Some Colorado lawmakers want the final say on how the state uses its limited water resources. Senate Bill 115 has been introduced and elected officials from both political parties have signed up as sponsors. The measure, if approved, would give the Colorado Legislature the authority to adopt a state water plan. In many states that have approved water plans, legislatures were the public body that developed them.
Here in Colorado, however, the details of the emerging state water plan are being debated by the nine basin roundtables, which were formed nine years ago and help guide water policy through grass-roots involvement.
According to James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the need for a state water plan is acute. As the state expects population growth to continue for decades ahead, it makes sense that we figure out how to best allocate our water.
That’s why Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order in 2013 setting a deadline of December 2015 for the drafting of a strategic water plan for the entire state.
During a water policy briefing Tuesday in Pueblo, Eklund said many water policy experts think that the state’s plan “needs to be built from the bottom up.” That’s why the current roundtable process makes the most sense, he said. We completely agree.
In Colorado, water is our most important resource and we shouldn’t turn over the question of its ultimate use to politicians. Because of its Denver-centric power base, the Legislature too often leans away from rural and agricultural interests. To allow Denver politicians control of all water policy is potentially dangerous to other parts of the state.
On the roundtable level, there is an opportunity for more diverse opinions to be shared and thus more buy-in from the stakeholders throughout Colorado. Here in Southern Colorado, we place a high priority on efforts to place conservation easements on farms and ranches to tie water to the land. We also encourage proposals to restrict the further transfers of water outside the basin. Other regions of the state have different priorities and each deserves a voice at the table.
Promoting a feeling of “we’re all in this water fight together” is important as a state water plan is finalized. Residents outside of the Denver metro area don’t need another example of urban interests — such as Aurora, which has acquired a quarter of their total water supply from the Arkansas Valley — dictating the future direction of Colorado policies.
The current process already allows for legislative input as the plan is developed. There is no reason for that body to dominate the public discourse and decision making on the matter, however.
More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.