From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Dust storms were raking the state when Gov. John Hickenlooper issued his executive order for a state water plan in May 2013. Huge wildfires broke out the next month — for the second straight year. Just four months later, he was surveying massive damage from the worst floods in decades.
How do you plan for something like that?
He’ll find out this week when the draft plan is unveiled. On Wednesday, there will be a ceremony at the governor’s mansion in Denver to mark 18 months of effort in getting to the draft plan. The final plan will come a year later.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board is developing the plan, trying to consolidate 13,000 suggestions into an understandable format. “What we’ve witnessed is that there’s a win-win here in the transactions that take place,” CWCB Executive Director James Eklund said last week.
It’s a change from past positions where water supplies were wrenched from reluctant communities under the force of law and intransigent stands of “not one more drop.”
Eklund acknowledged there are still those who are digging in their heels, but insisted the water plan is moving ahead.
The main objectives of the plan are to fill the gap between population growth and demand, stop the buy-and-dry of agricultural land and preserve the natural landscapes and wildlife habitat that make Colorado an attractive place to live.
For the Arkansas River basin, caught in the cross hairs of water wars for decades, the payoff could be big, Eklund said.
“The Arkansas basin has suffered the longest litigation over water ever seen in the state,” Eklund said, referring to a battle of more than a century with Kansas that culminated in a 24-year court case and 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decree. “That litigation demonstrates that we have to act together as a state or we run the risk of not having a unified voice.”
During the development of the plan, the state also came to realize the importance of watershed health after record wildfires scorched the land. One of the goals was to tie water quality to water quantity, and the ash and sediment coming off burn scars has illustrated the point, Eklund said.
“There has to be more emphasis on cleaning that stuff and making sure it’s usable,” he said.
New issues entered the limelight as well, including water for fracking, water for marijuana and the relationship between development and water planning. Conservation in all areas was stressed as important in all areas. The need to protect agriculture was re-emphasized. The need for water education was highlighted. Cities have begun to budge on the need to own resources, becoming more receptive to alternative supply strategies.
Most importantly, Eklund sees the water plan as a way to streamline future water projects.
“You’ve heard me say that it used to take three years and $3 million to get something done, and now it takes 10 years and $10 million,” Eklund said. “If we’re going to respond, we have to be more agile in order to make sure we’re not holding up the process.”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.