Written by Theresa Conley
When I first heard about a state water plan, I was skeptical as to how useful it would be. I thought about how notoriously difficult it can be to change water policy in Colorado; meetings are long, technical, and only have one person (among as many as 50) representing environmental interests.
However, two things made me optimistic about the plan.
First, the Executive Order required that the plan, and our water policies, reflect our water values. Second, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) stated that we needed a water plan because “our current statewide water trajectory is neither desirable nor sustainable.” So the plan presented an opportunity for change.
Since Coloradans overwhelmingly prefer solving water challenges through conservation and recycling over diverting more water from our Western Slope rivers, we set out with four basic principles that guided our outreach to citizens and decision-makers alike. The plan needed to:
- Keep Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing
- Increase water conservation and recycling in our cities and towns (e.g., statewide conservation goal)
- Modernize agriculture and water sharing practices
- And avoid a new, large transmountain diversion.
We advocated strongly for these principles at water planning hearings, one-on-one meetings with designated planning representatives, and the public. We heard from roundtable members that they needed more information and data on how to best protect their streams. We heard pushback that a statewide conservation goal was impossible because it would be seen as a “mandate” and “one size fits all” requirement. We heard that more Colorado River water needed to be transported to the Front Range. We kept hearing these things but we kept pushing our principles.
This first iteration of Colorado Water Plan is an important step forward for Colorado because it reflects Coloradans’ values and priorities. The plan:
- Sets the first-ever statewide urban water conservation goal;
- Addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers and streams including proposing annual funding for river assessments and restoration work;
- Makes new, large, and controversial large trans-mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, a lot less likely.
We are seeing conservation prioritized as never before, expanded language on reuse and water banking, and incentives and funding toward “alternative transfer methods” which replace water providers buying up agricultural land and then taking the irrigation water for municipal use. There is broad support for and a greater focus on stream health across the state including funding and the importance of preserving and restoring the environmental resiliency of our rivers and streams.
We’re excited about the plan and are now focusing our attention to getting it implemented.
The plan must be executed properly to be effective for Colorado. We also need more detailed and thorough water project evaluation criteria that determine which projects get state support (and which do not). We need to ensure that any tweaks to the state’s permitting authority maintains the strong environmental safeguards that protect our rivers and drinking water.
As the state implements this plan and looks to make changes to it, we will continue to advocate for what is best for Colorado and best for our rivers. Thanks to Governor Hickenlooper for tackling such a contentious issue as water and developing the first ever state plan!