On May 14, Gov. Hickenlooper issued an executive order for the creation of a statewide water plan for Colorado to bridge the gap between developed water supplies and anticipated demands. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to present him with a draft plan by December 10, 2014, which is to be finalized by December 10, 2015.
Why does Colorado need a water plan?
The executive order lists several reasons why a plan is needed, which are summarized below:
• The gap between developed water supplies and growing demands could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050 (an acre foot is about enough for 2-3 families for a year). The biggest gap is anticipated in the South Platte River Basin, home to Colorado’s largest cities and most agricultural production.
• Our continuing drought could hasten the impact of the water supply gap.
• It’s unacceptable to continue meeting growing urban water demands by “buying and drying” agricultural water rights at a breakneck pace.
• Colorado’s water quality and quantity questions need to be addressed conjunctively, rather than separately, as they normally are now.
The order notes that stakeholders organized into Basin Roundtables in each of the state’s major river basins have been working for eight years to understand and discuss water challenges, strategies and visions for the future. The order refers to that process in declaring that the water plan must incorporate:
• a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry;
• efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use; and
• a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.
The order directs the CWCB to “align state water projects, studies, funding and other efforts” as part of the plan, “to the greatest extent possible.” It directs the CWCB to streamline and expedite permitting and review process for water projects, particularly those that “stress conservation, innovation, collaboration, and other criteria as determined by the CWCB.” It further direct the CWCB to consider prioritizing expedited permitting for projects that promote “efficient infrastructure promoting smart land use, healthy water sheds that support Colorado’s rivers and streams, and smart water conservation practices…”
The order directs the CWCB to draft the water plan in consultation with the Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee (which includes representatives from all the Basin Roundtables), and other state agencies involved with water, such as the Department of Public Health and Environment, which houses the Water Quality Control Division.
The idea of developing a statewide water plan by 2015 isn’t new — the governor called for one in a speech over a year ago, and the Basin Roundtables are already working with the CWCB towards that goal. The release of this Executive Order does, however, signal increasing urgency, and puts the process on a very ambitious timeline.
Holm is the coordinator for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the center in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.