Water is the lifeblood of our agriculture, outdoor recreation, and one-of-a-kind natural treasures — and the lifeblood of the Western Slope. Our communities, economies, and environment rely on a healthy water supply, but climate change and population growth are putting that at risk. On our current trajectory, Colorado faces serious water challenges.

While we have experienced a wet year so far, Colorado is still suffering from a drought dating back to the year 2000. As Jim Spehar reminded us in his recent column, "one good year does not end a drought." Nor can it reverse the continuing effects of climate change and aridification.

It is our responsibility to protect and conserve our water resources — not only for Coloradans but also for more than 40 million Americans living downstream from our rivers — by charting a long-term, sustainable path toward water security.

This path already exists as the Colorado Water Plan. Collaboratively crafted by local communities, elected leaders and water managers from each of Colorado's major river basins, the water plan presents an innovative approach to our water challenges. By promoting smarter, more adaptive water management strategies — such as urban conservation measures, water reuse or recycling, and flexible sharing programs — the plan ensures a healthy water future for our communities, wildlife, and outdoor legacy.

Colorado's Water Plan holds the promise of protecting our cascading waters, providing reliable drinking water to our communities, and preserving our agricultural heritage. However, the plan remains largely unfunded, raising a question similar to one posed by a recent Sentinel editorial about the Colorado River District: Why aren't Western Slope leaders doing more to ensure we have the resources to preserve our precious water sources?

The answer: Many are trying but we have more to do. We cannot implement the water plan without funding.

This past legislative session saw some progress in funding the water plan. For the first time ever, money from the state's General Fund was allocated to the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan (SB 19-212). Legislators took another big step toward funding the water plan by passing a bill (HB 19-1327) to create a revenue source through the legalization of sports betting. If approved by voters this fall, the bill will allocate most of the sports betting revenues — an estimated $10 million annually — toward the water plan's implementation.

These bipartisan first steps are crucial, but at an estimated cost of $100 million a year from 2020 to 2050 to fully implement the water plan, this is only a down payment.

In the face of a changing climate and explosive population growth, too many of our farmers and ranchers have had to sell their water rights just to get by. Without implementing more innovative water management strategies soon, we risk losing 20 percent of all our irrigated agricultural lands across the state by 2050. This would be devastating to our Western Slope way of life.

We have a solution to a secure water future in the Colorado Water Plan. Its modern and flexible water use policies enhance collaboration between our agricultural communities and municipalities, allowing Coloradans to solve our water challenges together. Now what we need is to fully invest in it. It is important to me that we fully fund the Colorado Water Plan. I urge leaders across our state to work toward this goal.

Chuck McDaniel is a Grand Junction City Council member. The statements and views in this column are his own. He is not authorized to speak to these matters on behalf of the City Council.

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