From the Denver Busines Journal (Cathy Proctor):
Now the hard work starts, said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Grand Junction-based public water agency that seeks to protect, use and develop the river’s water for the benefit of Colorado. The river starts in the state and winds downstream to California and Mexico.
The draft has another year, until December 2015, to be finished to comply with the executive order Hickenlooper issued in 2013.
The draft “is a good first step in moving to where we need to go,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.
“It sets the foundation for what I’d hope to see: the development of an action plan that would lay out an implementation strategy for how we meet the challenges of the future,” Lochhead said. He added that he hopes to be able to say — a year from now — that the action plan is in place, and that a “good, collaborative process” led to the development of the plan…
The draft plan proposes closing the gap through five strategies: recycling water supplies, conservation, using groundwater, shifting agricultural water to municipal use in some years, and possibly shifting more water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is overseeing the plan.
Complicating the issue is how water supplies might change over time due to larger issues such as climate change, according to the draft plan.
The goal is to meet the water needs of the population, but to do so without harming the environment by taking too much water out of the streams used by wildlife and the recreation industry, and without drying up farm and ranch land, Eklund said.
Agriculture accounts for about 85 percent of the water used in Colorado every year.
Closing the gap is expected to require “some package of those five things, a balance of those, that doesn’t undermine the environmental and recreational attributes of the state,” Eklund said.
But the plan doesn’t touch Colorado’s existing water court system that deems water to be a property right, with the oldest rights considered superior to younger rights to water supplies, he said.
It does aim to smooth the historic tension in Colorado over water between the sparsely populated, but water rich, Western Slope, and the more populous, but water poor, Front Range by encouraging discussion and consensus building to reach “win-win” scenarios, Eklund said.
“The disputes haven’t gone away, but we’re well positioned to do a plan or process on how people on both sides of the Continental Divide can come to a consensus rather than fighting each other,” he said.
“The plan lays out a process, the state should encourage that and the state has a vested interest in making sure these things will move forward — so bring us in early and let us help broker this,” he said…
The coming year — as the plan moves from draft stage to a final stage — will be a key part of the process, the Colorado River District’s Kuhn said.
Western Slope advocates want to see the final plan focus on conserving water and reusing it across the state, he said.
“The big issue that won’t be settled is the question of a big, new diversion,” Kuhn said.
That’s a polarizing conversation, and there are questions about whether there’s any water in the Colorado River that’s available for big, new diversions to the Front Range, he said.
That’s where the focus on conservation and reuse come into play, he said.
“Unless you can show there’s a water supply out there, then a new project on the Colorado River is off the table,” he said.
Denver Water’s Lochhead said he hopes the final plan will address how to overcome barriers that exist to new technologies and techniques of using and reusing water, such as capturing rainwater, retaining stormwater, and treating and reusing water — things that are difficult to do under current laws and regulations.
“The are technologies out there to employ sustainable green practices and the marketplace wants to go in that direction,” Lochhead said.
“I hope there’s a process (in the plan) to have those discussions about the changes that need to happen,” he said.
Creating a statewide water plan could give also give Colorado leverage when it comes to dealing with the federal government which must sign off on infrastructure projects, and downstream states, which have claims on water that passes beyond Colorado’s borders, Eklund said.
“We want a water plan developed by Colorado, not one dictated by the federal government or by the…downstream states and the country of Mexico via the nine intergovernmental compacts we have to provide water,” Eklund said.
“If for some reasons drought impacts our water supplies, and they don’t get they water they believe they’re entitled to, they may try to intervene in Colorado,” he said.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.