Water is an essential ingredient to what makes Colorado special. Whether one lives on the Western Slope, the Front Range, or in the Arkansas Valley, it is what makes Colorado’s productive farms and ranches, our thriving recreational industry, our beautiful environment and our vibrant cities possible.
Water is also in short supply. In the coming decades, there could be a gap between supply and demand of as much as half a million acre-feet per year or more. The entire state is threatened by this scenario, and it is particularly threatening to Colorado’s rural communities. Unless we do something to manage our water future, more and more agricultural water will be bought to supply our growing cities, potentially drying up thousands of acres of productive farm land and jeopardizing the economy and livelihoods of rural Colorado. Northeastern Colorado alone is expected to lose approximately 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production. Here in southern Colorado, one only needs to drive through Crowley County to see the impact of dewatering a once viable irrigated community. In the Arkansas Basin, without a plan of action, we could lose an additional 73,000 acres of our valued irrigated agriculture land. This would be devastating to our economy, our rural way of life, open space, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
This future scenario is unacceptable. We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans. In May of this year, the Governor issued an Executive Order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan (Plan). This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado but fortunately, much of the work that is needed to develop the plan is already done.
During the drought of 2002-03, the state commissioned the most comprehensive study ever done of Colorado’s current and future water demands and supplies, the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI). SWSI is continually being updated so it includes the most current information available. In addition, in 2005 the state legislature created the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), a group of 27 water leaders representing every major river basin and water constituency. It also created nine Basin Roundtables, groups of water leaders in every major river basin that have been taking an in-depth look at their basin’s water challenges. For the last several years, these groups have been engaged in thoughtful dialog while working hard to understand Colorado’s water challenges and ways they could be addressed.
Colorado’s Water Plan will not be a top-down plan full of state mandates and requirements. Instead, it will be built on the foundation of the work of the CWCB, the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables. And that is a strong foundation. Through their work, they have reached consensus on a variety of actions that will lead to a better water future, including support for alternatives to permanent buy-and-dry of agriculture, conservation, projects that meet certain criteria and more.
Each basin is in the process of developing water plans for their region. Because this effort is under way, we don’t yet know all that Colorado’s Water Plan will include. What we do know is the Plan will be a balanced one and reflective of Colorado’s values. The Governor’s Executive Order specifies that the plan must promote: 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.
The CWCB will have a draft of Colorado’s Water Plan completed by Dec. 10, 2014, and will then work with the Governor’s Office to finalize the Plan no later than December 2015. To provide your insights and perspectives, participate in the next meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on Nov. 13, 2013, at 12:30 p.m. at CSU Pueblo’s Occhiato Center. To learn who the members of your Roundtable are and when they meet, visit http://www.cwcb.state.co.us and go to the IBCC and Basin Roundtable link. You can also submit your comments to the CWCB by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit Colorado’s Water Plan online at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com – a new website is planned for release on Nov. 1, 2013.