If nothing else, the push to create a state water plan has led to a lot of talk about water.
“It has been a great opportunity,” said Alan Hamel, who chaired the Colorado Water Conservation Board last year when the idea for the plan was hatched. “We have created a lot of interest. But there’s still a lot of work between the draft and the final version.”
The draft state water plan will be presented next month to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who issued the executive order for the plan.
Hamel and his colleagues on the CWCB got one last look at the draft document at last week’s meeting.
What’s most significant to Hamel is the volume of public responses to the plan. More than 13,000 unique comments were received, along with 11,800 pages of form letters from people who wanted to see their concerns represented in the state water plan.
“There was a lot of passion in those comments,” Hamel said.
Among the major themes:
– Protection of the prior appropriation doctrine in the Colorado Constitution and subsequent court decisions. It grants seniority to the earliest use of water in the same stream system.
– Urban conservation programs that reduce the need to bring water from other sources to serve growing populations along the Front Range.
– Protection of rivers and streams for environmental and recreational uses.
– Preservation of farmland in Colorado.
– Development of the Colorado River, either for or against.
Hamel believes the chief value of a state water plan will be in how limited resources will be used to fund water projects and in removing permitting barriers to worthwhile enterprises.
“I think if you can streamline the permit process, it’s going to be helpful for the state,” he said. “I think the plan will bring a good collaborative approach.”
Hamel was skeptical of the state’s ability to complete the draft in a little more than a year, but is now optimistic that the final version can be in place by December 2015. Part of the reason is the work that has been going on for more than a decade with the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, Interbasin Compact Committee and the nine basin roundtables.
“The timelines were extremely short. We had a new director at the CWCB. But the staff, roundtables and IBCC stepped up to complete the project,” he said.
Early last year, the state Legislature also included a separate process that got even more people involved in commenting on the plan.
Despite the number of comments, there are still areas where the public needs to be better informed about how water resources are managed, Hamel added.
“We still have a lot of education to do,” he said.
There may also be a few holes in the plan.
The issue of tying new growth to available water supplies remains in the hands of local authorities within Colorado and would be difficult to include in the final plan, Hamel said.
“But the state can encourage networking and ideas,” he said. “The plan would bring a more coordinated approach.”