From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):
A recap of water in the 2021 Colorado legislative session.
Water—Colorado’s most precious resource for birds and people—was a central issue for legislators in the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers approved more than $53 million in new bills for water-related projects. We all depend on healthy, flowing rivers. Amid brutal drought conditions on the West Slope, the Colorado Water Plan update, watershed and wildfire resilience needs, Audubon’s engagement amplified water awareness for legislators and partners across the state. Read on for highlights of what we accomplished together.
Water Funding Wins
Colorado Water Plan
Birds and people need clean, reliable water, and that is linked to funding. Audubon’s network submitted more than 900 action alerts to legislators to support HB21-1260, General Fund Transfer to Implement State Water Plan. HB1260 allocates $15 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund and $5 million to basin roundtables.
Do you have an environmental project, study, or planning idea ready to go? If yes, now is the time to apply. With these additional funds to the Water Plan grant fund, matches have been reduced to 25 percent for studies and planning, and the standard 50 percent match for construction projects remains. Grant application deadlines for 2021 are July 1 and December 1.
Watershed and Wildfire Resilience
The historic wildfires of 2020 and concerns over a strong 2021 wildfire season elevated watershed and wildfire resilience as top priorities. Two bills passed to help address these needs: SB21-054, Transfers for Wildfire Mitigation and Response, which allocates $9 million total with $4 million to CWCB Watershed grant program, and SB21-240, Watershed Restoration Stimulus, which distributes $30 million to the CWCB Watershed Grant program to protect watersheds from wildfires through study and restoration.
Agriculture and Drought Resiliency
Colorado’s ranchers and farmers are struggling through yet another dry year. The Western Slope has suffered a drought three of the last four years. The birds, other wildlife, and communities that depend on agricultural landscapes are struggling too. Audubon and our partners supported three bills to help with agricultural drought resilience and improve soil health.
HB21-1242, Create Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office, allots $500,000 to the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) for the new Drought and Climate Resilience Cash Fund.
SB21-235, Efficiency Programs Stimulus, distributes $5 million total with $2 million for soil health grants to CDA.
SB21-234, Agriculture and Drought Resiliency, allocates $3 million to the Drought Resiliency Fund for uses providing financial and technical assistance to transport hay or feed from areas outside of Colorado, supports recovery of grazing lands post-fire/drought, and provides technical assistance to help producers prepare for future droughts.
The success of water funding clearly demonstrates to our state lawmakers that water is a priority issue for Coloradans. We hope policymakers will continue to focus on ensuring our natural infrastructure of watersheds, rivers, and wetlands are protected to meet our state’s environmental and community needs for generations to come.
Decision-maker Water Awareness
In May, Audubon Rockies and Business for Water Stewardship concluded the 2021 morning water legislator webinar series. Audubon and Business for Water Stewardship want to express deep appreciation to presenters and attendees of the water legislator webinar series. Over three sessions (The Value of Colorado’s Water, Water Connections, and Water Quality), more than 230 legislators, staff/aids, and informed members of the public attended the live sessions.
Collectively as a state, from residents to decision-makers, we need to lean in, learn more, and participate in the decisions around our water resources. The decisions we make about water and river health impact all of Colorado—birds and people alike.