#Colorado unveils the #COWaterPlan

From the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:

This morning [November 19, 2015] the final version of Colorado’s Water Plan was presented to Governor Hickenlooper. This final plan comes after a long history of water development in the state, a decade of state-coordinated cooperation between and within Colorado’s river basins and a 2013 directive from Governor Hickenlooper setting the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a hard-working fast-paced course to develop the water plan. The plan is a roadmap that intends to put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative and cooperative path toward managing water in the face of constrained supplies and growing population.

Colorado’s population is predicted to grow exponentially, rising from around 5.4 million people in 2014 to between 8.3 and 9.1 million by 2050, according to predictions by Colorado’s State Demographer, as reported in the Colorado’s Water Plan issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine. If population grows as expected, and the state continued to fill those emerging needs without planning, the status quo would result in a water supply gap of up to 500,000 acre-feet by 2050, leaving the equivalent of some 2.5 million people’s water needs unmet, or met in undesirable ways. Then pile on the challenges of rising temperatures, drought, the unpredictability of climate change, and others… and the state’s water future looks increasingly uncertain.

So Colorado’s Water Plan set out to grapple with those water supply challenges and today reflects agreement from water interests statewide on broad, near-term actions needed to secure Colorado’s water future, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Those actions include efforts to conserve and store water, additional water reuse and recycling, and providing options to agriculture to avoid permanent dry-up of farm and ranch operations. The plan includes a set of measurable objectives that provide goals regarding water for farms, for the environment, and for cities and industry. The Denver Post reports:

The plan contains:

• A water-saving target of 130 billion gallons a year for cities and industry, left largely on their own to cut water consumption using methods from low-flow appliances to limits on lawn irrigation.

• A goal of increasing reservoir and aquifer storage space for 130 billion gallons and encouraging re-use of wastewater.

• A framework for assessing possible unspecified new trans-mountain diversions of water from the western side of the Continental Divide, when conditions permit, to Front Range cities and suburbs.

• A proposal to develop stream and river protection plans to cover 80 percent of “critical watersheds” by 2030.

• A strategy for slowing the loss of irrigated agricultural land as Front Range utilities buy up water rights — which state officials said threatens 700,000 more acres, or 20 percent of currently irrigated acres statewide. The strategy is to facilitate temporary transfers during wet years with farmers and ranchers retaining water ownership.

• A goal of linking county land use planning with water supply planning so that, by 2025, 75 percent of residents live in communities where new development is tied to water availability.

• Proposals for streamlined permitting of water projects designated by state planners for official support.

And so implementation will begin, and as the state moves forward, the plan will continue to be a living document that will adapt to ever-changing circumstances. From ABC News:


State government doesn’t have the power to force the plan on anyone. Instead, it will depend on the help of local governments, water utilities and farmers and ranchers. The Legislature would also have to pass laws and appropriate money, and the executive branch would have to steer some of the initiatives.

The plan would also require cooperation between the eastern and western halves of the state, which are often at odds over water.

Still, the plan holds promise, said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, the state’s largest utility.

“The Colorado water plan is our state’s best hope for a secure water future,” he said.

Be sure to read the full plan here, stay involved as implementation begins, and thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Governor Hickenlooper for taking action toward a secure water future.


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

Gov. John Hickenlooper today was joined by James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Director, Dr. John Stulp, Senior Adviser to the Governor, CWCB Board members and many members of Colorado’s water community to celebrate the completion of Colorado’s Water Plan, calling the project a historic step for the state.

The plan is the product of an unprecedented level of collaboration and public participation spanning two and a half years.

“This is how Colorado works: together, in partnership, to tackle head-on our toughest challenges,” said Hickenlooper. “Today we turn a new page on Colorado’s long and adversarial history on water. Colorado’s Water Plan shows us how we can move forward together to ensure we continue to enjoy sufficient supplies for our vibrant cities, productive farms and incomparable environment.”

In the spring of 2013, Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan, a roadmap that would put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative and cooperative path to manage our water in the face of constrained supplies and growing population.

The Plan reflects grassroots discussions that began with the Basin Roundtable process in 2005. Key to the plan’s success, too, has been the steady participation and counsel of water providers, agricultural organizations, environmental groups, the General Assembly, local governments and the business community as well as more than 30,000 public comments geared specifically to Colorado’s Water Plan since 2013.

