018.

“Every time we have a project in Bayfield, ‘Hey, is there adequate water?’” said Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka. “The answer is yes, but for the town of Bayfield, we always have water in mind.”

Water conservation and efficiency can be a charged topic among users.

Durango water users’ opinions on conservation methods are a “mixed bag,” Biggs said. Some people are actively trying to conserve, while others value a healthy lawn.

In Bayfield, most people seem to support the idea of water conservation, Salka said. “I don’t think it’s a big topic here from a development perspective,” Garcia said of Ignacio. “Some folks are looking at water conservation for reducing their own use and bill.”

For Richard, the more planning, the better.

“Water is the absolute most fundamental resource that we all rely on,” she said, which means temperature increases and population growth are important factors to consider.

“The issues associated with water are not going to be going away,” she said.

“We don’t have any specific conservation measures in place other than it is illegal to let your water run off your property and into the street.”



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