Conservation a priority, but so is public input in water plan

By Sen. Gail Schwartz

On May 14, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order directing the development of the first long-term state water plan by and for Coloradans. The gap between our water supply and demand is of critical concern today and in the future. This planning process will be the foundation of a larger discussion about water needs and allocation.

I recommend that all Coloradans engage in this important effort.

The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The governor’s executive order stipulated that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry.

It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The Water Conservation Board will incorporate recommendations from the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee and nine Basin Roundtables to address regional long-term water needs.

As chair of the Interim Water Resources Review Committee, I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The committee is made up of 10 legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda, as it is charged to review water issues and propose legislation. WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the Water Conservation Board in development of the state water plan.

A recent public opinion survey on water issues in Colorado indicated that only 30 percent of Coloradans believe the state has enough water to meet its current needs. Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of Coloradans indicated they believe there is insufficient supply for the next 40 years.

Colorado’s perennial drought has diminished our reservoir levels, which not only impacts our state, but has immense implications for neighboring states.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently announced it will constrain water releases for the first time in modern history from Lake Powell to the minimum required by the 1922 Colorado River Compact for the next two years unless precipitation significantly increases in the Colorado River Basin.

As charged, the state water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency, both at the municipal-industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus.

A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water-related issue.

Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013, I sponsored SB19, which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the state water plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.

Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to people. The dialogue around the state water plan is critical to ensure the protection of Western Slope water, reduce the “buy and dry” cycle on our agricultural lands and demand responsible urban and industrial use.

In order to make your voice heard, contact me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or contact your regional round table and IBCC members to help identify water issues and solutions that you feel are critical to this process. Thank you for caring about Colorado’s future.

To follow WRRC interim meetings, find materials and read potential state water legislation as it becomes available, please go to http://www.colorado.gov/lcs/WRRC.

For more information about the state water plan, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, your regional round table and the IBCC, please visit http://www.cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/CO-Water-Plan/Pages/main.aspx.

Follow the Colorado Water Plan on Twitter and Facebook @COWaterPlan or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Colorado-Water-Plan/546079485458568.

Sen. Gail Schwartz of Aspen represents District 5 in the state Senate. The district encompasses seven counties, including Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison and Delta counties.

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