In Colorado, things have been different of late. Water, in the form of rain or snow, isn’t coming the same way it used to, and the bottom line is there has been less of it to go around and perhaps will be even less in the future if Colorado continues to grow as predicted.
This has a lot of people worried. But until now there hasn’t been much of a unified voice heard from the business community. Today, the Colorado chapter of business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) released a study on the impacts of climate change on the state’s water supply, and the growing gap between supply and the demand. The paper, “Colorado Water and Climate Change: A Business Perspective,” takes a close look at the economic threats that come with water shortage risks.
The study states:
Water is crucial to the economic vitality and growth of Colorado. It is the most critical resource issue facing our state today. Businesses have a stake in the development of water management policies and practices that take into consideration both known and likely risks. Failure to plan for future water shortages will not only inflict tangible hardships on Colorado’s businesses and residents, but also will undermine Colorado’s greatest economic asset—its reputation as great place to live, work and visit.
Here’s the problem, according to the report: municipal and industrial (M&I) water use could increase by as much as 81% by 2050 thanks mostly to population growth. But there isn’t enough water to meet that projected demand—the state estimates a shortfall of between 600,000 to one million acre feet (an acre foot is enough water to supply two households for one year).
(On a larger scale, some have called the Colorado “America’s Most Endangered River” partly because of climate change. The river recently experienced 10 of its lowest flow years in more than a century. A landmark US Bureau of Reclamation study, released this summer, highlighted these challenges in detail.)
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is trying to get on the problem. He’s got experts working on a first ever state water plan. But as of yet they aren’t factoring climate change into their solutions, and the E2 report makes a strong case for why they should.
The group’s main recommendation for closing the “M&I Gap” is cutting water use from the sector 25 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2050, the most ambitious target yet proposed by any group. The report says:
People do not want to live and work in a land of shortage. If Colorado’s appeal to people were to be undermined, that could erode the desire of businesses to locate here, workers to live here, and tourists to visit here. Every business, worker, and resident of the state could suffer. As business owners, we can do our share.
The Rocky Mountain chapter of E2 has 80 members. E2 is a national community of independent, business leaders who promote environmental policy. They are an affiliate group of NRDC. Members come from the clean energy, clean tech, real estate and finance, among others.
But why are business people speaking out on this issue? The report explains:
First, business leaders understand risk management. We know the importance of anticipating what might hurt the bottom line and reducing those risks by understanding what the odds and consequences are, and how we can position ourselves to survive and even thrive should the risks materialize. Ignoring a risk does not make it go away. Not enough has been done to assess Colorado’s water and climate risks; this report identifies those risks and how to address them.
Among the group’s other recommendations: the state should require all water providers to adopt water rates that create incentives for water conservation; the plan should include a scenario of both climate change increases in demand and potential legal curtailments on water supplies; and the state should expand water reuse, and require reuse of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) oil and gas operations.
Coloradans seem to care about a changing climate. According to a Yale study released this week, “Climate Change in the Colorado Mind,” most Coloradans (70%) believe global warming is happening, three in four (73%) say the issue of global warming is very or somewhat important to them personally. And more than half of Coloradans say that more should be done about global warming at all levels of government—from President Obama and Congress, to Governor Hickenlooper and the state legislature, to local government officials.
Hopefully, this clear and specific call to action by Colorado business leaders in the E2 report will spur the state to move more quickly to address the water risks posed by our changing climate.