The completed Plan represents the consensus view from this process that Colorado must take a strategic, proactive and statewide approach to water or face or risk leaving the fate of our water to decisions and actions from outside interests, the federal government and other states within the Colorado River Basin.

“This is a moment for Coloradans to be proud,” said James Eklund, director of the CWCB. “For 150 years water has been a source of conflict in our state. More recently, that story is changing, and Colorado’s Water Plan – a product of literally thousands of meetings and conversations across our state – is the best evidence yet for a new way of doing our water business. We are talking to one another. We are forging relationships. Even those who may see water-related issues from very different perspectives have worked hard to understand other points of view. And that kind of understanding leads to an environment of civility that helps us cooperate in fashioning solutions.”

Colorado’s Water Plan grapples directly with water challenges and highlights necessary near-term actions, including efforts to conserve and store water, additional reuse and recycling of water and providing more options to agriculture to avoid permanent dry-up of our valuable farm and ranch operations. It also sets out a framework for discussion of any future projects that may propose to move water between basins.

The final version of the plan, building on comments across interests and geography, includes a set of measurable objectives that help us move forward and provide a sense, statewide, of the goals Colorado should set for addressing our water challenges.

“Colorado’s Water Plan leaves no mystery as to what Colorado’s water challenges are and why we have to address them as we grow the next five million people in the state,” said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “It is now up to all of us to take this information and fashion a balanced approach to meeting the water supply gap while protecting current water users on the Colorado River system, the West Slope’s recreational economy and the environment.”

“We all need to be willing to experiment, try new ideas, and even be willing to fail,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager of Denver Water. “The important thing is that this is our opportunity to move the state forward to chart a path toward water security.”

For more information, please visit http://coloradowaterplan.com/

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):

“Water’s not just one of our most valuable natural resources, it is, without question, our most valuable resource,” Hickenlooper said during the official release of the final water plan.

While the plan is complete, a number of the recommendations will need a law to make them a reality.

“There’s going to be issues around funding for some of the implementation we’re going to need the legislature’s help to make sure we have the right funding in the right places,” the governor said.

That means the upcoming legislative session could see some of the plan’s suggestions come up as proposed bills.

“In the short-term, near-term here, we need to address funding of water infrastructure in Colorado. We need to address conservation,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which helped shape the plan.

So far, leaders aren’t specifying which recommendations may come up in the session.

“Better not to come up with specific requests until I’ve had a chance to talk to legislative leadership,” Hickenlooper said.

There’s also the question of how to fund potential water projects. The plan itself calls for a potential $20 billion in infrastructure work and programs during the coming decades.

“We’re certainly going to see all the details as we go forward, different suggestions for funding, but at a large price tag for not only environmental needs, but for infrastructure needs, we’re going to have to become innovative in how we look at this funding source,” said Abby Burk, with Audubon Rockies.

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The final version of the Colorado Water Plan, unveiled Thursday in a standing room only Denver press conference, has some interesting, if uncertain, implications for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

The plan is Colorado’s first statewide attempt to confront a projected water supply shortage of 560,000 acre-feet — enough to fill Horsetooth Reservoir three and a half times — by 2050.

Sources were reluctant to speculate on whether the plan’s water storage goals — adding 400,000 acre-feet of storage by 2050 and an 80 percent success rate for a group of proposed storage projects that includes NISP — mean the state will back NISP. The state cannot legally give NISP a thumbs-up until federal review of the long-debated proposal is complete.

But the pro-storage aspect of the plan, coupled with the state’s suggestions for increased permitting efficiency for large-scale storage projects like NISP, means the state is not openly opposed to this kind of project. That lack of opposition on principal could bode well for Northern Water’s plan to create two reservoirs yielding 40,000 acre feet of water annually to 15 participants. Most of the water would come from the Poudre River.

“They recognize the need for 400,000 additional acre-feet of storage,” Northern Water general manager Eric Wilkinson said. “We feel that NISP … would help meet a significant portion of that goal.”

Colorado’s government has two points of entry for NISP: The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and the Colorado Water Conservation Board have to review and approve a Northern Water-produced fish and wildlife mitigation plan for the project. Wilkinson said that process is in the early stages.

