#COWaterPlan: Historic effort would craft water policy for next 50 years — The Durango Herald

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox
Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The July 2 release of the plan marks a critical juncture for Colorado’s Water Plan, which has been hailed by Gov. John Hickenlooper as one of the most important pieces of policy facing Colorado. The draft was actually released about two weeks early…

Local and state water officials will hold a meeting in Durango on July 20 at the Holiday Inn and Suites, where state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, James Eklund, director of the Water Conservation Board and Mike Preston, chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable, are expected to give an overview.

Preston said the plan represents an opportunity to frame the future of water in Southwest Colorado and throughout the state for the next 50 years.

Included in the water plan are proposals from eight separate water basins, including a roadmap provided by the Southwest Basin Roundtable. Conversations between those roundtables have been taking place for 10 years.

Policy-makers must balance the interests of rural Colorado – where water is precious for agricultural needs – with the needs of the rapidly expanding Front Range and suburban communities. One sticking point could be transmountain water diversions for Front Range communities. Front Range plans call for more trans-mountain water, but Preston questions the viability of such a strategy.

Officials must also preserve the state’s “prior appropriation” system, in which rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. Water rights often dominate policy conversations.

The Southwest Basin is complicated, flowing through two Native American reservations and including a series of nine sub-basins, eight of which flow out of state. Complexities exist with agreements with the federal government, which owns large swaths of land in the region.

Goals outlined by the roundtable for Southwest Colorado include pursuing projects that meet the municipal water gap; providing safe drinking water; prioritizing conservation; and promoting water reuse strategies. For example, one strategy outlined would reduce lawn watering. The plan also calls for evaluating storage options.

Overall, the statewide plan outlines $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects to consider through 2050. The Southwest plan includes about 120 projects aimed at addressing agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental water supply gaps, according to Preston. Multi-purpose projects are a priority, he said.

Preston said he has a team currently combing through the second draft of the plan to determine what changes occurred from the first draft. He was not immediately able to comment on any updates to the plan.

“We’ve got a lot of substance, really a 50-year strategy in the plan, and then a bunch of unresolved issues on a statewide level,” Preston said. “So, we’re really going to press for broader community education and engagement from here forward.

“This is a living document,” Preston added. “We’re pretty serious about what’s in it, both in terms of trying to develop our own supplies for the future, and how we need to participate in the statewide exercise.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here

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