Salazar: State can do better to save water

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— Craig residents weren't asked to make any changes in how they use water during the extreme droughts of 2002 and 2003 because of the city's senior water rights on the Yampa River and its 4,670 acre feet of water storage in Elkhead Reservoir.

The rest of the state wasn't so lucky.

Elsewhere, landscaping died, agriculture lands burned and cities conserved what was a dwindling natural resource.

A Colorado Municipal League session on water issues Wednesday drew more than 200 elected officials and municipal staff members from cities across Colorado to the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Attorney General Ken Salazar was the keynote speaker in one of several sessions hosted by the CML.

"I've been involved in most of the water issues and wars in the last 20 years," the former Department of Natural Resource director and water attorney said. "Issues relating to water are very complex, and they don't lend themselves to easy solutions -- to Band-Aid-type solutions. They're solutions that are sometimes decades in the making."

Salazar, also a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said there are three cornerstones to moving forward with how Colorado views water: appropriating Colorado water for use by Colorado residents; developing additional water supplies and storage; and stretching the existing water supply through conservation practices.

"I believe we can do a whole lot more in terms of conservation; we know for a fact it does work," he said.

The city of Aurora's water use decreased by nearly one-third in three years after implementing several of the conservation practices that Salazar recommends.

The first is making residents pay more for the water they use. In Irvine, Calif., each home and business is given a "water budget." People can use more, but the price per gallon increases once they've exceeded their budget.

Aurora officials also instituted a water reuse plan where semi-treated wastewater was used for "consumptive purposes" -- watering lawns and landscaping. Consumptive means the water goes into the ground rather than down a drain to be treated and used again.

Ninety percent of municipal water use is consumptive, Salazar said and better landscaping and watering practices have been shown to put a big dent in water use.

"Water is the lifeblood of our communities," he said. "It's the lifeblood of everything we do in our state."

Water allocations are becoming more and more important in the nation's ongoing drought, but also as recreational uses becomes more of a factor in a city's economy, said Jim Spehar, Grand Junction City Council member and CML board member.

"The economy is increasingly dependent on recreation and tourism and sometimes those trends come into conflict with water laws," he said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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