Colorado’s Water Plan keeps rivers flowing. But not without a reliable cash flow. Here’s what you need to know about the Colorado Water Plan.

In 2015, we helped mobilize over 30,000 Coloradans to shape Colorado’s Water Plan, a roadmap that will help meet our state’s growing water demands while also conserving and protecting our rivers, lakes, and streams.

As a result of this historic public participation, our state has a water plan that reflects Coloradans’ values and prioritizes conservation. 

Unfortunately, many of the projects necessary to its success lack funding.

But wait, isn’t that what Proposition DD was created for?

If you’re asking this question, you’re not alone. This is just one of the MANY questions Coloradans have when it comes to our state’s water plan. 

So here are the answers you need to know about the Colorado Water Plan: what’s in it, what it will cost, and why you should care about ensuring that it’s fully funded.

What exactly is the Colorado Water Plan? Why do we have one?

The Colorado Water Plan was created with the purpose of meeting current and future needs of Colorado’s water users while supporting healthy watersheds, productive agriculture, robust recreation opportunities, and a booming tourism-based economy. 

It lays out measurable objectives, goals, and actions to sustain our state’s projected growth and precious water resources over the next 30 years.

But meeting the needs of an additional 3 million residents under changing environmental conditions will be no easy feat. Projections indicate that by 2050, Colorado could face a water shortage equal to the amount of water needed for 1.5 million homes — even with various water conservation projects underway.

The Colorado Water Plan helps protect our water future.

Colorado’s water supply is already struggling to meet the demands of a growing state. Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation

That’s why securing long-term, sustainable funding for implementing the state’s water plan is vital to our water future. Without it, Colorado runs the risk of rivers running dry, agricultural lands going out of production, and water costs skyrocketing, disproportionately affecting lower-income families.

So how much will it cost?

The Plan estimates state-related funding needs of $100 million per year to fully implement the water projects necessary to achieve sustainable water supplies into the future.

Now before you start to feel sticker shock, remember that these are state funds that we’re talking about, not local or even municipal ones. 

So what does that mean?

For reference, Colorado’s state budget was set at $32.5 billion last year with $12.2 billion dedicated to discretionary spending decided by lawmakers — known as the General Fund.

The vast majority of this spending went to four areas: health care, K-12 education, higher education, and human services. Individually, each priority received more than $1 billion in funding — 10 times the annual amount needed to fund the Water Plan. 

In comparison to these state priorities, Colorado does not invest significant funds in our water resources. The state’s overall natural resources budget accounts for roughly 1 percent of the total — with water projects receiving only a small portion of these funds. 

Water only receives a fraction of the 1 percent of funds allocated to natural resources.

Water projects account for a fraction of a percent in the current state spending plan. Source: Colorado Joint Budget Committee

Last year, that amount was $30 million, the highest annual amount since the plan was adopted.

Where do these funds come from? How is the Plan currently funded?

Up until 2019, the Water Plan was funded primarily through severance tax revenue from oil and gas activities and additional funds set aside by the Colorado legislature. 

Through these funding sources, the Plan has received anywhere from $5 million to $30 million annually.

The Colorado Water Plan has received inconsistent funding.

Since the first year money was set aside for the Water Plan, funding has been irregular. The primary reason for this is the lack of a stable, dedicated funding source. Source: Colorado Water Conservation Board

This funding inconsistency was one of the primary reasons Proposition DD was created. 

The measure — which legalized sports betting to generate tax revenue for the implementation of Water Plan projects — sets up a down payment for Colorado’s water future. Under its framework, sports betting winnings will be taxed at 10% with up to $29 million per year going toward programs that help to restore streams and rivers to their natural conditions, protect fish habitat, and improve irrigation efficiency.

The legislation provides a much-needed financial boost to Colorado’s water resources. But it’s unclear if it will come soon enough.

Current projections estimate 2022 as the earliest date in which any sports betting revenue — let alone $29 million — may go towards the Water Plan. And even if this maximum is reached, it wouldn’t fully address the $100 million in needed funding.

The Water Plan needs a sustainable source of funding.

Even with sports betting revenue and general fund dollars dedicated toward Colorado’s Water Plan, it faces a funding gap.

In order to close this gap, Colorado must continue to find investment pathways through legislation and creative new partnerships. And your help will make all the difference.

What can I do to help close this funding gap?

Right now, Colorado legislators are in the process of drafting our state’s yearly budget. This is your opportunity to let them know that water conservation is a top priority, to you and all of the Coloradans they represent.

Tell Colorado’s decision makers to prioritize water security by setting aside $10 million in dedicated funding to help implement the Colorado Water Plan.