And the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decides whether to grant the project a 401 certification, a safeguard measure for states to block dams and diversions if they interfere with the health of wetlands. The 401 certification process will come after — and if — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rules in favor of building NISP…

Groups including American Rivers, Audubon Rockies, Conservation Colorado, the Environmental Defense Fund and Western Resource Advocates praised the plan for its urban conservation goal, river health focus, collaborative nature and action-oriented methodology.

“There’s a lot of kumbaya,” said Western Resource Advocates’ water policy manager Drew Beckwith, who also commended the plan’s “higher hurdles” for controversial trans-mountain diversion projects and push for funding to meet water goals. The plan projects a $20 billion funding shortfall during the next 30 years but estimates that water providers will meet most of it…

In an emailed statement, WildEarth Guardians’ Wild Rivers Program Director Jen Pelz said the plan isn’t all “unicorns and rainbows.”

“The plan tries to be all things to all people,” she wrote. “To meet the projected ‘gap’ in Colorado water supply and demand, all water users need to be at the table in order to solve the problem. Even though agriculture uses 80 percent of the water from our state, somehow water leasing and acquisition programs to make up shortfalls or put water back in our rivers are not strongly committed to in the final plan.”

Rather, the plan sets a goal to share at least 50,000 acre-feet of agricultural water with municipalities via voluntary alternative transfer methods by 2030…

Carlyle Currier, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau and vice chairman of the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance, said the absence of a conservation goal for agriculture was intentional. Agriculture focuses on efficient use of existing water supply rather than conservation, which Currier described as “doing less with less.”

“That’s not really an option with agriculture,” he said. “If you’re using less water, you’re producing less crops. Is that really what our goal should be? Producing less?”

Now that the plan is completed, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will oversee the completion of the plan’s critical action items. The board will provide annual progress reports to the governor and the Colorado General Assembly.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):

“Water in the West isn’t rocket science,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “It’s more complicated, and it can be more volatile.”

Eklund said that like President John F. Kennedy, who set a goal for rocket scientists to reach the moon within a decade, the water plan sets a lofty expectation of bridging the gap of an estimated 500,000-acre-feet shortfall of water in 2050.

“It’s clear that without the vision, courage and the will of the chief executive, it wouldn’t have happened,” Eklund said. He thanked the governor for initiating the water planning in the spring of 2013.

The plan, however, isn’t binding to anyone or anything.

Hickenlooper called on everyone to pick up their portion of the plan and run with it.

Lawmakers will likely address some of the issues during the 2016 legislative session that begins Jan. 12. He asked lawmakers to draft bipartisan legislation that can realistically be passed in a bicameral General Assembly.

“We all share the responsibility of implementation,” Hickenlooper said. “Of taking all of this work and making sure that it is transformed into meaningful action.”

He said all Colorado water users need to rethink their consumption.

“My son and I last night discussed the length of showers,” he joked.

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Julia Maguire):

Hannah Holm, the coordinator of the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, has followed the plan’s development since 2013. As 80 percent of the the state’s water lies on the Western Slope, Holm said the Western Slope had two major concerns for the plan.

The first: will agriculture areas be dried up to go urban areas? Holm said the plan is attempting to implement tools for alternative transfer methods, which is when farms provide a portion of water on a temporary basis to urban areas, instead of selling water rights permanently. Holm said this prevents buying out and drying up specific pieces of land.

The second: transmountain diversion, where water is taken from the Western Slope and brought to the Eastern Slope. Holm said the plan does not contain any endorsement for any project like it.

From The Greeley Tribune (Catherine Sweeney):

After years of preparation, the Colorado Water Plan was released on Thursday, and local water officials are pleased.

The plan lays out the state’s water policy goals: more conservation and more storage. Instead of legislating, the plan is designed to get leaders at all levels on the same page about Colorado’s water future.

“Everybody’s happy today,” said Northern Water Spokesman Brian Werner. “This is a good thing.”

Northern Water is a public agency that services about 880,000 people in northern Colorado and supplies irrigation water for 640,000 acres of farmland.

“The part that we’re most pleased with is the piece about storage,” Werner said.

Northern is involved in the federal permitting process for two proposed projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project and Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP. These two projects jointly include three new storage reservoirs in northern Colorado.

He said he’s hoping the plan will encourage officials to work with the federal government to update the permitting process for projects such as NISP and Windy Gap. Now, the processes are expensive and time consuming.

“We’re going to be (spending) 12-15 years on these projects,” he said.

Time is of the essence when it comes to water supply in the West.

