One year ago, Colorado’s Water Plan was released to what was—at least in the world of water policy—great fanfare. The landmark Plan, the first of its kind for Colorado, was developed to ensure the state would be able to meet a wide range of future water needs. With climate change having an impact in an already arid region and experts predicting that Colorado’s population will double by 2050, the Plan sets key goals for ensuring vibrant cities, viable agriculture, and healthy rivers that support the environment, recreation and local economies. The Plan clearly gathered lots of interest, as 30,000 citizens (as well as groups including Western Resource Advocates, conservation partners, water utilities, cities, and agricultural interests) contributed their comments on the Plan.
One year later, what’s been accomplished and what opportunities are ahead for securing Colorado’s water future?
From our perspective at WRA, the Plan has had a good first year. A key milestone: state agencies support funding the Plan’s elements that would support healthy rivers. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a new budget that would add $25 million annually over the next few years to implement the Plan. (The budget still needs to be approved by the legislature in 2017, and we’ll keep you posted about how to send in comments and show your support.)
Part of this budget includes funding for municipal water conservation to help us reach our state goal of saving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 (decreasing water use by roughly 1% per year). The state, with support from WRA, took steps in the past year that advance cost-effective measures like fixing leaky infrastructure and implementing water reuse technologies that could help cities make more efficient use of existing water supplies.
Also part of that same budget is $5 million for critical stream management and watershed restoration plans that are an essential first step to protect and restore our rivers, which are essential for both healthy ecosystems and our thriving recreational economy.
The Plan’s criteria “checklist” also started to gain steam, by being embedded in funding for local river basins. The simple, common-sense checklist—when it’s eventually applied more broadly—will ensure that the State funds and supports only projects that have community support, prevent environmental degradation, and meet real water needs.
We’ve run a good first lap, but there are miles to go before we finish the race and achieve critical goals for meeting new demands and protecting Colorado’s rivers. In the coming year, we want to see action on alternative agricultural water transfers that keep agriculture alive and well—better options than “buy and dry” scenarios where cities buy up water rights that never return to agricultural producers. We want to see urban water conservation embedded into land use decisions so that new commercial and residential development can be water-smart from the start. We also are excited about the Plan’s pathway for protecting Colorado’s rivers, which starts by enabling local stakeholders to assess the flow needs of healthy streams and to develop stream management plans.
What will make Colorado’s Water Plan a success over the long-term is work by and through a diverse set of interests. Collaboration and building trust will lay the path for future progress. When 30,000 citizens weighed in on their hopes for the Plan in 2015, it was an unprecedented outpouring of participation by the public in water issues. A very large number of citizens have continued to monitor the Plan’s progress over the past year. We look forward to continuing our work with multiple stakeholders to support the Colorado Water Plan’s goals of improving water efficiency, protecting rivers, and supporting local economies that rely upon Colorado’s rivers.