Legislators from across the state agreed the Colorado Water Plan is dependent on all parts of the state working together, but Weld County residents had a few concerns with the proposed plan.
Weld residents and representatives raised concerns of prior appropriation, which includes property and water rights, and of the need to add water storage to the South Platte Basin.
State senators and representatives who are part of the water resources review committee gathered Monday evening at Island Grove to discuss the state water plan and hear public comment on it.
“We are a state that needs to work together,” Rep. J. Paul Brown said.
Weld is in the South Platte Basin, which includes much of northern and eastern Colorado as well as the Denver metro area. The area is expected to grow by 2.5 million people by 2050, pushing water demand higher than supply.
Joe Frank, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, agreed with the need to work together, saying, “We need the Western Slope, (and) they need us. We’re all one state. The problem is here, but ultimately it is a statewide problem.”
But Frank also recognized the importance of the South Platte Basin in the water plan.
Frank outlined the South Platte Basin Implementation Plan, which included four overarching themes. The themes considered were a good Colorado plan needs a good South Platte plan; solutions must be pragmatic, balanced and consistent with Colorado law and property rights; the South Platte River Basin will continue its leadership role in efficient use and management of water; and a balanced program is needed to plan and preserve Colorado river basin options.
Many in Weld see a need to extend the state’s storage, while others think conservation is the answer to future water issues.
Frank said the South Platte Roundtable Basin strongly believes storage needs to be a high priority in the water plan.
“We really strongly advocate for the development of additional above-ground storage,” he said. “That’s one thing that we really highlight in every section.”
Additional storage was a hot topic.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said he has been involved in the process of writing the water plan and it’s been extremely grueling but healthy.
“Although we have differences and we will continue to have differences, the process has been a very collaborative one,” Conway said.
He said at the first meeting he attended about the water plan, someone said something that has stuck with him since.
“The days of folks simply folding our arms and saying ‘no’ are over,” Conway quoted.
He said the goal now is to find a water plan to benefit everyone and to benefit future Coloradans.
“I’m here to encourage water storage,” Conway said.
He said thousands of acres of land have dried up over the years, and it’s been devastating to agriculture in Weld County and eastern Colorado.
But Conway is worried that conservation is not enough to rectify these situations.
“Conservation should be a big part of this,” he said, “but the bottom line is, folks, we can’t conserve ourselves out of this.
Conservation is a very important part of this, but water storage is too.”
Jim Hall, representing Northern Water and the South Platte and Metro Roundtable Basins, said development of a water plan is an incredible undertaking. He encouraged legislators to recognize the wisdom of locals.
“While the plan currently points out that there has been a lack of additional storage over the last few years,” it needs to address it more immediately.
“It needs to include more storage now,” Hall said.
A local resident, Peter Bridgeman, said he was at the meeting out of concern for the future of his grandchildren.
“Water conservation will not solve our impending water crisis,” he said. “Our demands are much larger than our supply.”
Most importantly, those in attendance agreed that everyone needs to work together for solutions to the ever-present problems of water.
“We all drink it, we all use it,” said Bruce Johnson, a resident with 12,000 acres of irrigated land in Weld. “We need to be thinking about that for our offspring and the people who are coming down the pipeline.”