COLORADO SPRINGS — Extreme drought to the west cannot be ignored by Colorado communities enjoying a wet year. The water status in Colorado Springs is in good shape with reservoirs at a good level and summer rain keeping water use at a manageable level. “Everything green over here, but the fact is the drought continues in Western Colorado and the rest of the Colorado River Basin,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Water Planning Supervisor, Kalsoum Abbasi, “We do need to pay attention to that."
The concern is because the Colorado River Basin is a major source of water for areas suffering from drought, but also in Colorado Springs. "Colorado River Basin is the source of supply for half or our water and so what happens over there absolutely does impact this community," said Abbasi. Plentiful water storage in Colorado Spring Utilities reservoirs creates a buffer as large reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead to the west are dangerously low. Those reservoirs send water to Nevada, Arizona and California where drought is currently hitting hard.
There are water rights, but if the western drought continues to get worse water rules could change. "The Colorado River Compact is a 1922 era agreement and hasn't really ever had to be enforced before," said Abbasi. It has water planners paying attention because there is no precedent for reference. They are looking at possible scenarios a year or two away. Action is contingent on those major reservoirs to the west either recovering or continuing to lose water.
There are stages of actions to counter drought. For example, Lake Powell’s low levels will first be off-set by federally managed reservoirs like Blue Mesa in Colorado and Flaming Gorge in Utah. If drought persists the water shifting can move further up toward the headwaters in Colorado. Depending on how the Colorado River Compact is implemented it could mean all water users getting some water diverted. Another possibility is cuts based on water rights seniority. "The compact is senior to our [Colorado Springs] water rights and so if there are cuts, this community and many others across the state and the western U.S. are going to be impacted by that."
For now, the Colorado Springs water supply has a couple of years capacity stored in reservoirs. Discussions about the Colorado River Compact are about awareness and being prepared for any worst-case scenarios. Utility customers can help by using moderate conservation majors to ensure plenty of water remains in storage.