A year later, Colorado water plan progress assessed

Colorado’s water plan hit its first birthday this month, prompting state water officials and some water activists to offer an assessment of how implementation has been going in addressing the state’s future water needs.

“I’d say that there have been quite a few activities done this past year,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates.

But he and some others would like to see the state pick up the pace when it comes to work on the plan, which was an initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“We don’t want to see the plan sit on a shelf and gather dust,” said Craig Mackey, co-director of Protect the Flows, which represents more than 1,100 businesses that support protecting the Colorado River system.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, responded to such concerns during the board’s meeting last week, saying that “we are moving forward aggressively and I don’t think slowly at all.”

The plan sets out to eliminate, through a mix of conservation, new water projects and other means, what otherwise could be a 560,000-acre-foot gap between municipal and industrial water demand and supply in the state by 2050.

Miller credits the state for a number of recent actions it has taken to start carrying out the water plan. In September, the Board adopted new criteria for evaluating applications for loans and grants from its water supply reserve fund, which pays for projects that must be approved by the applicable local river basin roundtable. The new criteria are intended to match up with water plan goals, helping address identified water gaps, ensuring collaboration and local involvement, and avoiding or mitigating environmental and other impacts.

Miller also points to the $55 million in funding the Board approved last week related to the water plan. That includes $10 million in supplemental money for the reserve fund, the same amount for water plan implementation, $5 million for stream and watershed conservation, and $30 million in loan guarantee money.

The spending will require approval by the legislature in order to go forward.

Miller said while there’s still a long ways to go in carrying out the water plan, the approval of the spending is a good-faith show of progress.

“They’ve, I think, run a good first lap in this race and there’s quite a few laps to go,” he said.

But Mackey pointed to the billions of dollars the plan is expected to require to implement, and said educating the public about the plan and water in general is crucial.

“Our view is we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, as he called on everyone from Hickenlooper, to lawmakers, the business community and others to come together and show leadership in selling key components of the plan.

Part of Board’s meeting last week was devoted to reviewing educational efforts the agency is undertaking to show what work it has been doing on various elements of the plan. Among the achievements it cites are initiatives in areas such as integrating water considerations into land-use planning, working with other state agencies to address water-related concerns related to climate change, and exploring ways to divert agricultural water for other uses without altogether buying out, and drying out, farmland.


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