Historic Moment For Colorado’s Rivers

The Colorado Water Plan, delivered to Governor Hickenlooper in November 2015, will guide how Colorado will manage water, protect rivers, and sustain agriculture through 2050 while confronting climate change and a growing population.

Sinjin Eberle

As of November 19, 2015, Colorado has its first ever Water Plan. The Plan, ordered by Governor Hickenlooper in 2013, is intended to guide how the State of Colorado will manage water, protect rivers, and sustain agriculture through 2050 while facing climate change and a growing population. The Plan represents thousands of hours of work on behalf of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, river basin roundtables, and conservation organizations like American Rivers and many others.

So what’s in the Plan? Groundbreaking stuff- a conservation goal of 400,000 acre/feet or a little over 130 billion gallons of water in cities and towns, recognition that streams and rivers are important to Colorado’s economy and quality of life, committed funding for Stream Management Plans, a commitment to more flexible and dynamic water management, and an assurance that future water development will not come at the expense of farms and ranches.

The revolution of the Colorado Water Plan cannot be overstated. For over a hundred years, water has been managed at the expense of rivers. It has been litigated and literally fought over. In Colorado, it has been the east side of the state vs. the west side, farmers vs. cities, and environmentalists vs. all of the above. On November 19th, the needle moved. Conservationists, ranchers, and city water providers representing every corner of the state stood behind the governor in support of the final Plan.

Equally as revolutionary is that following the release of the Plan, one representative from each of the 9 basin roundtables (the structure from which the Water Plan was developed) was selected to comment before the Governor, CWCB, and the media. There are 25-30 representatives on each roundtable, of which one or two represent conservation interests. Ken Neubecker, Associate Director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers, was chosen by his roundtable colleagues to speak for the Colorado River basin. This represents a colossal shift in the paradigm and recognition that if the State of Colorado is going to have healthy rivers, thriving cities, and vibrant agriculture, we have to work together and embrace our shared values. Seven years ago, it was unthinkable that an established conservationist like Ken would be asked by his roundtable peers (mostly ranchers) to speak for their river.

It is important to understand that the final Water Plan is merely a document. Real success will be determined by how it is implemented, which will take a lot of work, dedication and money. Successful implementation depends on growing the goodwill and trust that has been built between conservation, agriculture, and municipal water providers during the Plan’s development. But for, now we should celebrate how far we have come and all those who made it happen.

Big congratulations to American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Audubon, all the basin roundtables, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Governor Hickenlooper, and many many others.

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