With its growing population, Colorado faces a shortfall of about 182 billion gallons a year by 2050, according to state projections.

The plan will set specific goals for water storage and conservation, which environmental experts herald.

“Coloradans overwhelmingly support water conservation, and we are pleased to see this plan proposing our state’s first ever urban conservation goal,” Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado said in a news release. “The plan recognizes that to meet our future water needs we must change the status quo from focusing on new, large trans-mountain diversions to prioritizing conservation, reuse and recycling. We look forward to the governor moving forward and carrying out our state’s water plan to better protect our rivers and wildlife.”

It will also propose a way to let farmers and ranchers sell their water to municipal utilities for a specific length of time but allow them to resume using that water themselves in the future. That would avoid a practice called “buy and dry,” where utilities buy farms and ranches to get their water, permanently taking the land out of agricultural production.

The plan encourages local governments to combine their water planning and land use planning to reduce outdoor uses such as lawn watering and encourage water recycling.

It also encourages management plans for rivers and streams to keep their ecosystems healthy.

Gov. John Hickenlooper started the process in spring 2013, according a release from his office. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan, a road map that would put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative and cooperative path to manage water in the face of constrained supplies and growing population.

State government doesn’t have the power to force the plan on anyone. Instead, it will depend on the help of local governments, water utilities and farmers and ranchers. The legislature also would have to pass laws and appropriate money, and the executive branch would have to steer some of the initiatives.

From The Colorado Statesman (Kelly Sloan):

“Russell George was instrumental in developing the bill, HB 1177, which established the basin roundtables and started the process of each basin talking to the others,” Treese said. He added that there was still much work to be done. “It is a milestone, not the end result, of Russell’s vision.”[…]

The plan is non-binding, and Eklund said it will require several legislative, executive and perhaps even judicial actions to implement it, noting that Colorado is the only state in the country with a water court.

Hickenlooper agreed that the Legislature will have to play a part but stopped short of suggesting any specific bills. “I have learned over the last several legislative sessions that it is better not to come up with specific legislation until I speak to legislative leadership,” he said. However, he acknowledged that there will be “issues around funding and around projects that we will need legislative help on.”

Eklund spoke to a number of potential areas where the General Assembly could take action. During the press conference, he noted a bill signed by the governor two years ago, SB 14-103, to phase in high-efficiency water options for indoor water and suggested that a bill to expand that to outdoor water fixtures could be a possibility.

Eklund said that funding was likely to be the biggest legislative issue. He said that one action that could be pursued is a measure to provide “agility to the Conservation Board to fund infrastructure projects,” saying that, “if your issue isn’t protected in the constitution, the funding for it gets squeezed out by other items.” He added that, in order to implement the various aspects of the water plan, “We need that agility quickly.” He said the Board would use new funding to deploy loans and grants to individual districts for projects. He also noted, “Water has to be a part of any TABOR fix.”

Another potential legislative measure could include what Eklund called “more market competitive alternatives to ‘buy-and-dry’” transactions.

John McClow, a CWCB board member and representative for the Gunnison-Uncompahgre River District, said that he thinks that it may be premature for the upcoming session to take much action on the plan.

“We need a chance for legislators to digest this,” McClow said. “We need to get the big picture, and make sure that everyone’s interests are represented in the conversations. We don’t want to be helter-skelter on this.”

Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz agreed, saying the state needs to be very thoughtful. Calling the plan a “working document”, she said, “The General Assembly needs to be careful how it weighs in.” On the funding issue, Schwartz, whose senate district covered a large part of the inter-mountain West Slope, including Eagle, Gunnison and Pitkin Counties, said that severance tax needed to be part of the conversation.

“We need to protect severance tax, especially as we see it diminish,” she said, adding that severance funds “need to be put into water infrastructure.”[…]

Early reactions to the plan were generally favorable, including a statement from Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kelly Brough. “I applaud the Colorado Water Conservation Board for leading a truly collaborative process that took feedback from business and the broader community and integrated it into the plan,” she said, adding that “the planners recognized there is no silver bullet to facing this challenge and take a holistic, all-of-the-above approach.”

Craig Mackey, co-director of Protect the Flows, a nonpartisan business coalition advancing water conservation, innovations and technologies, said in a statement, “We congratulate the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the release of this plan, an important first step in managing and conserving Colorado’s most precious resource.”

Leave a Reply