James Eklund: “This plan is by Colorado for Colorado” #COWaterPlan

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today presented the first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan, praising the work of hundreds of participants across the state for their role in building a collaborative approach for navigating Colorado’s water challenges.

“The collaborative and comprehensive nature of this plan marks a new way to conduct our water business, said Hickenlooper. “We owe a great debt to the hundreds of volunteers who’ve dedicated enormous amounts of their time and energy to this process, and to the thousands from every corner of the state who provided their thoughtful comments to our basin roundtables and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.”

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

Gov. Hickenlooper issued an executive order in May of 2013 directing creation of Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan draws on nine years of unprecedented discussion and consensus-building from a wide cross-section of interests participating in roundtables within every river basin in Colorado, as well as through the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide group with participants from every basin roundtable.

“This plan represents hundreds of conversations and comments involving people in our cities, our rural communities, from both sides of the Continental Divide. It benefited from the engagement of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, utilities and water districts, industry and business, and the public at large,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This extraordinary level of dialogue has helped every interest gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the values of fellow stakeholders and created an environment where all parties can work more productively together to develop solutions.”

The initial draft of the water plan aligns with the governor’s executive order in working to strike the right balance between many important and competing interests. At the same time, the plan upholds key Colorado water values that ensure water is available to support a strong economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a thriving natural environment and world-renown recreational opportunities.

“The completion of the draft plan represents not only the countless staff and roundtable hours invested in its development but also the beginning of a new process of review, refinement and ultimately implementation of the important concepts and challenges facing Colorado’s water future,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Now is the time for all of those involved – to focus collectively and collaboratively on how to meet Colorado’s current and future water needs in a manner that works for all Coloradans.”

“With strong leadership and hard work, grand ideas can become reality, said Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water. “We know collaborative efforts can work because we’ve seen it first-hand through the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. We look forward to working with the Governor’s Office and water interests across the state to chart a course for our water future.”

Colorado’s Water Plan reflects agreement from water interests statewide on broad, near-term actions needed to secure our water future. These include efforts to conserve and store water, additional re-use and recycling of water and providing more options to agriculture to avoid the permanent dry-up of our farm and ranch land.

“The release of the draft Colorado Water Plan is a great milestone in planning for the state’s future,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “It is imperative that the statewide collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and problem solving discussions represented by the draft Water Plan continue if Colorado is to find ways to best manage our available water resources for the benefit of the generations that follow.”

Colorado’s Water Plan doesn’t prescribe specific projects, but outlines how various interests across basins can attain locally driven, collaborative solutions, and how balanced approaches can garner the broad support needed to accelerate environmentally sound projects and shorten the federal regulatory process often associated with water-related actions in Colorado. The plan does not do anything to change the status of water rights as a property right, nor prevent the buying and selling of those rights. Nor does it affect Colorado’s longstanding Prior Appropriation Doctrine.

“This draft Colorado plan is a milestone in the mapping of alternatives to meet Colorado’s diverse current and future demands of our limited water resources within the framework of the prior appropriation system,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District. “Multiple interests in southwest Colorado and throughout the state have participated in the development of the plan, resulting in a balanced and detailed draft that will continue to evolve as it is finalized by the partners in the process.”

Work on Colorado’s Water Plan will continue as the public and stakeholders are encouraged to comment upon the draft plan (comments can be submitted here) as revisions continue ahead of a finalized version to be submitted to the governor next year. The plan itself is not intended to be formally completed, however, as public priorities and evolving conditions continue to shape its future.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s a different kind of draft for the former brew pub owner.

Let’s hope there’s something good under all the froth.

A hefty draft of a state water plan landed on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk Wednesday — more than 400 pages that attempt to boil down more than a year of discussion into a comprehensive plan of attack.

Rather than conclusively saying what that plan of attack is, the plan will be given another year to ferment. At its heart, the plan advocates less fighting and more cooperation over future water moves.

“It’s an important step in securing Colorado’s water future,” Hickenlooper said. “This draft reflects a collaborative, statewide effort; the culmination of years of conversations across Colorado with basin roundtables and people of all backgrounds: urban and rural, Eastern Plains and Western Slope, environmentalists and industry, agricultural producers and municipal water interests.”

The goal of the plan is to head off the impending crisis caused by booming population growth and limited water resources.

In a preface to the plan, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director said five principles were used in crafting the draft plan:

  • Strengthening the prior appropriation doctrine, Colorado’s constitutional guarantee to protect senior water rights.
  • Identifying alternatives to the permanent dry-up of agricultural land to provide future supplies to cities.
  • Honoring interstate compacts with neighboring states.
  • Reducing the regulatory burden of water projects.
  • Using state policies to support values and objectives contained within the plan.
  • The plan itself recommends a variety of strategies, with few specific suggestions for implementation, including conservation, alternative agricultural transfer methods, developing more storage and projects to preserve the environment and recreation.

