Water is deeply intertwined in Colorado’s way of life. The water we drink, the businesses supporting our economy and the recreation we enjoy depends on clean water and flowing rivers. Until last year, Colorado was one of the few states in the west without a plan for managing our water.
In 2013, Governor Hickenlooper recognized the state needed a long-term water plan and through executive order directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to work with stakeholders across the state to develop a comprehensive water management plan. Last year, important conversations between farmers and ranchers, environmental groups, water suppliers, recreation advocates and concerned citizens at public meetings, at the grocery store, and on the river paid off. In November 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Water Plan committing our state to coordinated and sustainable water management for the next 35 years.
Colorado is a headwaters state for the Colorado River basin. The Colorado River not only matters to the state and its economy, but it also downstream to the six other states and Mexico that also depend on snowpack that originates here. How and why we manage our water not only affects us, but also our neighbors downstream.
Healthy, flowing rivers support our thriving economies like agriculture and recreation, and our growing cities. Clean water, and enough of it, are essential to support our growing region. Colorado’s heritage and culture is built upon our natural resources and rivers are at the heart of it all. With an abnormally dry fall, it is clear how critical it is to protect and restore our rivers and solidify our commitment to water conservation. Drought volatility varies from year to year across the southwest, and the continuation of this 15-year drought across the basin in the coming years is not out of the realm of possibilities.
November 16, 2016 marked the first anniversary of signing of the Colorado Water Plan. To celebrate the work that has been done across the state, Governor Hickenlooper proclaimed this date as Colorado Water Plan Implementation Day. This proclamation applauds efforts over the past year, and further supports the important work that must continue to move forward goals and objectives contained within the Colorado Water Plan. While this milestone is something to celebrate, implementation thus far has been slower than anticipated. However, at a recent CWCB meeting, new energy was breathed into the plan’s implantation when the CWCB pledged to secure funds for implementation. The CWCB voted to:
- Secure $55 million as a part of the 2017 Colorado State Budget
- Direct the first $30 million of this request towards the creation of a loan guarantee fund
- Focus the other $25 million towards funding other important objectives of the Plan, including:
- $10 million in supplemental funding for the Water Supply Reserve Fund to fund water supply projects
- $5 million directed to the Watershed Restoration Program
- $10 million towards Water Plan Implementation Funding that will fund non reimbursable investments
How does this funding help support healthy rivers and streams here in Colorado?American Rivers, along with environmental partners and other stakeholders are gearing up to begin work on stream management plans on rivers statewide. These plans are a part of the Watershed Restoration Program, which focuses on developing methods to help manage important rivers and streams in Colorado to keep them healthy for both nature and people. As a part of the budget allocation, the CWCB pledged $5 million to help with the planning and development of Stream Management Plans.
The Colorado Water Plan can only be as successful as its implementation. We congratulate the CWCB and the Hickenlooper Administration for restating their dedication in this first year of the Plan. The Colorado State Legislature has an opportunity to continue the progress of the state’s first water plan by supporting the funding for water conservation measures and stream management plans as they approve the state budget. We must keep the pressure on to ensure future funding and support needed to protect our rivers for communities, agriculture, business, and wildlife. Our state’s future, and the health of an entire region, depends on it.