From The Washington Park Profile (James Eklund):
No single issue will have a more direct impact on Colorado’s future than our ability to successfully and collaboratively manage our life-giving water. Water pumps the beating heart of Colorado’s sublime appeal. It provides for thriving agriculture, the green hue of our forests, farm fields and, yes, even lawns, it courses through our wondrous landscapes and fills reservoirs and rivers cherished by anglers and rafters. It allows for more families and businesses to share in our state, entices tourists to visit and sustains our economies and environment.
But we only have so much of it. As our state continues to grow, how do we work together so that we continue to accrue all of these benefits water provides even as our supplies are limited – constrained both by what nature provides and what we’re obligated by law to send downstream, across state and national borders?
Further, how are we best to proceed and prepare when our finite supplies are subject to the volatility of Mother Nature as illustrated so starkly by recent drought, wildfire and flooding?
A statewide conversation to address these questions began in earnest in 2005, when roundtables, populated by people with myriad and often conflicting opinions and interests, convened in each river basin. Since then, these nine Basin Roundtables, along with a group that includes members from each roundtable (the 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee), have engaged in an unprecedented effort at consensus-building.
Those discussions bring us to today, when the Colorado Water Conservation Board – drawing on nine years of grassroots dialogue and more than 13,000 public comments through the roundtable and IBCC process – has released the first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan.
The water plan represents the consensus view from this process that unless Colorado takes a strategic, statewide approach to water, we will face a more difficult future and risk leaving the fate of our water to decisions and actions from outsiders, the federal government and other states within the Colorado River Basin.
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.
Colorado’s Water Plan doesn’t prescribe specific projects. Instead it outlines how various interests across basins can attain locally driven, collaborative solutions, and how balanced approaches can garner the broad support needed to accelerate projects and shorten the federal regulatory process often associated with water-related actions in Colorado.
With an issue as significant as water, it’s important to underscore what Colorado’s Water Plan does not do: In no way does it infringe upon water rights as a private property right; likewise is does not advocate for any kind of ban on buying and selling of those water rights among willing participants. It does not seek alternatives to our Prior Appropriation Doctrine that has guided water use since before our state’s founding; nor does it erode or in any way cede Colorado’s interstate compact entitlements.
But by creating a broad grassroots framework for how we, together, ought to approach and manage Colorado’s water, it gives us greater control of our destiny, sends a clear message of a unified Colorado vision to federal regulators and fortifies us against outcomes that could gradually be imposed upon us without a broadly supported path forward for our water.
The water plan published in December is not the end, but a beginning. We’ve published draft chapters online (http://coloradowaterplan.com) as we’ve assembled them as just part of our effort to maximize public participation beyond the public roundtable and IBCC process. This draft plan is now subject to more public comment, participation and revision, with a finalized version scheduled for submittal to Governor Hickenlooper later in 2015.
The plan itself will never be a finished one, however. We see Colorado’s Water Plan as an organic, living document, developed from the bottom up and shaped and shepherded by the public will and the evolving conditions and priorities necessary to maintain Colorado’s splendorous stature as a place to visit, explore, work and live.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.