    Passive and active urban conservation could reduce demand by up to 320,000 acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons) per year by 2050.

    Alternative transfer methods, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, could provide 50,000 acre-feet annually to cities without taking the water permanently off farm ground.

    In terms of future infrastructure projects, the plan includes wish lists developed by basin roundtables. The Arkansas River basin had about $2 million in 10 projects, with storage as a primary goal.

    Other basins dreamed bigger.

    For instance, the Gunnison River basin identified $414 million in 34 projects, with the primary goal to protect its existing uses.

    Cost estimates also were associated with recreational and environmental projects, which create wetlands or preserve flows in streams. Arkansas basin projects totaled $445,000, with most other basins appearing ready to tap into millions, with the Gunnison basin again at the high end, $79 million.

    The plan gives no assurances of when or if any of those projects would be funded, but sets criteria for cooperation and multiple purposes as guiding principles.

    The release of the plan was marked with a celebration at the Governor’s Mansion in Denver Wednesday evening. It also elicited a flood of reaction from conservation, recreation and environmental groups across the state, asking for those values to be emphasized.

    In Pueblo, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable continued to toil away at its basin implementation plan, part of the larger state water plan. Gary Barber, former chairman of the roundtable and now one of its consultants, mapped out how the basin plan will be finalized in the next four months.

    Meanwhile, roundtable members learned that 33 projects totaling $5.87 million have been approved in the last 10 years through the roundtable, underscoring the importance of collaborative effort.

    “This has got to be a living document, it should inspire people to work together,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    The first draft of Colorado’s first statewide water plan was handed to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday by James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency charged with water supply planning for the state.

    “This is a historic day in Colorado history, for today we have our first draft of a strategic plan for water, arguably our state’s most precious resource,” Eklund said during a brief ceremony and press conference at Capitol in Denver.

    “It’s a great, great starting place,” Hickenlooper said, holding a copy of the plan. “I think this first draft strikes a good balance between so many different interests and yet upholds our core values.”

    A final version of the Colorado Water Plan is due to be turned in to the governor a year from now, and that final plan is to be informed by more detailed plans being finalized by groups — called roundtables — in each of the state’s major river basins.

    A key question yet to be resolved in the plan, or in the state, is whether water providers can meet an increasing need for water on the Front Range without causing additional harm to rivers on the Western Slope, or by drying up the state’s ranches and farms.

    “It’s a great, great starting place. I think this first draft strikes a good balance between so many different interests and yet upholds our core values.”
    Gov. John Hickenlooper

    Today 24 transmountain diversions carry about 500,000 acre-feet a year from the West Slope to the East Slope, Eklund said, and entities in the South Platte River basin, where Denver and Fort Collins are located, are eager to see more water flow east.

    Eklund said the state is figuring out a way to meet its growing water needs, while also protecting and valuing watersheds and rivers, by working with entities on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    “This plan stands on the back of that collaboration,” he said.

    The governor concurred, but acknowledged, “We’re probably going to need some more storage somewhere.”

    “That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to divert more water,” Hickenlooper added, noting some climate prediction models suggest the state may get wetter.

    Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water, which provides 1.3 million people in and around Denver with water, said after the presentation of the water plan that he also believes future urban water needs can be met without damaging Western Slope rivers.

    “Denver Water spent over six years working in a collaborative way with over 40 entities on the West Slope and the result, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, is a package of protections and enhancements that will allow us to enlarge Gross Reservoir and also make the Fraser River and the West Slope better off with the project than without the project,” Lochhead said. “So there are ways that everybody can benefit if you really sit down and work hard to negotiate and collaborate.”

    A coalition of conservation groups, including American Rivers, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates, issued a press release Tuesday to coincide with the event at the state capital. While the groups praised the work done so far on the plan, they want to see the state prioritize solutions that avoid the need for another transmountain diversion.

    “This plan needs common sense solutions; not more expensive water diversions,” said Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado. “Conservation, reuse and increased sharing opportunities are flexible and cost-effective measures already available that can meet the vast majority of new water demands.”

    Matt Rice, the director of programs for American Rivers in the Colorado River basin, said in the release, “The final water plan must help river basins assess river health and dedicate funding and other resources to protect our rivers for present and future generations.”

    While the draft water plan does not include a list of potential future water projects, Eklund said there is an estimate in the plan that it will cost $20 billion to pay for necessary infrastructure projects between now and 2050, and that includes environmental projects.

    “The reason people move to Colorado and they grow their businesses and their families here is because of the landscapes and the beauty of the eastern plains and the Western Slope, so we need to make sure that those are taken into account while we’re financing what we need to do to move forward with water infrastructure,” Eklund said.

    The draft water plan is posted online at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, under the “resources” tab.

    Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times, a sister paper of the Post Independent, are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.