Record-breaking drought affected most of Colorado in 2018, with the southwestern part of the state hit particularly hard.
Irrigation water supplies were well below normal west of the Continental Divide, with federal drought emergency designation set for seven counties. However, above-average reservoir carryover storage from previous years and efficient transmountain diversion systems meant water users in Front Range municipalities did not suffer as significant effects.
Drought response and contingency planning activities kept water managers busy and focused attention on Colorado’s Water Plan. State leaders estimate, while as much as $100 million is needed each year to address current and future shortages while ensuring a long-term water supply for diverse uses.
To help fulfill the Plan’s water storage goal of 400,000 AF, water providers are developing several key projects. These include Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir enlargement (adding 140 KAF of new storage for its north service area) and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir as part of its Windy Gap Firming Project (adding 90 KAF of new storage for 12 northern Front Range water providers). Although the organizations have received many of their required permits and decisions, construction on these projects is pending due to legal and political challenges.
Additional projects, large and small, are in the midst of planning and permitting. They include the Northern Integrated Supply Project (215 KAF of new storage), irrigation efficiency projects (pipelines and regulation facilities) across the West Slope, and several projects in the northern Front Range, where population growth rates are among the highest in the country. Those projects include the potential expansion of New Seaman and Halligan reservoirs in the Cache la Poudre River Basin.
Colorado continues to ward off aquatic nuisance species (ANS) with robust boat inspections at popular reservoirs. Inspectors have intercepted more than 145 mussel-infested boats, the majority of which came from Lake Powell. State, regional and local water agencies contributed $1.3 million to the effort, with an additional $3.6 million coming from laws directed to inspection programs that so far have effectively kept ANS out of state waters.