Gunnison: 38th annual Water Workshop recap — Statewide water plan on the radar for state legislators

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From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

Last week, the legislative Interim Water Resources Review Committee met in Gunnison to discuss how that plan is taking shape. The committee’s meeting was held during the 38th annual Water Workshop, a three-day meeting on water resources, held annually at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. The 10-member water resources committee is chaired by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and includes legislators for whom water has been a long-standing passion, such as Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling; 2014 gubernatorial candidate Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray; and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.

For their first meeting in 2013, the committee looked at the governor’s executive order, water issues affecting the Gunnison River and agricultural water conservation measures…

In his May executive order, [Governor Hickenlooper] said the state “deserves a plan for its water future use that aligns the state’s many and varied water efforts and streamlines the regulatory processes.” As directed by the order, the CWCB will work with grassroots water groups, the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables to address critical issues raised in the order…

The interim committee discussed the plan with Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, and former Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp, now the governor’s water policy advisor.

The governor is “adamant” about a statewide water plan, King said. Reflecting the water workshop’s theme of “the new normal,” King said the new normal in water policy is that it will be a source of constant change, which may be uncomfortable since people are sometimes resistant to change. “If we don’t develop a vision for the future in water,” the agriculture “buy and dry” will accelerate at an unacceptable rate. He noted that 350,000 agricultural acres in the Front Range are already under contract for their water rights.

Even if the state were to stop future “buy and dry” purchases, Stulp said, “we’d still lose 20 percent of irrigated lands.” The plans developed by the IBCC and Basin Roundtables are being updated, he said, to address drought and flood issues and projected population increases. If preserving agriculture is a priority, the statewide plan needs to look at conservation and whether there are new supply waters available to the state…

While the executive order calls the CWCB, IBCC, roundtables and state agencies to work on the statewide plan, it leaves out one important stakeholder: the Colorado General Assembly. That did not go unnoticed by the interim committee.

“What are we to read into executive order, [with] not a single mention of state legislature” in the order, asked Fischer. “What is our role in the process?”

King was quick to allay those concerns. “It’s obvious we can’t do anything without you,” although it is not articulated in the order, he said. “Your role is however you define it. We will engage you individually and collectively, whatever you choose, and will come back with reports to the interim committee… This is an open invitation for you to participate, which can be more formalized.”[…]

Sonnenberg, who was unable to attend last week’s meeting, told The Colorado Statesman that storage has to be the highest priority for a statewide plan. He noted that in a two-year period, more than one million acre-feet of water in the South Platte left the state, over and above what is required by interstate compacts and decrees. “We have to keep Colorado water in Colorado,” he said. And the reason that water left the state? Farmers weren’t using it in wet years, and there was no place to store the excess. More storage would relieve pressure on the “buy and dry” movement, he added.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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