Richards: Rain barrels, great first step; now let’s get to work on the Colorado Water Plan (column)
May 14, 2016
Editor's note: Rachel Richards is the Chair of the Water Quality/Quantity Committee, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and a Pitkin County Commissioner
Colorado has for decades labeled rain barrel users as outlaws, the only state to do so. That label was removed on May 12 when Governor Hickenlooper signed legislation making household rain barrels legal under Colorado water law.
In the quest to maximize water usage under increasingly dry conditions, rain barrel legalization is just one arrow in the quiver to ensure that Coloradans are using and re-using Colorado's water supply in a smart, efficient way. In the latest Colorado College "Conservation in the West" poll 93 percent of Colorado residents are willing to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent, a sentiment heard resoundingly from the public during the development of the Colorado Water Plan.
The Colorado Water Plan, a landmark step for Colorado to manage water, was announced by the governor in December and makes it clear that the main focus to address the growing demand for a diminishing supply of water throughout the State is conservation. In fact, the plan prioritizes water conservation as never before, setting a statewide urban water conservation objective to save 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050. That means nearly 1 percent per year water use reduction in our cities and towns, a reasonable and reachable goal — if the governor and other leaders get to work now.
To help implement the Colorado Water Plan, an appropriation proposal for water projects also moved through the Legislature. The best use for this money is to spend it on projects that conserve and re-use water and opportunities to foster land use development that is sensitive to water conservation, rather than transporting water from the West Slope over the Divide (known as "transmountain diversions"). West Slope leaders will be watching to be sure this funding isn't a blank check for diversions or dams that don't help us meet the conservation goal first.
In the past, Colorado has looked to expensive, harmful large-scale water storage projects like those shuttling water from the West Slope to the Front Range to meet water supply needs. Transmountain diversions should no longer be the model for the future, as those diversions are expensive and threaten the health of the Colorado river system and West Slope economies.
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What's at stake with any new diversions is Colorado's thriving recreation and tourism economy which in 2014 brought 71.3 million visitors here spending $18.6 billion? All of our member counties at the headwaters of the Colorado River offer world-class recreation venues that attract national and international visitors. At the same time, in Pitkin County, the major transmountain diversions in the Roaring Fork Watershed collectively divert over 40 percent of the native flow, while headwaters along the Continental Divide in Grand and Summit counties lose about 60 percent of their native flows to existing transmountain diversions.
Clearly any new diversions would be costly, wasteful and irreversibly devastating to the ecological, recreational and economic values of the Colorado River. There are better alternatives that are less expensive and more impactful to our entire state. And for any projects under consideration, they should meet criteria laid out in the Water Plan and include the input of local leaders and water experts.
A clear mandate of the Colorado Water Plan is to focus on conservation and common sense solutions as the best way to ensure a balanced protection of water for our cities, farms and the rivers that sustain our Colorado way of life. Our members, local leaders in West Slope counties and towns, are ready to get to work with Gov. Hickenlooper to implement the plan.
Legalizing rain barrels helps to show that we are serious about using and re-using our water wisely. Gov. Hickenlooper and other state leaders now must follow the blueprint of the Colorado Water Plan to conserve, re-use and manage future growth before thinking about further depleting our life-giving, economy-growing mountain streams.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/ Quantity Committee (NWCCOG/QQ) is comprised of counties, towns and water and sanitation districts in the Headwaters Region of Colorado, including Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison, and Park Counties. NWCCOG/QQ's purpose is to enable its members to protect and enhance the quality of our region's waters while facilitating the responsible use of those resources for the good of all Colorado citizens and its environment.
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