Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Can Colorado Prevent Newcomers Settling Here - Because of a Water Shortage?

This question came to mind as one processed Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's recent 'State of the State' speech in which he said (Denver Post, Jan. 30, p. 2A):

"Population growth in Colorado has to figure out a way to use a lot less water or the growth will stop.It's pretty much, I mean, black and white. We find a way to use a lot less water per person or we don't have more people coming here. There is no magic."

This was part of Hick's push for a comprehensive Colorado Water Plan given the dreary current projection that the state faces a 163 billion gallon projected water shortfall by 2050. This is based on the projection that Colorado's current population of 5.3 million will grow to 10 million by then. Along with expansion of "industry" (he doesn't mention fracking by name - but that's definitely one culprit as I will show) this will "leave 2.5 million people parched."

So "preventing people" coming here could manifest in a number of ways. For example, they may already arrive and settle but find - as the forlorn folks coming to the Banning Lewis Ranch subdivision (in El Paso Country)learned too late - there's no water to shower with or wash their dishes. Worse, water "taxes" could be levied on top of utility bills (some proposals have reached $2,700 per household per year).

Why so many coming to Colorado? Many reasons! Many come as retirees as an alternative to a hot, humid place like Florida. Many are mountain lovers and this state boasts the highest average altitude in the nation. Others arrive because of the state's legalization of pot - opting to live in a state where they won't be hounded for their pot habits.  Many other families are moving here because the state's MJ oil business (the oil cannabidiol-  known as "Charlotte's Web" e.g.


provides one of the last chances for their afflicted children - suffering from Dravet syndrome - a rare form of epilepsy which completely disables a child's language and social skills.

Whatever the reason, it means the state will either have to develop expensive new water delivery systems - which will have to be paid for by higher utility bills - or find other means of enhancing efficient water use. A 344- page draft released in December lists potential delivery projects costing $18-20 billion. It also mentions the possibility of innovations such as "toilet to tap" systems whereby sewer water can be re-used, e.g.


This would conform with the Colorado Water Plan's  mandate that Colorado residents must "re -use all available waste water as a pre-condition before state officials accept new trans-mountain projects".

The major obstacles to this innovation according the draft, include:
- The huge costs of water cleaning using multiple filter cleaning systems
- The legal obligations in Colorado to deliver water downstream
- The disposal of the contaminants purged from waste water - mainly thousands of gallons a day of super -concentrated salty mixes that must then be injected into deep wells or buried. The mixture is so toxic it can destroy skin on contact.
 - Safety and monitoring: This entails installing water monitoring and testing systems sensitive enough to track a wide array of pathogens (including E. Coli. cryptosporidium etc), suspended particles and hard to remove specialty chemicals (i.e. tossed out contraceptives, diet pills, laxatives, anti-depressants

-The "Ick" factor - i.e.  when consumers know the water ingested was only recently used to flush the effluent of another's bowels.
But arguably none of these extreme measures - including water rationing - would be needed if fracking wasn't out of control in Colorado.
Nowhere has our Neoliberal guv,  in any of his speeches, accepted any responsibility for allowing frackers to run amuck - drilling up to 50,000 frack wells across the state with each one consuming up to 5 million gallons each. The projected total water lost to fracking by 2050 actually will  exceed the shortfall noted earlier by nearly 37 billion gallons! (Using a 4 million gallon per well average consumption for each well and replacement well.)
In other words, by banning fracking - like New York has (and New York isn't even an arid state like Colorado)-  the state could immediately reduce its water burden and water loss. It would then enable those newcomers to live here without suffering from draconian measures..
Alas, this is unlikely to happen because the tentacles of the oil and gas industry extend throughout our state's political system. Oil and gas fracking lobbyists influence even the so-called environmental oversight groups by creating  pretenders like the "Environmental Policy Alliance".  (Which has been used in advertisements to dun anti-fracker activists as "flat Earthers".)
If you plan to come to Colorado to live, for any reason, be sure you're aware of our water limitations, many of which are directly linked to water-intensive fracking that places profits and business above human resources.

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