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Rebecca Mitchell
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Colorado’s Water Needs

Colorado’s current and future water use can be separated into three broad categories:
  1. Agriculture
    The major consumptive user of water in all of the state’s basins, agriculture represents about 86 percent of our state’s water use. While agriculture still will be the largest water user in the future, the state’s future water needs likely will have an impact on irrigated agriculture, farms and ranches.
     
  2. Municipal and Industrial (M&I)
    Colorado’s population is expected to nearly double to between 8.6 and 10 million people by 2050, with the majority residing in the Arkansas, South Platte and Metro Basins. This population growth will drive a significant need for additional water to meet future M&I demands. Colorado also needs water for Self Supplied Industrial (SSI) uses, including energy, snow making, breweries and other large industries.

    Colorado’s tremendous energy resources include traditional sources, such as crude oil, natural gas and oil shale, as well as renewable sources, such as geothermal, wind power, solar power and ethanol/biofuels. According to the Energy Study, oil shale development in northwestern Colorado alone could require up to 170,000 acre feet/year of water development by 2050.

    Read more about the state’s water supply gap.
     
  3. Nonconsumptive (environmental and recreational)
    Recreation and tourism are vital to Colorado. Millions of people within the state participate in outdoor recreational activities that are connected to Colorado’s water resources. Water-related activities, such as fishing, paddling, commercial rafting, wildlife viewing, camping, skiing and other snow sports, together infuse between $7 and $8 billion into the state’s economy and employ about 85,000 people across Colorado.
These competing water needs put pressure on existing water uses and call for creative solutions to meet our state’s future water needs. Colorado’s water community is exploring how increasing water demands will affect the state’s water supply future and also is examining a combination of water supply solutions.