The Colorado Water Plan Takes an Important Step Forward

Bart Miller“Colorado’s Water Plan is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to modernize how we manage this scarce and invaluable public resource.”

– Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director

Water Is Vital to Colorado and We Need to Implement a State Plan that Ensures There Is Enough Water Now and in the Future for People and Rivers

Water is the lifeblood of Colorado but is under pressure like never before. Demands for water to support population growth, agriculture, and businesses are increasing while available water supplies are not. Conflicts among competing water uses are rising and the health of our rivers is declining.

In May 2013, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper kicked off a state water planning effort with an Executive Order that tasked the Colorado Water Plan with embodying the state’s water values:

  • A productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry;
  • Efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use; and
  • A strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

Western Resource Advocates’ Dedicated Advocacy Helped Create a Strong Plan

For two years, the state engaged with agricultural, conservation, business and other stakeholder groups to gain input on the Plan. Western Resource Advocates worked diligently with Basin Roundtables, state agency staff, grassroots partners, and others to advocate for a strong plan that keeps Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing, increases water conservation and water recycling in our cities and towns, modernizes agricultural and water sharing practices, and avoids large trans-mountain water diversions that dry up rivers. Throughout our advocacy, we coordinated closely with conservation allies, kept the media abreast of the planning process and water policy developments, and supported community outreach by our partners. Our collective outreach was responsible for generating nearly 30,000 public comments on the water plan – the super majority of which called for higher levels of water conservation and a higher priority on river protection.

Colorado’s first water plan was published in November of 2015 and reflects Coloradans’ values and water priorities by making important progress on:

  • Setting the first-ever state-wide water conservation target to be achieved by cities and towns, prioritizing water conservation as never before;
  • Proposing annual funding for healthy rivers, creating ongoing, unprecedented financial support for river assessments and restoration; and
  • Making much less likely new, costly and controversial large trans-mountain diversions that harm rivers and local communities.

Public Opinion Mirrors Western Resource Advocates’ Priorities

Colorado voters polled in late 2014 reflect that:

  • 88% of voters support a state-wide goal to reduce urban water use;
  • 78% of voters prefer conservation and recycling to taking water from West Slope rivers;
  • 90% of voters say a priority for the Water Plan is keeping rivers healthy and flowing.

The new plan recognizes that from urban residents to business owners to farmers, we all have a role to play in using our water resources more efficiently. When it comes to water, we all need to live within our means. Colorado’s Water Plan will help advance greater cooperation, innovative technologies, and best practices to enable Colorado to build prosperous communities, support thriving agricultural and tourism industries, and keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

Western Resource Advocates Is Leading Efforts to Implement Colorado’s Water Plan and Strengthen Water Management in the State

It is essential for this Plan to not sit on a shelf. It must be carefully implemented to create a sustainable water future. We look forward to working with Governor Hickenlooper, the legislature and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to implement the Plan and ensure actions reflect our public interest values and priorities.

Additionally, it’s important to note the plan is a guidance document, like scaffolding that will continue to be built upon and developed. Some steps we’ll be working on in the future include:

  • Establishing a comprehensive set of evaluation criteria to help determine which project ideas are worthy of state support and ensuring that all new projects protect our environment and have local community support.
  • Gaining additional financial commitments for river protection and restoration, and ensuring 80% of Colorado’s priorities rivers are covered by stream management plans.
  • Conditioning state grants and loans for water projects on the existence of land use documents that will help increase water efficiency and reduce water use.
  • Increasing funding and incentives for water recycling and expanding the list of uses for which recycled water can be applied.
  • Improving outdoor urban water efficiency to set standards and drive innovation for water smart outdoor landscaping.

Other Resources

Colorado Water Plan : The state of Colorado’s site with the final plan

2016 Essentials for Colorado’s Water Plan

Water for Colorado  shares insights and expertise from a variety of organizations that research and study water conservation and natural resource issues.

For more information

Water conservation & efficiency 

Water reuse

Land use planning for water efficiency

Project Staff

Drew Beckwith

Water Policy Manager

Bart Miller

Bart Miller

Healthy Rivers Program Director