Allow us to state something super obvious. You can’t have water fun without water. It’s not just the water parks and public pools. It’s also the lawns, golf courses, gardens, and crops. Green space and food are also vital components to the Denver community—and any community. It’s not exactly breaking news that Denver and much of the Rocky Mountains and southwest U.S. is facing a water shortage. What’s unknown is how soon and how dramatic this water shortage may manifest itself in markedly higher prices and mandatory rationing.
And the total water cost isn’t just about the water. It’s also the delivery, quality assurance, and related infrastructure. It was just last year that the city raised its water rates to help fund repairs and system upgrades to aging pipes, storage tanks, treatment facilities, and warehouses. This is above and beyond the day-to-day service work that is needed to maintain the system.
Again, there’s a high degree of uncertainty in terms of how soon and how severe water shortages may occur. Even with the preponderance of information about climate change and its potential long-term effects, it’s impossible to predict how much precipitation and evaporation will occur this year and next year. More than a decade ago, it was forecasted that the state would need to store and conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2040. This would allow the city to provide water to additional 2 million people. The thing is with Denver’s enormous population grown, the city is now expected to add more than 2 million people over the next couple decades—leading to serious doubts about whether the state will ever be able to “future-proof its water supply.”
Meeting Immediate and Long-Term Challenges
The state has created the Colorado Water Plan, which has been largely praised by water use officials and conservationists, even as it’s acknowledged that the Plan is just a plan. It has not enforcement mechanisms. The Plan has also identified $3 billion in unfunded needs to enact the plan by 2050. As comprehensive as the plan is, it still leaves a gap in the current projections of supply and demand. Public education is another part of the plan, modeled after California and that state’s ability to reduce its water consumption by 25% during times of severe drought.
Some experts have also pointed out the lack of spending and infrastructure priorities in terms of what projects should come first. Others have pointed out that there’s no guarantee the political will in state government can stay this course over several electoral cycles. What everybody seems to agree on is that Colorado cannot continue to maintain a patchwork system that can barely respond to short-term droughts. It seems all but certain that residents and businesses will end up paying more for their water in the future. What isn’t certain is whether there will also be sufficient water to go around for water parks, swimming pools, golf courses, and other water-based recreational activities.