Ag Water Summit: “Water is one of the places where I think we can win” — Governor Hickenlooper #COWaterPlan

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Craig Young):

Hickenlooper speaks at Ag Water Summit in Loveland

Gov. John Hickenlooper took his speaking engagement Tuesday at the Ag Water Summit in Loveland as an opportunity to celebrate the recently completed Colorado’s Water Plan and to urge its full implementation…

“We have for a long time known we have sustainability issues around water,” Hickenlooper said to the farmers, ranchers and ag businesspeople and officials at The Ranch in Loveland. “This was a can that had been kicked down the road for a long time.”

A statewide consensus developed that it was time to do something, he said, “to guarantee that there would be peaches from Palisade, cantaloupes from Rocky Ford into the next century.”

[…]

“Buy-and-dry is not sustainable; it’s not acceptable,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s a bad deal for Colorado, and it’s a bad deal for agriculture.”

The plan suggests “alternative transfer methods” of water, such as allowing farmers and rancher to lease water to other users but retain ownership…

alternateagriculturaltransfermethodscoloradowaterplan
Table from section 6.4 of the http://coloradowaterplan.com/

Although the water plan emphasizes conservation, it also acknowledges that Colorado will have to build and expand its storage facilities.

Hickenlooper said the infrastructure projects that typically make headlines these days are roads and high-speed Internet, “but water and storage projects are probably just as critical if not more critical to the overall long-term viability of the state.”

“The water plan knows that we’re going to have to make some fairly large investments. The state is going to have to step up,” he said.

The water plan calls for $100 million annual funding over 30 years, starting in 2020, he said, to pay for 400,000 acre-feet of new storage capacity. Not all of that funding will come from the state, he added…

“Water is one of the places where I think we can win,” he said. “We can actually deliver on what we’ve planned … and put it in place to make sure we do have enough water for the generations ahead.”

The governor’s speech came during the morning session of the daylong Ag Water Summit sponsored by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance.

The agenda included topics such as the future of food production in Colorado, water court issues and lessons learned from the California drought.

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Colorado will be hard-pressed to fund the goals laid out in its historic water plan without involvement from the state legislature, Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a Tuesday morning speech at the 2015 Colorado Ag Water Summit in Loveland.

Officials estimate implementation of the recently released Colorado Water Plan will require $100 million in annual funding between 2020 and 2050. That money will have to come from a variety of sources, including loans, federal and state grants and public-private partnerships, Hickenlooper said, because Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources receives little money to pay for water projects.

The governor made a “brief plug” for reclassification of the state’s hospital provider fee, charged to hospitals and used to provide matching funds for federal Medicaid money and increase provider payments for indigent care. The fee currently counts against state revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. If the legislature passed a law reclassifying it as an enterprise fund, the move could free up hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on things like water infrastructure.

“If the legislature won’t agree to recategorize (the hospital provider fee), to be honest, we’re going to have to try to figure out some way to go to the public and ask for more resources for this kind of infrastructure,” Hickenlooper said. “But based on every poll, that’s going to be a very difficult hill to climb.”

Speaking at an annual gathering of agricultural water users from across the state, Hickenlooper emphasized the importance of agriculture as a driving force for Colorado’s economy and a means to feed the state’s growing population.

He applauded the cumulative efforts that led to 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. Stakeholders took a “bottom-up” approach to crafting the plan, which initially consisted of individual river basin plans that were later joined and prioritized for the final draft…

The plan’s goals include:

  • Reducing the projected 2050 municipal and industrial water gap to zero acre feet by 2030.
  • Achieving 400,000 acre feet of municipal and industrial water conservation by 2050.
  • Ensuring that, by 2025, three-fourths of Coloradans live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.
  • Attaining 400,000 acre feet of additional water storage by 2050.
  • Covering 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers with stream management plans and 80 percent of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans by 2030.
  • Investigating ways to raise $100 million annually for plan objectives starting in 2020.
    Significantly improve public awareness of water issues statewide by 2020, determined by water awareness surveys.
  • Hickenlooper said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session will include water storage projects and alternative transfer methods – ways to meet growing municipal water demand without resorting to buy and dry, which is what happens when a municipality buys land from a farmer for the water rights and lets the land go dry.

    The state needs to identify a variety of alternative transfer methods that conform to water law and provide security for water users, Hickenlooper said.

    The legislature may not pass any laws directly related to storage projects or alternative transfer methods this session, but “now is the time to start looking at it,” the governor said.

    “Buy and dry is not sustainable,” he said. “It’s not acceptable. It’s a bad deal for Colorado, and it’s a bad deal for agriculture. People in the urban and suburban parts of the state need to understand that.”

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