Colorado Water Conservation Board names Becky Mitchell new director
July 8, 2017
The Colorado Water Conservation Board is under new management after a rare internal promotion announced this week elevated Becky Mitchell into the director role.
Mitchell most recently served as the CWCB's section chief for water supply planning, which comprises the branch focused on conservation and drought strategy, as well as meeting statewide supply demands. She also played a pivotal role in devising the Colorado Water Plan that she'll now be tasked with implementing in the new position.
"I'm most excited about building on existing relationships and hopefully working more on those, to locate solutions where people's needs and desires intercept — that's where we're going to find solutions," said Mitchell. "A benefit of being involved in the water plan's development is understanding how we move forward with it, and I have some ideas with that."
Specifically, Mitchell imagines boosting ownership and responsibility from various interests in achieving conservation and storage goals set forth in the plan through increased collaboration. Education and outreach campaigns to produce methods that help address the supply-demand gap as the state's population is projected to more than double to 10.5 million by 2050 are other components she sees as key parts of her job.
Mitchell succeeds James Eklund, who after four years left the organization in March to work as an attorney and create private-sector water projects out of the Denver law office of Squire Patton Boggs. Several water agencies feel Mitchell is up to the task.
"She's a recognized figure within the water community, and was involved in the process of drafting the water plan and several other important projects," said Kristin Green, Front Range field manager for environmental protection group Conservation Colorado. "In working with Becky, she has a proven ability to reach out to diverse stakeholders and shows concern for different interests, which is important for implementing this plan and managing water in Colorado."
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"She can continue the momentum, as challenging as that is, and she's earned the right," added Jim Pokrandt of the public water policy Colorado River District. "She's come up through the ranks, she's there and has a lot of institutional knowledge and knows the ropes. It's great to have somebody who can hit the ground running because she's already on the ground running from her previous position."
After years of negotiations and outlining, Gov. John Hickenlooper formally introduced the Colorado Water Plan in November 2015 to try and prepare for that glut of new residents arriving to the state annually. Over the next 30-plus years, it aims to establish 400,000 more acre-feet (the U.S. standard measure for water quantity) in urban conservation, that same amount in new storage, and the sharing of 50,000 more acre-feet currently used for agricultural needs through technological advances.
Mitchell, who holds a bachelor's of science and master's in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, and has worked in both the public and private sectors as a consulting engineer, agrees that the obstacle in financing is the largest to overcome to expand implementation. She believes, however, that a large budgetary commitment — tens of millions of dollars toward projects — from the state Legislature in the most recent session speaks volumes about its commitment to ultimately seeing the plan through.
"Funding was definitely called out in the water plan and is something we're aware of, because it's expensive to implement all of these things on the ground," said Mitchell. "It's not just the Water Conservation Board's responsibility, though. The Legislature said very loudly and clearly there needed to be a diverse focus on use of those funds, to address the supply-demand gap, storage, and strategies for conservation, land-use and drought planning. The funding is set aside to tap storage, but also for across the board to find ways to move the needle on our water future."