From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Floyd Ciruli):
Although Colorado has identified its water needs and has a state plan, 2018 will be a year of political transition. Will a new governor and legislature keep water at the top of the agenda or allow it to drop until the next water crisis? Many local agencies need financial help that can’t be met through local ratepayers alone. The state water plan identified $3 billion in unmet needs. And, as California has demonstrated, conservation must be a well-articulated state goal with significant resources dedicated to public education. California cut statewide use by 25 percent during the last drought through massive education coordinated with local agencies. But, leadership, both local and from the state, is needed.
Gov. John Hickenlooper accelerated the work of former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter to help address the state’s projected water shortage, but he only has one year left in office. Fortunately, besides Hickenlooper’s advancement of the scientific base behind the need for new projects, his use of a state planning process that involved all eight water basins in cooperation and decision-making and his issuing of a completed state water plan in December 2015, he has also seen real progress during his term on projects. He helped facilitate approval of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir and Northern Water’s Windy Gap projects. Still, much remains to be done.
■ How will pressing water issues fare through the upcoming political transition?
■ Will the research, river basin collaboration and planning continue?
■ Will permitting of the water projects now underway continue to make progress?
■ Will the next wave of projects — many in rural and small towns — get permitted, funded and built?
■ Will the state initiate and fund a statewide conservation public education program?
■ Will the state continue its planning processes in order to lead a ballot issue funding effort? (The previous proposal, controversial in design and promotion, failed in 2003, but lessons were learned.)
The planning and development capabilities of Colorado’s water community have grown significantly, but the needs are growing faster still. Through the 2018 political transition, we must ensure that water remains a top priority and not become another state plan ignored in a government file.