Six months ago Colorado’s first Water Plan was delivered to Governor Hickenlooper. We applaud the Governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) for completing this monumental blueprint to protect Colorado’s most important resource—our water. The big question now is, what steps do we need to take to secure Colorado’s water future? The answer lies in Chapter 10: the “Critical Action Plan” that includes important, measurable objectives, goals and actions.

This chapter calls for reducing the future gap between water supply and demand by continuing water conservation and reuse efforts, incorporating water-saving actions into land-use planning, working to preserve agricultural economies while increasing flexibility and efficiency, creating stream and watershed protection plans, and increasing education and outreach.

These ideas are well thought out, reasoned and “critical” to implement. And the Colorado Legislature took a few baby steps forward on some of these earlier this year. It legalized capturing rainwater through residential rain barrels, and it increased the ability of Front Range agricultural water users to retain their water rights but share some of their water with other users in times of need. The legislature also allocated $5 million to the CWCB to begin implementing the Water Plan.

However, now is not the time to claim success nor, conversely, to throw in the towel.  Now is the time to use the collective attention, work and energy of the tens of thousands of citizens who helped shape the Plan and those who work daily on water issues in the state to push through critical parts of the Plan to ensure a secure water future for Colorado.

Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get this done. We have proven examples on how to kick-start, incubate, and work cooperatively to implement the Water Plan’s suggested actions.

For instance, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and West Slope local governments, water providers and ski areas will enhance the health of streams in the Colorado River Basin while allowing Denver Water to strengthen its system against drought and climate change by enlarging Gross Reservoir. As a result, the project actually benefits both sides of the Divide. Future projects like the expansion of Gross Reservoir that include appropriate mitigation are part of the solution. They should receive state support and funding because they can align with the State’s water values and the Plan’s well-articulated criteria for being sustainable, collaborative, and cost-effective. Indeed, the Plan’s criteria should be applied to all project proposals—including the $5 million noted above—to ensure public funds are spent wisely.

Most importantly, we can take simple, immediate actions to increase water-use efficiency. The Governor can accelerate reuse, graywater, and green infrastructure by funding the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to update its regulations. He can work to remove barriers to water reuse and green stormwater management and use. He can improve river health by setting a timeframe for the CWCB and basin roundtables to establish priority lists of rivers that should have local stream management plans done. And, he can support water banks—to better facilitate sharing water for a multitude of purposes—in key river basins.

We are not short of ideas. But we are short on time and, if we are not careful, we will be short on movement toward real solutions. What we need is action – critical action – just as the state Water Plan says. It’s “go time.”